Cloud

Gee Businesses Make It Tough To Change – Change the Tune!

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avril-lavigne-1

The thing is everyone in the room is a solutions architect. But not one a pop star! There’s tension and their pain and emotional investment of a life time career is exposed and raw. There is great endeavours and knowledge experts that would score highly in Master Mind for their chosen subject, and a fascinating array of professional office politicking. But not one harmonious tune.

My role gives me great insight into many situations, sectors and cultures where change and design clash constantly and where ownership and authority dance to the tune of a different song to that which they think is playing. They need to change tune but more on that later.

I see this clash more and more as enterprises make that move from old platform to Cloud and the realisation that standardisation demands a new song that only a shared platform can sing.

In the room they are all looking for a solution; they are all trapped in a decision of the past and now embroiled in the challenge of change. What often astounds me are the players in the room, the leadership of risk taking and the real issue; “our business model is no longer fit for purpose and our operating practice broken!”

Large amounts of operational expense are maintained in maintaining the modus operandi. Large capital expense is questioned and fought for to establish “betterment” against the backdrop of legacy.  This is modern enterprise business in a world of unpredictable change and overpowering competition of new business models of “subscription”.

The intent of all in the room is to do the right thing. The opinion of what is “right” is the challenge of culture, belief, experience and legacy at odds with each other.

When I am sitting in the room and layer after layer of conversation, deviation and ultimate indecision fills the air with noise and awkward body language, indifference, and/or dogma I can’t help having the tune “Complicated” pop into my head. You’re singing the chorus now aren’t you?

Chill out, what you yellin’ for?, Lay back, it’s all been done before , And if you could only let it be, You will see . . . .

I want these companies to go back to the beginning and try to find the true reason why the company and its product became. What drove it to success? Where is the value? What is the differentiator? Cling on to these and then ask:

Why do you have to go and make things so complicated?
I see the way you’re acting like you’re somebody else
Gets me frustrated
You fall and you crawl and you break
And you take what you get and you turn it into honesty
You promised me I’m never gonna find you fake it
No no no

If you fancy a sing alone try this!

Must thank Avril Lavigne fo adding to my corporate change wisdom and therophy.

Requirements to Design or “just get me there soonest” – SaaS Rapid Implementation Methodology

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Classic WaterfallThere are many tried and tested implementation methodologies and countless variations on a theme. Common practice is picking and choosing the bits that work best for a given target environment. Hybrid, aligned, adapted, call it what you will. The bottom line is we learn from every implementation and hopefully adapt.  Or do we?

Last century expectations on delivery were well matured and mostly agreed with business stakeholders.  The process that were required to deliver were mostly understood together with the expectation, speed to deploy, timeline and project management process.

Generally the sense of rapid and/or dare I say “agility” was firmly grounded or caged within the waterfall process that drove delivery in the main back then. You know how it went; Requirements definition, functional design, build, test, launch etc . . . . so last century!

Cloud computing comes along. Software as a Service explodes. The sales proposition drive speeds and agility of deployment as a key value prop and RoI. Remember Salesforce.com “Click not Code”! The rush to cultivate a successful implementation methodology to support this new paradigm and business expectation continues to march on.  But that said practices of yesteryear are definitely off the menu this century.

Sweet SpotNow the  nature of Software as a Service (SaaS) demands a healthy and growing relationship with the end user to maintain renewing subscription. This is the very foundation of the business model.  Execution of a SaaS project should start with that relationship fully in mind. Basing a project upon ridged and constrained scope and deliverable is a conflicting and contradictory engagement model for SaaS (see my earlier post, a subject dear to my heart Statement of Outcome). The need for a SaaS Rapid implementation methodology is vital.

So where is this going? In my experience running a Requirement Definition and Design stage  is now so tightly coupled that defining requirements as a blue-sky, white-sheet, blank piece of paper process is extremely dangerous to the delivery of a SaaS solution. Take the core principles of multi-tenancy SaaS and take any SaaS solutions; “the constraint is in the SaaS solution delivery model and business complexity challenges whilst working within this which, pushes projects back into classic development mode?”

A SaaS solution needs a methodology that embraces it delivery model, speaks clearly to rapid implementation and defines business requirements within it core product capability as a win/win to renewals.

In addition, the SaaS product model must exhibit sufficient functionality for complex business requirements for its space. The SaaS Implementation Methodology therefore must speak to a requirements definition that aligns directly with the design of the SaaS product.

Tag Line

Merge the Requirements Definition and the Solution Design stage to address the SaaS delivery expectation model as a SaaS Rapid Methodology and align product capability road-map to the level of customisation based on the implementation feedback at the front line. The subscription economy demands it in the SaaS application space.

