by Rob Addy | October 23, 2012 | Submit a Comment
No. This isn’t an anti-Twitter or anti-Tweeting post. Twitter does very definitely have it’s place within today’s product support context. This is a post about support providers that think it’s a good idea to broadcast a never ending stream of overly generic and/or overly specific support related messages to the waiting world with apparently little or no thought as to the consequences of their actions or the effect that their tweeting noise has on their brand image and reputation. Broadcast is bad. Listening (when combined with rapid direct response to any individual concerned) is good.
Why oh why would anyone think it is a good idea to tell the world repeatedly about known product compatibility issues and open technical problems. Isn’t that akin to pouring salt into the open wound? At the very least you are reinforcing negative perceptions that exist. And potentially you are helping to create new ones. Certainly when on the odd occasion I do actually decide to “follow” a provider’s support feed it fills me with dismay to find my queue filled with inane generalities or worse, hundreds of overly specific messages regarding the myriad of products supported. Let us put to one side my concerns over the pseudo religious connotations of “following” and being “followed” for a moment. How many providers are actually analyzing their followers demographically and attempting to understand which of their products or offerings they are interested in? My guess is very few. Probably, none. And that isn’t because it’s difficult or time consuming (which it would be) but because they simply haven’t thought out what their tweeting policy should be. How many even have such a thing?? What would it contain if it existed???
Have these organizations never heard the tale of the little boy that cried wolf? Don’t they understand that many many people believe in the old adage that there is no smoke without fire? Do they not realize that the fastest way to be un-followed (if that is the correct term) is to pump out irrelevant tweets that annoy more than they inform? How much damage is being done to brands within the subconscious minds of customers as they see these streams of negativity? How many potential sales are being lost as followers build a less than rosy picture of the performance and quality of specific products from these tweets?
Yes. Broadcast is most definitely bad. Please please please don’t do it. By all means, actively listen. Listening is good.
Twitter is a communication medium similar to many others. Yes, there are differences but I would argue that there are far more similarities. Context and constituency focus are key. There is undoubtedly a need for providers to have multiple twitter streams to enable them to focus content more appropriately – yet many rely on just the one generic account…
Twitter is a tool. A tool that can be used for good or ill. Take a moment to think about how you are using it. Does it help your cause or hinder your progress? Make sure it is actively working for you, because if it isn’t then that probably means that is passively conspiring against you!
Rant over. I’m going to lie down in a darkened room to recover now…
Category: Support Processes Tags:
by Rob Addy | October 12, 2012 | Submit a Comment
The cloud is much more than a mere delivery mechanism. Much much more. Guinness know it. Learn from the liquid velvet creator. I urge every “Something-as-a-Service” provider to watch the following infomercial… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URxLYupra5s. It is not an advertisement. It is a road map to success.
I delivered a session entitled “To the Point: Releasing SaaS’s True Potential — More Than Just Software Delivery” at our US Outsourcing and Services Summit a few weeks ago. During that session, I demonstrated that the SaaS value proposition could be far more than just the traditional Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) reduction play.
The inherent solution configuration and usage visibility that “as-a-Service” providers have enables them to do many things that deliver increased customer value. As-a-Service Providers “see” many many things! (But most look but don’t see. Many don’t know what they know…). Here are some examples of the kinds of stuff they “know” irrespective of whether or not they know that they “know”:
- User profiles and behaviors
- Frequency of usage, user demographics, session durations, committed and aborted actions…
- Solution configurations
- Process definitions, meta data update frequency, degree of solution capability usage…
- Integration points
- Bottlenecks, delays, duplication, process dependencies…
- Transactional flows
- Inputs and outputs, levels of effort used, consequences of inactivity, what does good really look like…
Using these data streams, providers could create and deliver incredibly valuable services for their customers. Services that contain service elements such as:
- Pre-defined configuration meta data templates
- Reference data updates / imports
- Environmental monitoring
- Proactive interventions to prevent issues
- Benchmarking content
- Operational risk assessments
- Business intelligence services
- Role specific reporting and dashboards
- Best practice guidance
- IT Operations staffing / activity
- LOB process / procedures
- Process improvement recommendations
- Personnel performance data
- Activity vs. Productivity vs. Results
- Test and training environments
- Development sandboxes
- Load / Stress testing services
Providers must use the added visibility and benchmarking opportunities available to them from as-a-Service solutions to drive real business process improvement for their customers. Create optional aggregated obfuscated data sharing models to facilitate user benchmarking. Ask your customers to enrich their meta-data to help you to help them to conduct more meaningful analysis. Show your customers how you can help them to get the best possible return from their subscription. Tell your customers how their usage of your solution compares to similar organizations. Provide a road map outlining the features and value added deliverables described in this post. But above all else… Remember that As-A-Service’s true value is much much more than mere TCO reduction!
PS: Value Aware. Please deliver your services responsibly…
Category: Support Strategy Support Value Tags: "Guinness is good for you"
by Rob Addy | October 4, 2012 | 2 Comments
Despite the seemingly obvious and massive benefits of prevention-based support services, customer adoption is sometimes still not what it could or perhaps should be. The reasons for this are numerous and varied. However the six most commonly cited and observed reasons for delay or non-adoption include:
- customer ignorance over what proactive support is and their role in its realization
- security concerns related to giving providers access to production systems
- blanket bans on installing 3rd party software in production environments
- a skepticism as to whether or not proactive services actually work
- a reluctance on the part of those who would be most closely involved
- concern over the implications that adopting such a service would have on the role, responsibilities and structure of the retained in-house IT operations function.
