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Getting To Know You, Getting To Know More About You

The year was 2009 – eons ago in today’s fast paced world.  A then great vendor called Attensity hired me to write some thought leadership into the budding world of Analytics (budding as in people noticing, not as in just emerging as you well know).  They wanted a series of blog posts that talked to the issues about Analytics that most people were not thinking about – or even considering.  

Some of those posts did not survive the time (like the one comparing the Sodabowl and the Brandbowl approaches during SuperBowl 2010) and some of them are timeless and well worth the re-read.  These are the questions that organizations and vendors are asking today about Analytics.  

I’d like to use them to kick off the series again – and update it.

I won’t tell you if it’s a republished one or not – you can figure that out I hope, but I can tell you for sure this is what you need to be thinking about as we embark, again, into the world of analytics.

Let’s start with the idea of getting to know your customers better.

Back in the stone-age of computers, circa 1980s, we did not know much about our customers. We kept contact information and some account information but we did not use it often. The fact that over 30% of data out there is outdated, incorrect, or even not real (most organizations have at least one Mickey Mouse and one Donald Duck among their customers) tells the tale of businesses that didn’t spend too much time caring for their data. Once we realized that data was valuable we set to create profiles of customers, collecting as much demographic information as we could.

We later added transactional data to these databases, and we thought we knew our customers. We knew who they were, where they lived, what car they drove, what credit cards they carried, where they shopped. In some cases, we kept personalized information about their habits and likes-and-dislikes by “analyzing” their use data.

Later, we began to accumulate transactional data from CRM and similar systems, and we sought to learn about our customers by using analytical CRM in all this transactional data. If a single, 36-year-old, male customer who lives in Milwaukee and drives a Cadillac buys our product surely somebody else with the same profile will do it as well – right?

There is a lot more intricate behavior to segment customers than their demographics; what we called attitudinal (what they are going to do) and behavioral (what they are doing) information appeared from using surveys and was aggregated with existing information inside Enterprise Feedback Management (EFM) systems.

Finally, getting back to this day and age, we found out that customers aren’t truthful in their answers to surveys. The reliance on biased information yielded bad analysis; depending on wrong conclusions to make decisions is never a good idea.

Can we really get to know our customers’ needs and wants?

Enter Customer Familiarity.

We are accumulating massive amounts of data on our customers, their transactions, behaviors, likes-and-dislikes – but we are not using it. Stored data is very similar to fresh fish: after a few hours, not so fresh anymore. After a few days, well – you know. Using this data is where analytical engines come in and they make sense of it, provide value, and actually drive actionable insights. And, as the title for this article explains, where we can get to know more about customers.

Why should you get to know your customers better? Glad you asked…

Better Segmentation, Better Returns – One of the tenets of success in managing relationships with customers is proper segmentation. Once the customer base is segmented, organizations can assign the necessary resources to the segments they want to retain to maximize the returns. The problem with segmentation is that it is usually done by the number of dollars spent, not by a metric that can be managed (customer purchase decisions, with very few exceptions, can only be influenced – not managed) and tracked back to KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). There are more clever segmentation techniques that create smaller, more profitable groups – but they cannot be applied without the proper data and the right analysis. Knowing not only who the customers are, or how much money they spent but also what they want and need provides need-based segmentation, making it easier to properly apply marketing, sales, and even service interactions and to optimize the relationships eventually leading to met expectations, higher satisfaction, and eventually emotional loyalty.

Expectation, Satisfaction, Loyalty –There is a simple path to loyalty: get to know customers’ expectations, meet and exceed them over time to create long-term satisfaction, turn that long-term satisfaction and habit of over-delivery into emotional loyalty. The problem that most organizations have in this equation is the first variable: getting to know their customers’ expectations. Thankfully we collected all this data about their attitudes, behaviors, needs and wants – even opinions on different matters. The massive amounts of data we collected until now (Yahoo, Google, and Sears routinely process databases in excess of a petabyte) can actually be used.   Most organizations can use this data to learn about customers’ expectations, but they do not because we are not paying attention to the right thing. They use reports and “analytics” to see if customer satisfaction is up or down, or if loyalty can be built – but not to familiarize themselves with their customers. They seldom take the time to apply he right resources to the right place.

Resource Allocation – All organizations have very limited people, time and even budget to invest in improving relationships with their customers. It should also come as no surprise that some relationships are worth investing in, where others are not so worth it. Using analytics to get to know better what customers want ensures that the allocation of resources is perfected. As Bruce Temkin, Forrester analyst specialized in Customer Experience, said in his Six Laws of Customer Experience:

CxP Law #3: Customer Familiarity Breeds Alignment

Given that most people want their company to better serve customers, a clear view of what customers need, want, and dislike can align decisions and actions. If everyone shared a vivid view of the target customers and had visibility into customer feedback, then there would be less disagreement about what to do for them. While it may be difficult to agree on overall priorities and strategies, it’s much easier to agree on the best way to treat customers.