Socially Face-to-Face – service through the whites of their eyes – the distance of the Internet

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SM ServiceIt’s really great this social media thing. It is such a great space for education and awareness. The sheer volume of posts, blogs, reports, info-graph and all things. All supported by the sheer weight of big data making sense of things we couldn’t prove before whilst at times tearing down our historic perceptions of our past reality. I love it. But it can become a paranoiac minefield of self-harming opinion. It is almost akin to “Death by PowerPoint”.

Death by PowerPoint a common fatality of many a great and important message. That said pictures paint a thousand words and ShowTime can be fun. Thinking back on the multitude of events I have attended, the presentations that resonated most have to be those that told a personal story. A story you could relate. Not the slide or statistic that you had to jot down. I guess it is dependent on all having a shared experience – speaking to the masses! Data would suggest this is more often the case than not in our modern overly monitored, categories and processed lives.

I attended an event on customer service back in 2011 that had a lot of case studies and statistics on where, why and how to manage and deliver it supported by copious amounts or diagrams/slides showing best practice, architecture, tools etc. All very useful, informative but I have to confess with a retention score of Zero in creating a call to action or influencing me past the next speaker.

Funny I am in the midst of setting out an initiative and find I am producing copious number of slides to help galvanise my thoughts! A tool or a communication medium? That’s another blog! Where’s my mind-map?

Returning to this event and one particular presentation, well more like story-time.  A futurologist (I kid you not) working at BT, a Dr Nicola Millard delivered such a poignant and relevant message of the future of service engagement that it basically put to shame 80% of the previous days speeches, industry advice and undermined most of the solutions presented and best practices pitched.

She explained that the rate of change and the speed of consumer opinion is overwhelming and unstoppable in this connected social mobile Smartphone App futurologist .  That the reality is that no matter how hard companies try to perfect engagement they can only do so retrospectively which is often too late, too behind the curve to satisfy and putting at risk customers retention or limit any damage to the brand.

What made Dr Millard presentation so impactful was her delivery of this dilemma and the fact that she reached out to the audience by using the whole stage and not standing behind a lectern or referred to slides as the main delivery.

You could see the whites of her eyes the passion in her beliefs. She instilled confidence and therefore commanded attention. She spoke directly and enthusiastically and put “us” in the story recalling our everyday activities in relation to the proposition of “how to control the un-controllable” which was overly oopinionated customers using smartphone/social app at the point of service delivery –  a queue that was way too long against the backdrop of unattended service booths. #poorservice

BA TweetAnd the picture she painted is one that I have experienced personally. In situations where I have required assistance from some large organisations I have used social media (mainly Twitter) to achieve success. In most cases this has worked far better than traditional channels (LG, British Airways to name a few good ones).

Her positioning of this dilemma still resonates with me.  I hear in so many conversations I experience in business to this day. The need to change, modernise, and deliver “world class” customer service and perform better.  A constant challenge and at times struggle for most organisations. “It’s all about the platform” cries out a stressed out management team; “If we had a single view of the customer with all channels captured and . . . . .”

So how does Social Media and customer service close the gap, crosses the divide between the post, the like, the comment and shows the whites of it eyes? It must give that personal touch, that empathy or a call to actions that changes the nature of the broadcast to really be a service offering.

Do I have the answer? I guess Social Media fundamentally promotes tailored service and breaking the call centre-all script. Why? Because the transparency and collaboration that can develop from a single post or a single tweet can be immense and lasts forever in the Social Cloud. The conversation can become global quickly so containment and direct help is imperative to rescue the experience to maintain reputation and relevance with a customer.  But it can’t be one of process as that is not a good experience and this is very public.

SM SPSince that event way back in 2011 I am seeing and experiencing companies taking Social Media so much more seriously, not for the “Likes” alone, but for supportive interactions and turning this into positive, global and fully transparent PR opportunity of what a great company does when it needs to support its customers.

Great service will always starts with a personal touch, an experience, a human touch at the end of the post or send button. So I wouldn’t bet on transformational cost savings in service delivery through the transition into Social Media Customer Service practice. After all it is just another channel to manage! A ferociously public one which will require the good old Service Agent to manage as much as any “one on one” experiences on traditional channels. The existing internal training, couching and product/service training and CRM practices as is standard in any good service organisation will still be demanded and expected by your customers. So don’t look to save using Social Media as a “cheaper channel”, but look to improve your return creating a Social Media Service experience that shows them the whites of your eye and gets the word out that your a great Brand to work with.

The Art of the Possible but by Design

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IMG_5471I once participated in a large team completion to develop a vision of a future concept soon to be a reality for most businesses (going Social). It was intense, 14 teams of 7 and 4 nights to develop a vision to capture the imagination whilst completing mandatory boot camp exercises and training sessions during the day.

