Monthly Archives: January 2015

Cloud is not a part number; it’s a mindset change.

part numbers

Every time we talk about cloud we frame the conversation with words like utility, elasticity and agility.

And of course we are right. Cloud is the ultimate and inevitable destination that represents the third generation of computing, following on from the mainframe and PC generations that saw us all grow up as ‘digitial citizens, allowing us to interact with each other in a seamless and almost unconconsious fashion. And at affordable rates.

The economic and technological plumbing that cloud provides us has made us make enormous strides in our personal and corporate lives, and every indication is that the upward curve adoption of cloud computing is exponentially increasing during this second decade and beyond. A great success and long may it continue.

Having the right mindset to understand the impact of cloud on you as an individual is an interesting discussion point. For many, cloud is a by product of choosing a way to communicate ( mobile phone ) or to collaborate ( tablet ) or to entertain ( TV / games console ), and the actual conscious realisation that you are interacting with a cloud datacenter somewhere around the world is lost on many. And of course it should be – after all no one is interested where the water you wash with you, or the electricity you cook with, comes from. They are possibly even neutral about how much it costs, because they know that they can do some research and find alternative suppliers, who also use the cloud to deliver the same service but at a lower price. its the oxygen we use to be a modern citizen ( though it is a sobering aspect that so many of the world’s population still does not have internet access – we are a fortunate group of people ) .

Our personal mindset about cloud is totally understandable and our children have adopted a wonderful attitude to how cloud can help them. Just Im sure the same as how we all just assumed that switch on the wall gave us a way to lighten up the room to watch Doctor Who. We didnt worry about the wiring, the fuse board and the substation that made it all happen.

So for the corporate IT organization, cloud has now also become part of this ‘conscious unconsciousness’ as they see that ‘moving to the cloud’ has clear tangible busines benefits.  After all, the cloud suppliers much like the electricity suppliers have made the service ubiquitous, and allowed us to make strategic business plans without worrying about the ‘tech’ being the barrier. After all, why worry about IT anymore when Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft have done all the hard work for us. Much like the energy companies.

These cloud suppliers have industrialised the procurement of cloud with pricing models and onboarding routines that make the concept of ‘drag and drop your IT’ such a reality for many. After all no one wants to understand all the complexities of cloud when you can purchase compute power measured by the hour with the ability to switch on, ramp up and switch off using your mouse. Its like a light switch, right!

Cloud is the ultimate 21st century technological change agent to drive business transformation, offering unlimited capability and size to let us all build solutions, reach customers and mine information to depths unimaginable a few years ago. Businesses transform business models almost on the fly as they realise that cloud computing offers them new directions to build new services and expose new markets never considered before. And the rub is that for many, cloud allows businesses to realise their investments, which for most is the first time since the days before Y2K. Too often a CFO had questioned what was the real value that they obtained from their huge investments in IT projects. Ask any government about whether they received value for money from IT and the answers will reaffirm the believe by some that ‘does IT really matter’ ( Nicholas  Carr – again ). A favourite of mine.

Pause for a moment and consider that way back to the 1960s and 70s the mainframe generation did give an outcome. You bought a mainframe ( expensive ) , you recruited IT staff, they asked you what you wanted, and they delivered you an outcome. Black and white. And boy did you pay for it. If you ever want to read a lovely book about these early days of computing and how they transformed businesses you wouldn’t go far wrong to look up “A Computer Called Leo” –  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Computer-Called-LEO-worlds-computer/dp/1841151866 – a story about Lyons Teashops and their use of computing as a business application. And as we all know the advent of the micrprocessor chip, the internet, hard disks and telecommunications took us all out of the computer room, and made IT – COMPLICATED.

We moved into a world where to make IT work it required lots of ‘part numbers’ – hardware components, software licenses, people skills – and depending on the management and control skills of the IT organization depended on how good your outcomes were for the money you invested. Interestingly, though we all ostensibly bought the same stuff some organizations seemed to walk from one computing disaster to another, while others managed to kick on and deliver a good service. And here is the rub. Cloud computing is a platform to deliver IT from. It is not a replacement for the management expertise to take components, and turn them into a service that the organization needs – for a fair price too.