Have I convinced you to start looking at ways to use your data better? What are you doing to learn what you customers want and need? Are you seeing the results of your initiatives? Let me know…

Personal: My Daughter Made Me Do This (But I’m Very Proud)

TL;DR –  My daughter is seeking retribution from me using her as example / stories in my blogs and presentations.  Her term is going to globals and is fundraising.  Link at bottom.

If you want to know how this works out…

I have two adorable kids: Gabby (nee Gabriela and AKA Gigi) and Coco (nee Carolina).  They are 12 and 9 respectively and its likely you know this somehow.

I use my kids in presentations and blogs here and there.  I told you once how I had to use I’d’ve in a  blog to show Gigi/Gabby/Gabriela/Oldest that its possible; told you about their Twitter and Snapchat and Facebook (yuck) habits.  Told many stories about her and her friends using Twitter, texting each other in the same room, and their obsession with screens and Minecraft (still don’t get that one).  I often refer to them when debating generational differences.

As she told me last weekend – It’s payback time.

She has been participating in Destination Imagination competitions for the past four years quite successfully.  I used to be their team manager and am still surprised at the level of dedication and work these kids put into it.  Destination Imagination is a global competition where kids from all over the world have 2-3 months to design, build, and implement a “something” using STEM and arts principles.  Beyond the learning about science, physics, chemistry, arts, and more they get self-confidence.  And they learn that winning a medal or trophy requires work, not just showing up (sorry, ranting…)

Her team under my expert tutelage (rather in spite of it) won passage to state for the past three years (competitions are quite interesting, its amazing what 3rd-5th grade kids can do when motivated).  This year they also went to state where they competed against 18 teams from all over California and won the right to compete at Globals in Knoxville TN.  They came in second by 4 points and honestly – kicked ass.  These kids are good and creative and committed.

In DI circles this is big.  Very big.  To give you a perspective: those 18 teams came from 9 regions and approximately 120 initial teams.  They placed 2nd in state by 4 points.  They worked their little fingers to the bones and were hyper creative to get there.  I’m very proud of those kids.  They are competing against the 100 best teams in the country and some 80+ teams from other countries in six different themes.

And now, the dreaded fundraising.

Costs almost $20,000 to take the entire team and materials to Knoxville.  There is no contribution from anyone other than the parents for this (they have written and signed letters to local foundations and business, gone knocking door to door, asked their school mates to contribute, and have other activities planned as well) and just three-four weeks to get as much as possible.  They are working hard to make this happen.

I promised I’d help, so here is my chance to pay her back for suffering my ribbing and exposing her secrets over the years.

Because Internet.  They setup a YouCaring site to collect money.  You want to encourage them to continue working hard and seeing results in exchange for that (and have some pocket change to spare)?

Link: http://www.youcaring.com/tuition-fundraiser/help-ridgeview-elementary-6th-grade-di-team-get-to-globals/337156

Gabby, my daughter (used to be Gigi – but kids grow and nicknames are not cute anymore daddy… yeah, kid… just wait until you start dating and you’ll see how Gigi was cute compared to the ones I have saved…) thanks you.  The Jazzy Snazzy Kitty Cats thank you (I don’t make the names, this is better than some others, trust me).

As I said – she made me do it… but I am also very proud.

disclaimer: seriously, you have no need or obligation to do this and of course no donation will change the course of the world or make me be nicer to you or your product.  If it did I am sure I’d get a sizable donation from Oracle (not a client) :-).  As much as I never ask for anything and this is only my second personal blog ever (first one celebrated Paul Greenberg’s 60th Birthday) I do apologize if you are offended or otherwise miffed.  Thanks for supporting me all these years and will go back to regular rantings on improper use of technology and whatnot next week (I’m deepening coverage of Analytics and Machine Learning – which are not the same y’all).

update: their team and others from the school district was also featured in the local news.

GetSatisfaction: The Controversy Cannot Hide The Facts

If you follow the news you know that GetSatisfaction was acquired by Sprinklr last week (link to press coverage).

Almost immediately the press and analysts went into congratulatory overdrive on a great step for both of them.  Slowly trickled out, and why I try to wait for a few days before publishing reviews, were the not-so-happy postings on the transaction – including this piece on Business Insider today (grain of salt: its business insider – the yellow press of business journalism) where one of the founders complain.

It is not, as you likely know by now, my place to take sides on fights that don’t involve me.  Ask my daughters – broken bones (sticking out) and blood are the only two reasons I get involved (thankfully never got to that).  Let the parties figure out the reasons for the fight and better yet – the reasons not to.