Ignorance is bliss. But it also prevents proactive adoption
The Kevin Costner “Field of Dreams” model is flawed. If you build it, they won’t come. Ok, they might. But they probably won’t. Sorry. It just doesn’t happen. Technology on its own is rarely if ever enough. If you build it, then tell them again and again and again how wonderful it is then perhaps they might. Seriously. Many customers are tragically unaware of what it is that they are entitled to under the auspices of their existing support contracts. Let alone what is available to them under another service offering entirely. Inform them. Educate them of the benefits they are missing out on. Adoption doesn’t just happen. Passively providing capability helps no-one. Do you want to get them to use it or not? If you really do. Then you are going to have to make them aware. You are going to have to spark their interest. You are going to have to give them the compelling reason to change how they think about you. More than that, you are going to have to get them to actually change something. Apathy and inertia are mighty powerful forces. You must overcome both. You are going to have to sell them on the idea. You are going to have to promote it. And then you are going to have to promote it some more. If no-one knows about it, then don’t be surprised when no-one uses it. Even if they do, they still might not.
Tools of the objection handling trade:
- Customer account intelligence gathering to identify targets / contacts
- Support service focused marketing campaigns
- Sales compensation bonuses tied to proactive support adoption
- Regular message reinforcements / Sharing success stories
- Ambulance chasing activities / After-the-fact reminders of what could have been avoided
“Security” as a smoke screen for non-adoption
In the past, customer’s who were unwilling to adopt proactive services sometimes used “security” concerns as a reason for not permitting their service provider to monitor their environments in real time. Such objections were typically little more than delaying tactics from customers that did not want to adopt proactive services for other internal reasons. In order to get past these “security concerns”, providers have invested in secure encrypted end-to-end monitoring solutions that pose (and more importantly can be seen to pose) no significant risk to their customers. Remote control appliances can be implemented if required. And customer initiated screen sharing processes are common place. We have seen that even the most security conscious of security conscious banks are sometimes willing to give their maintenance providers direct real time access to their key business systems in return for improvements to system reliability, availability and stability. Organizations are used to balancing risk and reward. Your job as a provider looking to deploy proactive services is to show your customers how the rewards outweigh the risks. Negate the risks and emphasize the benefits if you want to overcome the “security” hurdle.
Tools of the objection handling trade:
- Willingness to participate within internal and external security assessments and reviews
- Customer references within security conscious industries
- External certification of monitoring solutions
- Use of pre-certified appliances to facilitate activities like remote control
Environmental lock downs that lock your proactive play out
The advent of remote monitoring technologies has all but negated the need to physically install monitoring agents on production systems for routine event tracking purposes. However sometimes the level and volume of data needed or the desire to perform real time local analytics or complex event correlation may require a monitoring agent to be installed in situ. Providing the support provider is willing and able to demonstrate the reliability and stability of their monitoring solutions and how they impact and interact with their host environments then we see fewer and fewer end user organizations that are unwilling to accept their deployment if the associated business related benefits from doing so are adequately demonstrated. Again, if you show them the reasoning behind the deployment and the benefits it will help them to experience then their objections will reduce. Mitigate their compatibility related exposure and operational risk and reinforce the positives.
Tools of the objection handling trade:
- Willingness to participate within the customer’s release management processes
- Ability to run your monitoring code with virtual containers to enable it to be isolated from the local host as far as is practicable
- Transparency over what your monitoring agent does, how it interacts with its host and what it collects
- Provide sufficient levels of monitoring agent configurability to enable customers to determine polling frequency, limit resource consumption and restrict what is tracked
Converting the non-believers
Despite prediction being common place within our daily lives from weather forecasts, to horse racing form guides, to election results – There is still a healthy dose of scepticism within the industry over whether or not proactive prevention based services actually work. This is a relatively “easy” as providers can “simply” demonstrate the incident rates for customers that are running in reactive mode in contrast to those that are adopting proactive services. We are already seeing some providers doing this. And the data being shared to date shows that proactive customers can expect reductions in incident volumes of anything up to 40%. This is huge. No, it is bigger than huge. The potential savings from failure related activities and the avoidance of opportunity costs should really make the adoption of proactive services a “no brainer” for most line of business executives. Your customers are undoubtedly using, or are in the process of developing, prediction models within their businesses – Seek out examples within their world and use these to help articulate your approach and make it real in their eyes. As long as providers have the right conversations with the right people within their customer organizations then we believe that adoption rates will increase dramatically. The key is finding those people and engaging with them appropriately.
Tools of the objection handling trade:
- Customer case studies and references that demonstrate the value received from proactive support services
- Published comparison data between key performance and delivery metrics for reactive customers and those that participate within the proactive support model
- Improved reactive response time SLAs for proactive customers as a reward for their participation (and in recognition of the lower cost of service delivery associated with supporting them)
- Willingness to underwrite availability levels with penalty backed SLAs (I know it’s heresy to some but it definitely shows a level of confidence in the value of the proactive service)
- Incentivize account executives to introduce a wider cross-section of the customer’s organization to the support delivery team. Prepare a prevention driven story line to show how your proactive support services can drive tangible benefits for the line of business execs.