It was a team effort but I was convinced that the tag line “The Art of the Possible” that I suggested for the future state resonated with the judges and moved our presentation into the winning position. It was fun, it was reality TV at its worst in a professional working space. And it was confirmation of a business practice of believing its own bullshit beyond an acceptable level IMHO. Apologies if the profanity offends.

What works and what pleases by design?  Sadly I am writing this whilst on holiday in the lovely sunshine looking out on some of Mother Nature’s best, which speaks volume for the art of the possible but by design.  It is that which inspired this blog post.

I like the resort and the hotel isn’t half bad, no complaints really it is just that after 5 days and as a closet engineer (my grandfather was a specialist in weights and measures making top secret instrument in WW2) I can’t help looking at some areas and services and thinking “by design really?”

What do I mean by that? Well it doing things on purpose, because it was well thought out, it had been considered, it is stress tested, it has been consulted, and it is thoughtful and sympathetic to those who will use it. It worked, it works. It delivers a good satisfying experience.

These are important key success identifies for anything – product, solution, user adoption, RoI, sustainability, usability and on and on . . . .

Some of the resort blends with the wonders of the natural world around or delivers the experience through the environment one expects.  Whereas some part of the resort was missing the target enough to make you feel “dis-satisfied”; the exposed poorly finished concrete onto the beach, the level of the buildings in relation to each other or horizon, the closed stairway into the grand wide open spaces . . . . It just hadn’t been thought out, designed.

So how does this relate to the world I experience as a cloud solution practitioner?  Cloud computing and the click not code philosophy propels the belief of agility and speed as a huge benefit. And it is.

But by design the principle of deep thought, consideration and that devil’s detail isIMG_5002 what will provide the ROI ultimately in any cloud investment. So no change there from the last 30 years of computing I hear you shout.

Well yes frankly. By design and the pain, investment, deliberation, hard slog, stakeholder managements, engagement consideration of end-users, and the need to understand the end operating environment are all required as essential to the art of the possible. The possible but by design.

So I end this blog whilst looking at the luscious landscape and coast line, the blue sky blending into the green of the forest covered hill tops and the sea lapping at the shore. I have to say by design over the art of the possible gets my vote, even if that design takes time to create the fit for purpose experience that delivers the satisfaction of the art possibility.

Specific time you have been influenced? People not Cloud/Social Media

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Awhile ago I was asked this question as part of a coaching session “Can you think of a specific time you have been influenced to change your mind and how?”

Influence 1It took awhile to think about my response and with my smartphone in hand and the world of social media and apps readily and persistently available I kept pressing myself to think of a Cloud/Social Media example.  You see, so much is given to this great wonderful, and it is wonderful, new frontier of connections and influence that one automatically relates ones life to this. That, or I need to get a life! I have had some great experiences and influences through the widen reach of social media but these have often been from a one-way learning view point. I am sure this will change as the world and our working life becomes increasingly dependent on who we can reach and where we can cultivate influence and advice. But as it stands for me it was people engagement that influenced me most.

I put down my smartphone, logged out of the various social media sites and recalled the moment. In an attempt to introduce customer segmentation to an institutionalised trade organisation it was key to not only provide the facts (statics) but also embrace the emotional decision making process of the board that would sanction its adoption.

This board was made up of the very people who would be impacted by a segmented engagement with the institution – turkey voting for Christmas scenario. There were clear power pockets among this group with influence that extended beyond the institution and into trade bodies and key customers.  This could impact the outcome I was looking to achieve. Having done my analytical homework, proven the 80/20 rule and showed how cross subsidisation was supporting the masses of under contributors as the driver for improved customer retention I was set to deliver what I felt could only be a fait accompli. After all the facts speak for themselves!

A senior member of the committee agreeing with the segmentation strategy took me to one side; “You need to get the board to own the decision and then you need to support their decision through your analysis to validate it.  Without this you will be seen as challenging rather than supporting the organisation.” This was a good point and a key consideration in what was a political and emotional arena. It led to a change in tactic and a more refined stakeholder management approach. Perversely I segmented the stakeholders and looked at each through the lens of “Voice and Sphere of Influence Profile”.  This shaped how I would approach each member of the board and how to gauge their position on the strategy

Influence 2The advice given and my experience in taking heed influenced my approach.  I worked more one-to-one with board members, especially those that were identified as carrying the weight to see the recommendation through or best placed to champion the strategy to the very community it would impact. It is people that make decisions on strategy not statistic and this experience changed how I approached such matters going forward.

It is also, we hope, people at the end of the posts, feeds and links. But it isn’t the same as a hand on your shoulder and a quiet, yet influential word in your ear.

