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Proactive Penetration is Problematic but Pragmatism, Perseverance and Persistent Promotion Pays

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 😉


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Category: support-messaging  support-strategy  

Tags: marketing-support-services  objection-handling  overcoming-apathy  promoting-proactive  role-of-support  value-proposition  

Rob Addy
Research Vice President
5 years at Gartner
More years than I care to remember in the IT industry

Welcome to my blog! I post about all things services related from the provider perspective. End-users are welcome to read but please be aware that you may sometimes find its content unsettling. I will endeavour to post frequently (as it's a lot cheaper than a therapist) but please forgive me if other more mundane activities occasionally get in the way...Read my official Gartner bio here

Thoughts on Proactive Penetration is Problematic but Pragmatism, Perseverance and Persistent Promotion Pays

  1. Jay Adams says:

    Excellent post and one I plan to read again. I’m a strong advocate of senior level Sys Admins delegating server administration tasks to junior admins or help desk staff so they can focus on more proactive measures. As you’ve mentioned though, there is usually a certain level of resistance when one’s job role appears threatened by change. I’ve seen it many times as well as experienced it. It was usually unfounded though.

    • Rob Addy says:

      Thanks Jay! I agree that the vast majority of good sys admins would welcome the ability be more proactive with open arms. There is however IMHO a significant minority of system administrators that are ill equipped to perform their job and hide behind shields of inactivity and skepticism whilst playing on the fears and ignorance of non-technical middle management tiers to avoid their own weaknesses being exposed. Self-preservation is perhaps the most powerful of all instincts after all. This minority is materially harming the reputation of good sys admins everywhere and needs to be encouraged to raise their game or get the hell out of Dodge if the discipline is to mature and ultimately receive the respect, adulation and rewards that it deserves.

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