The System Administrator Roadblock
Talking of talking to the right levels within customers, it is essential to develop approaches for those constituencies that will be most directly impacted by the implementation of proactive services. The “System Administrator Roadblock” is real. Providers must never underestimate the combined power and potency of self interest and fear within the lower levels of the technical ranks. Many of the historical consumers of their support services will be incredibly intimidated by proactive and predictive support services and are likely not to promote their adoption within their organizations as they may believe that the usage of such services will make their own personal positions less tenable and secure. We must be very careful never to underestimate the power of self interest and an individual’s self preservation instinct. Support service consumers are often advocates for the service provider and the technology that they support within their organizations, however they can also be a communications black hole for messages that they consider at odds with their own personal well being. It is a considerable problem that any provider looking to deploy proactive and predictive services must overcome. Alleviating concerns, removing technical barriers to adoption, eliminating the manual effort required and promoting the personal benefits of usage are all areas that providers must address if they are to be successful.
Tools of the objection handling trade:
- Case stories and references featuring the technical rank and file
- Example job descriptions and role definitions for next generation Sys Admins – Show them where they could be and what they could be doing if they play nicely
- Recognition programs for “System Administrator of the Year” (where a pre-requisite entry requirement is for them to actively participate in proactive support)
- Explain how you will “out” them using comparable performance metrics and how it would be better to be on board the train rather than standing on the track as it hurtles towards them!
- Send Bob and Gus round with their highly inappropriate yet highly effective baseball bat influenced persuasion techniques…
The final hurdle is often the highest…
The final sticking point that we are beginning to see is the “Human Resources Won’t Wear It” or “Cultural Change is Difficult or Impossible” scenario. Next generation support services will by definition require next generation IT operations models. Some customer CIOs are unwilling or unable to redefine their operational procedures and processes to be able to take best advantage of proactive support services. In the past the IT operations function were the ones that told the support provider what to do. In a prevention-based proactive world the reverse is more often the case. Providers must be very very careful not to underestimate the impact of this shift in emphasis. Some customer IT functions are not, and will not, be able to accommodate such a change in the short to mid-term. Helping customers by providing them with guidance on the roles and responsibilities of the IT Operations function in the brave new world is a start. But providers must bear in mind that although they can lead the horse to water, they can’t necessarily make them drink…
Tools of the objection handling trade:
- Demonstrable savings associated with FTE reductions within the IT Operations function
- Customer reference stories that substantiate cost reduction claims
- Definitions of the optimum internal support function staffing model to augment and compliment the providers proactive support service
- Transition plans and road maps to adoption / Deployment strategies
Overcoming customer objections like these is not a trivial exercise. Nor is it something that can be achieved over night. But it is eminently achievable. And the ends do definitely justify the means. It WILL happen in time. The sooner the industry gets there the sooner it can reap the rewards of its efforts. The techniques outlined above may help. We have seen providers start their journeys along some of these roads already. There are undoubtedly other approaches that may work equally well. Indeed, we discussed a slightly more aggressive stance in a previous blog entry entitled “Reactive Uplifts are a Force for Good… – Discuss”. I am not saying that the softly softly approach I am describing today will work any better than brandishing the reactive uplift stick. But it might.
Ultimately, I think that both the stick and the carrot will be necessary. Necessary, because the transition to proactive support is necessary for the support industry (and the wider IT industry that it serves) to mature and develop.
Please please please let me know how you get on
Category: Support Messaging Support Strategy Tags: Marketing support services, Objection handling, Overcoming apathy, Promoting proactive, role of support, Value Proposition
by Rob Addy | October 2, 2012 | 2 Comments
Efficiently matching customer needs and preferences to the optimal support representative (or representatives) is the secret of support success. Nothing more, nothing less.
It’s not necessarily about getting the most technically competent support agent to answer the phone. Nor is it necessarily about getting someone who knows everything there is to know about a particular customer’s environment on the line. Nor is it necessarily about getting the same agent that the customer spoke to previously to take the call. Nor is it related to the breadth of industry specific knowledge that the agent possesses. And it’s not necessarily even about ensuring that the answering agent speaks the caller’s language. It’s not necessarily any of those things… It might be. But then again, it might not.
Good service is about getting the most appropriate person, or team of persons, to work with a customer to come to an acceptable resolution point, or agreed end state, that works for the customer and the provider.
But who is “appropriate” and how do you tell that they are? And what is “acceptable”?…
Hmmmmmmmmm… Perhaps this “simple” game of Snap is a little more complicated than we first thought.
Back in the day (Before a pre-website Google blew some of their VC funding on turning a parking lot on Salado Drive into a beach for a week), I used to design and implement auto-assignment algorithms for service desk implementations and contact center solutions. When I was doing this it became very apparent that the concepts of skills and availability based routing were somewhat limiting. My customers would want a whole variety of pairing selection factors to come into play that were not in line with the out-of-the-box capabilities of the product or the available meta data. Sometimes I implemented what they asked for and sometimes I pushed back and helped them to come to a more realistic and more achievable matching process.