Part numbers abound in the world of IT. We surround ourselves with SKUs and model numbers. We build pricing models that allow us to tag components that drives our industry and cloud is no different – with software as a service using new schemes to charge us for our access and consumption of a cloud service. Vendors offer rebates to oil the wheels and to make sure their products receive favourable treatment from channel partners, and suppliers build a whole sales engine to sell part numbers to meet revenue targets.

But there is a but. And a big but.

People get sucked into the ‘commoditization’ of their IT and the ‘part numbers’ that make up their infrastructure, and lose sight of the fact that they still need to understand what is happening, and how to ensure that they can progressivly build efficient services and responsive support models, without creating ‘new disasters’. You see suppliers fail to grasp that they need more than fancy web sites and posh collateral articulating their cloud shop window, making the assumption that because they are backing off to one of the big cloud companies, their proposition is complete. You equally see clients work with these suppliers without understanding the skills they are going to need to manage the billing relationship, the service relationship and the contractural relationship.

Without a change of mindset in suppliers and clients from the thought that ‘Im OK now all I need to do is procure cloud and it all will fit into place’ to one where they demonstrate deeper maturity and understanding that cloud is just a word masking inherent complexities of skills – commercial, technical and support – then our generation will witness more computing disasters that make their predecessors seem like little blips.

Building a cloud mind-set may mean you have to change the people, or if you are left with the people you have, then it would be worth investing in some ‘coaching’ to ensure their minds are capable of changing to meet the challenges of delivering cloud solutions. Be prepared for some hard miles, and look for people who demonstrate strong skills at visualising and starting conversations in the frame of ‘service outcomes’ and ‘business change’. Worry about those who can only talk  billing and part numbers 🙂

I close with the thought that when anyone talks to me about ‘understanding cloud’ I pause and think, and often wonder whether their enquiry is based on their belief that cloud is really just about part numbers and bills, and  the money they will save or make, or that they want to hear about the multi-layered approach they are going to need to make their investment a sound one. Give me the latter any day please!!
brummie.

2015 – The end of the I.T sales proposal

Businessman handing documents.

The sales proposal. A proposal to sell you something. A statement of purpose. Clear and unambiguous. You want something  and I have something you need. Its all in the proposal. Can I have the order please?

Amazon are the masters at sales proposals one might say. One click away from real time purchase heaven. You see something you like and you get it. There and then. In fact, Amazon have turned millions of people into “sales proposers”. So did Ebay. An entire economy based on the immediacy and intimacy of the ‘sales proposal’.

But in the world of IT the sales proposal can often be a dark and troublesome vehicle to get off the drive. Often Hard to write, time consuming and ultimately, giving cause to more delays that in fact slow down the sales cycle through its ambiguity, loss of message and ‘fluff’ that turns off the reader ( the client )  immediately. Through the waves of technology and commercial maturity in the last thirty years or so,  the demarcation lines between buyer and seller have become both easier ( thanks to cloud ) and harder ( business pressure ). Way back  a supplier had ‘out of the box’ hardware or software that delivered some level of mainstream functionality, and a customer had a need that exactly matched the functional specification provided by the supplier. Examples abound from the early generations ranging from computing mainframe beasts that came sold as a total package including the mainframe, terminals, software and consulting through to needing a PC to word-process or browse the internet. A mobile phone is the perfect sales proposal – this is what you can do with me, this is how much i cost etc…

Of course over time this consumer bias infiltrated into the corporate space with more personal choice which stretched the sales proposition extraordinarily, with the transaction being almost unconscious with one click buying from the IT business – or more accurately, with bring your own, from elsewhere to connect to the IT business.

Meanwhile the IT sales ‘role’ continues to roll along, often ignorant that the corporate world they love and know so well is undergoing a total revamp of the ‘sales proposal’. Yet they continue to follow well oiled and successful motions when presenting solutions and services to their customers.

And herein is where I see the ‘end of the sales proposal’.

A new level of thoughtfulness ( mindfulness ) has changed how customers perceive value, driving the conversation into business speke and away from features and benefits. And of course, cloud computing is effectively killing off the nuts and bolts conversation with the commoditised delivery of the plumbing. I mean when you can buy a unit of cloud for cents and pennies, the discussion moves away from the capital costs of providing the tin across to operational matters – service onboarding, self-service, service management and business continuity.