Statement of Outcome – road to repeat business and continued subscription

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Contracts“We’re a customer centric company” proclaims the well-heeled account executive to the soon to be client.  “It’s all about the customer. Without our customers our Cloud/SaaS Company is nothing.”

But how does that translate into a company culture?  And how does that get realised in the execution of service?  And how does that define the customer relationship?

The expansive and exhaustive clauses in the Master Service Agreements (MSA) and Statement of Work (SoW) used to level set engagements have been laboured over, positioned and postulated to the nth degree to protect “all” parties.

The ink is hardly dry when the next signing is due!  Change Orders, Change Control and the endless negotiation on definition of accountability the ruin of many a good customer relationship. The cost and effort in tracking scope and reporting effort adds to burning up precious resource, budget and time. Is there an alternative?

Today the SoW and MSA are the established rule. But how does this fit with the social collaborative, agile method that we all profess to embrace in this Cloud/SaaS day and age? Is this the “outcome” based generation of delivery professionals or are we still entrenched in the “push me pull me” relationship of the last century?

Businesses can execute projects on a strategically optimistic level and become painfully compromised by this. Due diligence can cripple innovation.  Hope and vision is an important human emotion that provides motivation, focus and leadership.  A clear steer is needed in often uncharted waters.  The SoW should be the wind in the ships (project) sails but often becomes a storm rather than a guiding wind as knowledge and learning unfolds.

Ask yourself this; “did the last SoW you delivered against really reflect the effort and journey that was originally set out in it?”, “was what was delivered anywhere close to what you discovered you actually needed?”.

Experience has shown that conflict of interests, and at times crises of principle, between the persona of a Partner and the execution of a Supplier can create the worse in customer relationship; waste, inefficiencies, missed opportunities and lost success, all trapped within the framework that is the Time and Materials (T&M) SoW of the last century.

I have experienced both sides of the customer and supplier relationship. I have felt the pains from both. The supplier that wants to act as a partner and finds the SoW culture aligns to acting as a supplier. And as the customer frustrated by the supplier who fails to grasp the bigger picture to step up to acting like a partner.

I am not saying that accountability, definition, financial management, penalty and control should be abandoned. I am saying that what SoW measures in this day and age are probably not fit for purpose and need to look at delivery and reward from a new set of metrics.

When I think back on being on the receiving side (the customer) I recall that success came from suppliers that worked jointly with me to overcome a challenge. This created the support relationship to bring an engagement to a mutually successful position – an outcome and a partnership.   In this position at times it was necessary to deliver bad news to stakeholders and align with the supplier. But this was in preservation of the bigger picture.  I commend those suppliers who went the extra mile finding the guts to invest in the relationship. You know who you are.

Those suppliers that took up a ridged and tightly formed scope approach chasing the margin suffered a cautious relationship with the stakeholder community. In fact most of the suppliers I worked with who took that approach are not in business today.  Whereas most that partnered and invested in joint risk and challenge are.

Outcomes

In a recent Cloud/SaaS engagement it became clear that the needs of the customer could not be met by the existing arrangement and agreement. Both sides had a learning curve of industry and product that was steeper than first thought. Significant business change challenges and clear knowledge gaps existed that exacerbated the situation. Product capability and readiness impacted the shaping of the solution. The Customer’s ability to provide need support and definition lacking.  It was clear that the duration between pre-sales, SOW agreement and actual project execution highlighted the rapid change of business in this day and age. Our SoW was out of date before we started the project!

This further encouraged my thinking that the SoW should focus on mutual recognition of risk, creativity of mitigation and contingency of clear measurable business outcomes; reduced cost through efficiencies, increased revenue through business intelligence, reputational outcome through tracking CSAT, retention of staff, retention of customers and business, bigger slice of the pie.

How about a collaborative transparent approach across all players in the project with joint investment/ownership and reward written into an agreed Statement of Outcome (SoO)?  We all have some form of performance management scheme in our job roles and are familiar with these so why not make projects based upon the same SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) measures. Anything but scope, time and budget. All of which we rarely are really in control of as time elapses, scope changes and budget diminishes and more importantly, Business Changes, before the end is in sight.

So when I find the conversation focuses on a SoW and the tightly bound scope and engagement framework I ask myself “are we looking at the customer as a lifelong engagements?” or do we see them as a “revenue target for a fixed event?”

I argue that in this Cloud/SaaS subscription economy the latter does not hold weight. We need to rethink the terms of the SoW and look to embrace shared outcome for the longevity of a subscription through outcome based engagements (SoO) when it come to the implementing the solution and long term strategic revenue flows in a SaaS model.