Source: “Effective IT Service Management: To ITIL and beyond!” – Yes, It’s a blatant and unashamed plug for my book. Did I not mention that I had written a book? :-)
At that time there a several methods of selection criteria in common usage, despite it being almost 13 years ago the criteria used today haven’t changed a whole lot. The following common selection criteria are still used more often than perhaps they should be:
- Skills based routing
- Experience based routing
- Geographical routing
- Personnel availability
Skills based routing
Assignment candidates are selected based upon their known skills and competencies in relation to the products owned or used by the contact who is calling in. Now this may or may not be useful as the customer may have multiple products or they may be trialing a new product and experiencing difficulties. Either way, the model is flawed. Typically incident classifications recorded by the first line triage agent or via the self-service portal are used to describe skills and as such they may not be too intuitive. It is often better to define meaningful skills and/or roles e.g. network troubleshooting, script debugging, application module specialist etc and to relate these skills to individuals or groups. These skills, or combinations or skills, can then be linked with meaningful incoming incident classifications to identify what skills (or groups of skills) are required to work upon a particular type of incident.
Experience based routing
Individuals are selected depending upon their historic record of dealing with incidents of the specific type in question. The theory being that if someone has successfully worked extensively on a specific issue type previously then they would be well placed to resolve similar incidents in the future. Such an approach can be used where an organisation hasn’t been through a formal skills audit and competency identification process and lacks a documented skills database that it can leverage within the automatic assignment process.
Physical proximity to the incident being assigned is used to identify the optimum individual or group to work upon the ticket. Geographical matching is often completed using a basic location based hierarchy e.g. country, state / county, town etc which is related to both the requester and the delivery team. Where more accuracy is required GIS and GPS solutions can be incorporated to identify the closest resource to an incident site in real time. Within a field engineering context, this may be enhanced by using the likely travel times for engineers as sending the closest body may not be the best option, especially if he has to cross the center of town during rush hour.
Assignment decisions are based upon which personnel are available at the time of incident allocation. Availability based assignment processes should take account of operational working hours, shift patterns, planned absence (vacation, training etc) and should be capable of handling unplanned absence such as sickness etc. This is kind of obvious and yet I still see many providers who are “happy” to dispatch a call to an engineer who already phoned in sick…
And the winner is… Refining the shortlist
Having created a shortlist of potential assignment candidates the following allocation or distribution criteria can be used to select a specific individual or group:
- Round robin
- Workload balancing
- Relationship continuity
- Previous success rate
Members of the subset of individuals, or groups, that are eligible to be assigned against the incident are allocated in turn for subsequent incidents, thereby ensuring that all eligible parties are utilized evenly. Distribution order is often based upon something meaningless like the alphabetical sort order of the individual’s or group’s name – such a distribution method is not usually problematic providing there is sufficient incident volume to ensure those at the bottom of the distribution listing are utilized as much as those at the top.
Incidents are assigned to the members of the subset of individuals, or groups, that are eligible for assignment with the fewest number of open incidents assigned against them. This methodology is based upon the premise that agents working on particularly difficult, complex or time consuming incidents should not be overloaded beyond their current capacity. This is intended to prevent service level agreements being breached before the assigned agent even has an opportunity to begin working on the issue.
Tickets are assigned based upon which support agent has assisted the person affected by and/or reporting the incident in the past. Doing this allows the support agent to develop a personal rapport with the requester and enables them to leverage previous experience of the customer (e.g. their setup, role, skill levels etc) in order to be able to deliver a more personalized and effective service. The intention is to enable personal relationships to form between the support organisation and the customer, fostering closer links and improving understanding on both sides.
Previous success rate
Support agents are selected based upon their previous success, or otherwise, with similar incidents to the ticket being assigned. Such an approach can be used to give weaker agents increased exposure to subject areas which require improvement or additional experience. Alternatively, this method can be used to develop subject matter expertise within the support organisation.
Simple? Surely the process described is as fit for purpose now as it ever was?
That stuff is just sooooo 6 years ago….
Well yes, it is. And that’s not just because that is when I originally wrote most of the preceding section of this blog post. Things have moved on. Unfortunately, many support processes haven’t. The basic premise of filtering and refinement and ranking is sound. But the filter needs upgrading. Here’s how…
- Customer pre-call activity. Tracking customer activity on the support portal and within community forums prior to them calling in can be incredibly useful to determine likely issue and to define the appropriate routing to find the best possible agent with the necessary skills set to help them.
- Personality matching. Some customers like to talk tech. Others don’t. Some customers want you to feel their pain. Others don’t. People have personal preferences. Don’t ignore them. Profile your customer’s personalities and understand the personality types that will work best with them. An insecure stressed out-of-their-depth sys admin will want a calming empath to assist them. A no nonsense propeller head would probably much rather speak to an overt techie.
- Breadth of knowledge and experience. Customers with highly integrated environments may benefit from generalist agents with broader skills sets rather than those that know only one particular area very well. This will allow the agent to consider the whole more readily than a specialist who may head straight for the technical weeds.
- Projected incident timeline and short term agent availability. It may be better to route a call to a lesser skilled agent if they are just starting their shift and will be available for the (probable) entire duration of the problem to minimize agent to agent hand offs and the customer having to re-educate newly assigned agents as to the back story.
- Industry knowledge. Knowing about the commercial environment within which the customer operates help agents to speak the same language and use the same jargon as the customer. It also means that they are likely to be more sensitive to the industry specific pressures that your customer may be facing.
The above list is of course not exhaustive (but then again, what list truly is?) but it gives an indication of the kinds of stuff that should now be in the mix along with the usual historical suspects.