So for 2015 I urge anyone involved in the sales proposal business to consider three things.

(1) For the sales proposal to land the trusted elevator pitch is always a good gauge. When confronted with the outcome of a meeting, and the dubious task of writing the ‘sales proposal’ I often wonder how many sales types answer the simple 3 questions – Why ( does the customer need my stuff ) How ( is my stuff going to do to meet the need ) and What ( is my stuff going to do when up and running ). Visualising these three questions for me is ground zero for a sales person. Inability to answer these questions when confronted by a peer is a bad start, yet many will spend hours and days creating wordsmith proposals that at first glance are truly amazing documents in terms of content, professionalism and down right, look how hard I am trying to close business.

Even better to frame your 3 answers to the questions before you leave the meeting ( I know – granny sucking eggs ) and to make sure anyone working with you understands them as well. I applaud anyone who can scribble their elevator pitch onto a napkin, whiteboard, slide, hand held video clip or the back of their hand – and visibly shriek with delight at a sales person who has rehearsed their ‘three’ without reverting to a word processed document. Point to remember. Get a colleague to challenge your responses to Why How What. Nothing better than getting open honest feedback.

I know this is not earth shattering stuff but there are three reasons I believe Why How What just plain and simple works.

Firstly, they are pretty darn simple to grasp and in in true elevator pitch territory, if a sales person can do a strong 20 seconds on the Why How What then moving to the next stage is going to be a lot more productive.

Secondly, the Power of Three is a lot more powerful than people give it credit. Whether scientifically proven or just because it resonates with thought leaders and business coaches, our brain’s ability to manage more than three sources of information at any one time significantly degrades as more and more information is thrown at us – especially in an elevator! Yet I have seen in my time executive summaries that talk about endless benefits of working with such and such supplier, because their stuff answers lists and lists of issues with technology in their customer.

(2) Immediately on leaving the meeting produce a one page ‘Why How What’ and send it to your customer. Whether you have to use a word processor or slide tool that’s up to you but whichever way you do it get it over to the customer within 24 hours of the meeting. Why? Well firstly, you still have  a chance that the customer will remember you. Secondly, you still have  a chance that they will remember your ‘story’ and therefore, on reading your one pager have a great chance of being on the ‘same page’ as you.

(3) Work the feedback from the customer. Do nothing until you get some form of reaction from your one pager. Use this as your return visit to ensure clarity of proposition and check understanding of the meeting. Nothing rocket science here but I am frankly amazed again at the sales motion that feels its OK to send something to a customer two weeks after the meeting and expect them to remember what it was all about.

I remember a while back a customer in receipt of a new ‘batch of technology’ complaining that because of the upgrade the work he did before was rendered useless. He was hot happy. So I sat him down and asked some questions. It became obvious that because of what he did – architectural consultant – the most common task he performed was producing ‘straw man’ designs as part of the sales proposal process. Yet he didn’t use expensive CAD software and spend weeks producing Microsoft Word documents. No he used Microsoft Excel to produce two dimensional visualisations ( yes Microsoft Excel ) to share with his customers. I had to ask him the Why question and the answer was simple. Everyone has Microsoft Excel so could read his visualisations. They were always very small in size and therefore did not annoy the customer with managing big attachments. They allowed him to produce visualisations very quickly and he had a library of designs built up since the early days of Excel to use. The compelling reasons were flooding in. What did I do? I gave him his old machine back!

So before I go let’s wish for a 2015 where the sales proposal takes on a different form.

Three things to remember.

1. Do your Why How What and rehearse and rehearse again – before the meeting commences or as you close the initial meeting, summarise in this frame of language. Use a colleague to verify your pitch.
2. Produce and send within 24 hours of the meeting a one page summary of the Why How What. It can be a hand drawn visualisation, an email or a phone call. Just set yourself a goal to do it within 24 hours. Helps to tell the customer as well 🙂
3. Chase the feedback to (2) and do not deviate from producing any more sales propositions/meetings/slides until you get it.

Happy New Year.

Brummie.