I hope that it helps you to improve you Snap! playing skills…
Category: Customer Experience Support Operations Support Processes Tags: Customer Experience, Processes and Methodologies, Response Plans, Support Quality
by Rob Addy | September 24, 2012 | 2 Comments
To paraphrase (ok, misquote completely) Ronald Coarse, “If you aggressively interrogate the data for long enough, it will confess everything and anything”.
And yet, the inherent dangers of overly rigorous analysis are often completely ignored. Certainly, the phenomena of analysis paralysis is debated frequently. But the potential dangers associated with premature conclusion are rarely considered. Far better perhaps to consider the minimalist viewpoint of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe…
Less is more – Particularly when it comes to presumptions and preconceptions…
If you are searching for a “smoking gun” that you already “know” exists, then don’t be surprised when you find it. By scouring the horizon with your high powered analytical telescope, you have unwittingly blinkered yourself. Your peripheral vision is impaired. Sure, you will eventually find a “smoking gun”, but is it THE smoking gun? Indeed, was there just ONE smoking gun in the first place? Perhaps a multitude of “lone” gunmen were involved? But perhaps no gunmen (“lone” or otherwise) played any part in the proceedings at all? Perhaps your particular lone gunman shot someone or something else and you just haven’t found the body yet? Maybe it was a superficial flesh wound and your systems are limping along despite the gunman’s actions? Perhaps the fatal wound was inflicted by another weapon classification all together? Perhaps a combination of seemingly unrelated factors conspired to cause the issue? Conspiracy theorists can’t all be nuts can they? Who knows? One thing is for sure, if you enter into the analytical process with too many preconceptions and hypotheses then you may arrive at a conclusion that fits the evidence and expectations you have rather than at a solution that fits for all possible scenarios.
Less is more – Especially when considering the practicality of your n-dimensional matrix
Too much data can be as much of a hindrance as it can be a help. N-dimensional multi-variate analysis is a complex and resource intensive task at the best of times. Throwing too many variables into the mixing pot is no guarantee of developing a palatable recipe for prediction. You may get lucky and stumble across a fusion of flavours that works. Or you may never find the appropriate combination and proportions for culinary success. In analytics, as in cuisine, it is the quality of your ingredients that matters – not just the quantity. Understanding the provenance of your data, its freshness and its variability will help you to prepare it better which will ultimately help you to cook up a much better analytical dish. Ingredients matter. The recipe matters. The skills of the chef matter. But all of these things are for nothing if the chef fails to continuously validate their actions. The best chefs sample their food frequently during the cooking process, you should do the same. If it tastes bad or funny, it probably is… Don’t waste your time trying to make a bad dish taste better. At best, you will only mask the flavors and the inherent sourness will always come through. Go back to the recipe and begin refining it once more.
Less is more – Providing accuracy versus timeliness trade offs maximize benefits
Many providers are overly concerned about accuracy. They believe that they must be able to predict every eventuality and corner case for their models to be useful. This is absolute nonsense. Being able to predict the most common forms of system failure with a reasonable degree of certainty is far far more useful than being able to predict every failure with questionable accuracy. Pragmatism is a vital component to all analytical endeavours. All too often the statisticians, data miners and analytical modellers forget this. When you do hit upon a model that works reasonably well for some of the issues your customers face – use it! By all means refine it over time but please please please do not leave it sitting on the shelf gathering dust until you manage to solve the ultimate problem. You may never manage it. That’s not because you aren’t bright enough or don’t have enough of the “right” data. Although both of these may hinder your progress. It could be, and most probably is, because there is no tangible link between every failure mode and every conceivable influencing factor. There is no “uber” solution. Get over it. Move past that. Begin embracing the practical solutions that can and do answer the questions that need to be answered.
Less is more – Time spent at the periphery will pay dividends in many ways
Don’t over think it. Keep your eyes and ears open. But more importantly, always try to keep your mind open to possibilities and solutions that you haven’t yet conceived. This is not easy. Far from it. But a good starting point is to regularly stop focusing on the issue in hand and to actively stop looking and try to begin seeing. See what there is to be seen. Take time to step back and enjoy the view. Breathe in the surroundings and allow the scenery to work its way into your subconscious. It could be the one thing that helps you to crack even the toughest of analytical nuts. Maybe not today, but perhaps one day the knowledge you have gained from this intellectual diversion will fall into place and unlock untold secrets with unexpectedly positive results. Then again, maybe it won’t. But that’s kind of the point. If you never step back and consider all possibilities and eventualities then you will definitely never find the unexpected serendipitous solution.
Less obsession on data volumes and accuracy is more likely to delivery tangible business orientated results…
Sounds simple when I say it like that doesn’t it? Perhaps the hype inflated big data balloon will burst on the back of this post? Nah. That’s just wishful thinking on my part. I know that this blog entry will have minimal impact on the industry as a whole. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth saying. And in saying it, perhaps I am redressing the balance in favor of common sense and reason a little? Here’s hoping!
Minimalism on it’s own is not enough. Pragmatism is its essential companion for success. As Agent K in the Men In Black series says to Agent J when explaining the need to temporarily disconnect from the matter in hand to gain a broader perspective… “You have to trust the pie.”
Category: Support Processes Technologies Underpinning Support Tags: Analytics, Pre-emptive, Predictive
by Rob Addy | September 19, 2012 | Submit a Comment
Recently I have been working with some providers who have extensive legacy service portfolios which are holding them back. They know it, I know it. They may not admit it to me, but do they even dare admit it to themselves? I hope so. But still they fail to take decisive action. These defunct service lines are expensive to deliver and fail to encapsulate the value necessary to differentiate in today’s changing market. The perceived need to continue to support and deliver services which are no longer relevant is immense. What will the customers say (or worse do) if the provider tries and change the status quo? Paranoia-based paralysis is no excuse for inactivity. Doing nothing will seldom improve the situation. Waiting for the perfect solution to present itself will often mean waiting for a very very long time…
Consider if you will, the 1978 Kenny Rogers’ classic “The Gambler”. Business is “just” a game after all is said and done. Admittedly the stakes are higher than some games. But then again, they are considerably lower than others. The difference between the winners and the losers is their ability to weigh up the options and to make value based judgement calls to determine the optimum course of action. As Kenny sings:
“If you’re gonna play the game, boy, ya gotta learn to play it right.
You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.
Now Ev’ry gambler knows that the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away and knowing what to keep.
‘Cause ev’ry hand’s a winner and ev’ry hand’s a loser,
And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”
So I urge you to look once more at your portfolios. Are you avoiding the difficult decision? Do you need to cut something loose to enable you to move forward? Burying ones head in the sand is NOT a strategy. Engaging with the affected customer base and explaining your need to change is essential. Most will understand your dilemma as they probably face the same issue within their business. Providing you offer them a rational transition roadmap with net neutral financial impact over the short to medium term they will likely agree to come with you on the journey. Sure, some may balk at the idea. Some may even threaten to leave you. But can you really afford to have them stay? If your legacy offerings are hindering your ability to deliver higher value prevention based services then they have gotta go. No “ifs”, no “buts”. In a world where agility is key, dragging the legacy millstone along behind you is tantamount to corporate suicide.
It’s not easy. But nor is it THAT difficult. It’s just a matter of YOUR will to make it so. It is important and could be the one thing that saves you. Here is a quick road map to get your particular ball rolling:
- Segment your customer base and profile those customers that will be affected by any change.
- Identify transition roadmaps for all permissible start and end points.
- Define the minimum entry requirements for each end point and perform a gap analysis for the affected customers.
- Invest time to understand what YOU can do ahead of time to help them with the desired transition. Is there a technology play? A training requirement? An automation opportunity?
- Engage with the right people in your customer organizations. C-level good intentions can easily be undermined by lower level inertia. You will need to target and convince multiple constituencies if you are to be successful.
- Communicate your intentions clearly and honestly. If they are going to have to do more or pay more be damn sure that there is no ambiguity.
- Set the timeline for transition. No-one likes to be forced into something they don’t want to do but by giving them sufficient time to get used to the idea and to prepare you are minimizing their discomfort.
- Commit to what YOU will do as part of the transition and make sure you are ready to play your part.
- Develop a metrics regime to show progress (internally and externally). Communicate progress and success along the way to encourage those still to make the leap.
- Explain to those unwilling to make the journey with you that you are unable and unwilling to allow the current situation to persist. Help them to leave gracefully if that is their choice.
- Execute the plan diligently and consistently with NO exceptions.
Simple? No. Necessary? Yes.
Good luck with your migration journeys…
Category: Support Strategy Tags:
by Rob Addy | September 9, 2012 | 3 Comments
Traditional managed service provider’s that fail to adapt to the changing marketplace are in danger of becoming an endangered species. Many of them don’t realize this. But that doesn’t make it untrue. Much of the activity that used to be core to outsourcing engagements is now being delivered under the auspices of support contracts. The ISVs and OEMs are expanding the scope of their support services to deliver and demonstrate increased value. Unless the MSPs raise their games (and move further up the service value chain) they will be forced to accept declining revenues as customers begin to understand that they are paying twice for the same (or incredibly similar) things.
Meet the Managed-service-asauraus’s
The world had been good to the MSPs. Profits and growth were good. But they had become complacent. And this complacency could be their undoing. They were bloated from a diet of mega deals and a lack of commercial exercise. Their huge bodies made them slow and forced them to consume a regular diet of new deals to keep the mass viable.
Meet the support monkeys
Support had been treated as a necessary evil. Often seen as “just” a cost center, it had been deliberately kept hungry. This forced it to adapt. In a fight or flight scenario, the support monkeys always ran. They lacked the teeth necessary to do anything else.
You scratch my back, and I’ll eat the fleas off yours…
For decades the symbiotic relationship between the support monkeys and the outsourcing-asaurus’s worked well. Clear lines of service delineation and mutual happiness with their working margins meant that neither party had anything to gain from rocking the boat.
And then the asteroid came…
The economic crisis changed everything. The support annuity came under increased scrutiny and the support value proposition was questioned. Everyone was hurting and everyone was being asked to do more for less. After cutting the fat, providers had to cut into the muscle (and in some cases down to the bone). This weakened them and made them hungry.
With food becoming scarcer, the managed-service-asaurus’s started looking for new food sources. The product support related pickings which had once been consider too trivial or insufficiently nutritious to be worth chasing became increasingly attractive. Third party maintenance became in vogue. And the managed-service-asaurus’s turned on their old friends. This shocked the support monkeys (who were also feeling hungry) and caused them to throw their hands in the air.
The monkeys had to think…
But throwing their hands in the air wasn’t going to cut it. So the monkeys started thinking. They hadn’t done too much of that for the preceding couple of decades so it wasn’t easy at first. But they were intelligent and agile and soon got the hang of it. They had to forget that they knew everything there was to be known about support and remember what it is that helped them up the evolutionary food chain out of the primeval swarm in the first place.
They remembered a mystical box…
The “box” was the key. Although at this point the support monkeys weren’t too sure what it was the key to, not indeed were they to sure what a “key” actually was. But they knew that they knew something and they knew that they had to work to get it.
They had to work together to reach it…
Reaching the “box” was difficult. It required hard work. This was not easy as they were under attack from multiple sides and they didn’t have the full happy tummies of the past. But they persevered. They mustered their troop and worked towards the common goal.
What was in the box?
The box contained all manner of prevention-based goodness. The origins of, and road map for, proactive and predictive support services were crammed into the box. These were the tools that would help the support monkeys save themselves and save the day. It’s not that the monkeys had anything against the managed-service-asaurus’s (even though they were the ones to start the competition) but their need to survive was just as keen.
New tools gave them the advantage…
Being closer to the technology allowed the support monkeys to get to next generation services faster. Being proactive and predictive meant that they were able to carve out an increased slice of the available foodstuff to sustain them. This changed the dynamics of the relationship between the managed-service-asaurus’s and the support monkeys. No longer did the monkeys have to make do with feeding on the scraps left by their brethren.
The result was inevitable?
Is the end result inevitable? Perhaps. Certainly the relationship between support and the rest of the industry is changing. How it will develop and what the end state will be (if indeed there actually is an end state) is unclear. But one thing’s for sure – The support monkeys are in better shape than they have ever been and the future belongs to the agile mammals not the inertia laden dinosaurs!
Category: Support Strategy Tags: Outsourcing, Support Value Chain, TRKFAM, Value Proposition, where does support fit in?
by Rob Addy | August 24, 2012 | 2 Comments
You will never be quick enough. Sorry. In the past you had a chance. Business dependency upon IT was limited. IT used to feed the operational machine. But then IT became the lifeblood of the business. And now IT is the air that the business breathes. The average human can survive for 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water and 3 minutes without air. Can you really solve your customer’s most complex problems in under 3 minutes?
The superhero complex has to go. You must get past your historic adrenalin addiction. You are not, and never will be, fast enough to routinely save the day. That time has passed. Speed is good but it is no longer the only, or most important, measure of success or value. If your only value is your responsiveness then you will become an irrelevance. And irrelevant is not something that you want to be.
Fighting intellectual battles was great fun. You got to prove yourself daily. It kept you in the spotlight. And all publicity is good publicity… Right? The heat of battle was intense. It caused some of your people to burn out. It caused your customer’s business to suffer. Alas, that kind of collateral damage is no longer acceptable. Effectively keeping the peace is the new game to master. Assuring availability whilst optimizing deployments and reducing operational costs to deliver maximum business value are the new objectives.
It’s time to reinvent yourself and redefine your own image of self worth. Have fun with that!
Category: Support Processes Support Strategy Tags:
by Rob Addy | August 19, 2012 | 2 Comments
Practically everyone agrees in principle that prevention is a good idea. Some people even agree that prevention is a realistic and attainable objective. Fewer people agree on the best way to realize that objective. But despite this mass agreement, hardly anyone is truly running their IT functions on the basis of tried and tested prevention based techniques at the moment. Even fewer support providers are actively offering and promoting prevention based services. So why is this? It’s not just that prevention is hard. Which it is. Nor is it that it requires consistent and continuous effort (which may or may not actually pay off). Which it does (And no, it might not pay off). And it isn’t because the costs of prevention are front loaded and the ROI unpredictable I.e. You need to invest in prevention before you get tangible performance improvements and increased stability (as a return).
Prevention is a more akin to a leap of faith. Does one attempt to understand the risks that one faces and then take the decision to knowingly choose to accept the odds as they are or does one do ones upmost to change the rules of the game and the prevailing odds in ones favour? Remembering that even if you do, there is no absolute guarantee that all will be well. Even the longest of shots come home ahead of the field to win occassionally. Indeed, a rival may decide to bank the “prevention cash” and may still be “lucky” enough not to suffer from business impacting failures. Is it right or fair? Of course not. Life (and more importantly probability) doesn’t work that way.
Fairness has nothing to do with anything. Probability is a cruel mistress. Sometimes it feels as if she is favouring one provider or organization over another but she isn’t. She is ruled by the odds and mercilously brings success and destruction according to the likelihood of the potential outcomes of strings of interdependent events. Fatalism would suggest that bad things happen and they cannot be avoided. I don’t buy it. If fate predetermines success and failure, why do some organizations seem to be impacted by more than their fair share of “bad luck”. Is an intergalactic karma-based force appeasing their misdeeds in a former life or parrallel universe? Maybe. But I prefer the slightly less “out there” possibility that perhaps those that don’t see their names in the press associated with this months IT “failure of the century” are doing something other than crossing their fingers and hoping for the best! Do they call what they do “prevention”? Maybe, maybe not. But they actually do stuff (sometimes unwittingly) to make bad outcomes less probable.
So why don’t we see more prevention? Is it because we lack a means of communicating and promoting its value and the route to its attainment?
Yeah, yeah, yeah… Change the record Rob. We’ve heard it all before…
OK. I admit it. I am a prevention advocate. If there was a prevention club I’d probably join it. I want to live in a world where careful planning and diligent execution make things certain. I like the idea of knowing that when I click on something it will do what it’s supposed to. IT is not a mystical force from on high. It is an immature business discipline that has yet to become all that it can be. I hope that IT will eventually learn from its mistakes just as its manufacturing cousin did previously. It took manufacturing over one hundred years from its birth during the industrial revolution to get beyond the angst of puberty and actually begin to make things certain following the quality management revolution of the 1950s. I sincerely hope that IT can remove its blinkers and expand its insular perspective to benefit from the experiences of other management disciplines. I believe that if IT looks to the manufacturing, health and safety and environmental management arenas then it will mature an awfully lot quicker than if it blunders through multiple painful iterations of goodness on its own.
Which brings me to the point of this blog post…
A colleague challenged me a few days ago, ”You’ve been banging on about prevention for ages Rob… Have you got a single slide that sums it all up that I can use?” Much to my shame I hadn’t. Sure I had slides that built to show the various forms of prevention, the hierarchy of controls, the need to consider residual risk etc. Some of you may have seen my Pillsbury Doughboy slides where the incident is detected and remedial action implemented in one scenario, the incident effects are proactively mitigated in another and then the incident itself is prevented in another. They work (ish). They tell a story and make prevention real in the eyes of the audience (hopefully). But I didn’t have the single static picture that told the end to end story. Was even such a picture possible? This got me thinking. Several hours of googling later I had nothing. Sure there are a few interesting infographics out there (See the links below for my current prevention centric faves)…
But no single defining image that sums it all up. This surprised me. No. More than that. I was shocked. How could this be true? Surely somewhere there are dozens of fantastic prevention infographics??? Please please please let me know of any that you like.
In the absence of a plagiarism opportunity I was faced with a choice…
Admit defeat or knuckle down to it. Never one to let a challenge slip by, I set to work. What is it to prevent? What are the ingredients of the secret sauce? How can outcomes be made certain? How do the key ingredients relate to each other? What are the trade offs and how are they prioritized? How can one convey the essence of an intangible in the form of a visual? All of a sudden it became obvious why there is a dearth of prevention pictograms… The creation of said graphic is non-trivial.
About the same time, the Curiosity Rover hit the surface of Mars and the headlines. This got me thinking. And that thinking turned into the draft graphic you see below.
Do I like it? Kind of. Is it finished? No way. Is it over complicated? Maybe, yes. Perhaps it’s too complicated. But then again, prevention isn’t trivial. Far from it. If the secrets of prevention could be unlocked with a few blobs and a couple of arrows then what would the challenge be in that? Does it capture all of the moving parts? I hope so. Please feel free to let me know of any glaring omissions. I am trying to show that prevention isn’t something that can be applied after the fact to an entity. It has to be embedded and must permeate through the entire organization. From an initial back of envelope scrawl to the first iteration of a workable graphic has taken a few days. Will the analogy change? Yes, I think it probably will. Where will it go? I have no idea at present. Is it worth investing some more cycles on? Yes, I think so. What say you guys?
I hope you find it interesting (and maybe even useful) in its current incredibly rough draft. Please let me know what you think…
I’ll keep you up to date with its progress.
Category: Support Processes Support Strategy Tags: Prevention, Prevention-based systems, Preventive services, Processes and Methodologies
by Rob Addy | August 9, 2012 | 2 Comments
A while back I brutalized a Kipling classic in the name of Product Support. Well, now it’s Wordsworth’s turn. “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” gets a revamp in aid of the myriad of knowledge marketplaces and developer exchanges that are now prevalent across the globe… Talent and expertise are no respecters of creed, geography or race. And it may appear that I am no respecter of poetry either. Once again, I apologize unreservedly to anyone who may be offended by the butchery of this literary gem!
I pondered idly on the cloud
That floats on hype o’er sales and bills,
When all at once I spied the crowd,
A host, of “jobless” ne’er-do-wells;
Inside the app, beneath the code,
Muttering and cursing at their load.
Continuous refactoring that refines
Eating Twinkies through the day,
They program never-ending lines
Making margins on Pirate Bay:
Ten thousand saw I on eLance,
Posting their threads in far advance.
Wage slaves beside them pranced; but they
Out-did the shackled slaves in glee:
Ace coders cannot help but play,
In such an agile meritocracy:
I gazed–and gazed–but little thought
What wealth the crowd to me had brought:
For oft, when at my plans I peep
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They deliver fast and good and cheap
Which is the bliss of multitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the ne’er-do-wells.
Micro-sourcing to the crowd via global talent marketplaces is a reality. And yet the true power of the crowd remains untapped. What are the crowd-sourcing use cases within the support context? Provider’s who learn to leverage the power of the collective effectively will have real advantage. How can you embrace the unwashed un-blinkered masses? How can you harness and direct the raw intellectual power of the collective? How can you get the ne’er-do-wells to do your bidding? These are some of the big questions that every support provider needs to answer.
Category: Support Strategy Technologies Underpinning Support Tags: Alternative Support Providers, competitive advantage, Processes and Methodologies, Strategic Planning, Support Technologies, TRKFAM