There are two issues though, that bear analyzing:

  1. the role of communities in marketplaces and workplaces
  2. the proper way to fund and support a startup

I’ll make it easy – I cannot contribute something worthwhile to the second one in a blog post; it is a very customized-personalized thing that changes from one to the next and whoever says different is just selling you a — well, their services.

I will gladly contribute to the first one – because i’ve been saying this for far longer than i remember: Michael Maoz (of Gartner fame and a good friend and former colleague while I was there) and I talked about this in 2002-2004 and then had to give it up since no one cared.

I wrote plenty about it before, including a difference between the many ways communities are shaping up to be.  Still, no one cared.

Now, y’all do.  Sort of – at least starting to.

Communities are (should’ve been) the only reason we started social networks and why social matters to organizations.  And they are the (renewable) power source for business transformation going forward.  Communities is something you, Mr/s. business person, should care about deeply – and yet, more than 85% of “youz” don’t.

I don’t have sufficient visibility into the dealings behind the acquisition, but I can tell you one thing: this is not the last.  If you look at the “communities providers” vendors they are all in the same: working through the resistance of 85% of the market that doesn’t get what communities are and what they do – and using the other 15% to propel them forward.

We will see more acquisitions like this very soon, in the next few months.  We will see more vendors with great technologies being folded into more complete social and even CRM suites.  We will see more dreams shattered (likely) and some realized.  We will see the beginning of the rise of communities to become mainstream (rule of thumb: 30% adoption in the marketplace) and to realize their potential.

One more thing: I am not talking about community managers and purposefully built communities.  That’s training wheels stuff when it comes to communities.

I am talking about the model that GetSatisfaction embraced and was unable to sustain in the market: ad-hoc, open, freely moldable and shapeable communities where people come to share power and knowledge – and no one controls or brands.

If you are interested in forums and structured communities you still don’t get the concept of communities for business.  This is not your grandpa communities – that was just more “training wheels” stuff.  This is about providing an infrastructure and let interested parties build and power communities.  Very different model than what you are thinking (and I know this because i talked to many of “you” every week).

What do you think? (comments below, use them)

The Customer Process: The Five Thing You Need To Know Now

Today is a rare event in that I have a guest post.  I almost never do this, I actually have only 3 guest posts total in my entire blogging career, since this blog is — well, about me.

However, once in a while I find smart people that take concepts or terms I have been working with and take them in a different direction and they are extensions of my work.  I like to feature those.

I am not sure why Mike Boysen wanted to put his post in my blog – his is far better than mine… but here it is.  He makes some very interesting points (not that I agree with everything – of course) and has a great approach combining SDL, JTBD, and a bunch of other different ideas.  So different from the customer journey mapping malarkey that everyone is writing about (still not sold on mapping anything, but at least this approach is more dynamic).

Mike is very smart and I like what he says and his writing – else he wouldn’t be here.

Recently, Esteban Kolsky, Brian Vellmure and Krissy Espindola were summarized in a white paper from NICE based on their roundtable discussion on The Customer Journey: The Five Things You Need To Know Now. No, I’m not planning to dismantle it. But, what I’d like to do is put my twist (and expand) on this topic in order to more completely address (in my opinion) the challenges of companies that want to become customer-centric; but default to mental models that don’t really separate them from the pack. It’s one thing to be really good at what you do, it’s altogether another thing to do the right thing; even if you don’t do it all that well at first. This is more about service innovation, and not surprisingly, I have a slightly different take on the world.

As a quick recap of my thinking, customer journeys take a look at your current service and the experiences that your customers have as they execute the journey. We can find places where they are unhappy, discouraged, super excited, etc. This is worthwhile work if you know, I mean really know, that the service you are offering is the best option in the market. Even then, you might be looking for ways to add cost to a service (make it premium) whose features already overserve the vast majority of the market (especially non-consumers of your service).

For instance, if you serve commuters with a train service, you must believe that incremental improvements in the train experience will provide the best experience options, at the right price, for morning commuters; for example. Another example might be the horse buggy business; but I’ve already buggy-whipped that one to death.

Journey map inputs you receive are in the context of your service, and the odd chance that you will collect an indicator of an emerging threat are lagging indicators at best; and non-repeatable very likely. In order to be truly customer-centric, while also holding a strategic market advantage, you need indicators that are forward-looking. By this I mean that if updated over time, they will clearly depict where perceived value is shifting to in the value chain. Customer journeys simply don’t get you there; nor does traditional VOC (Voice of the Customer). When attempting to grow the business (almost always) companies are faced with disrupting themselves, or being disrupted by others, and neither of these realities are well received.

So, let me attempt to evaluate the Customer Process across five similar categories (in no way am I suggesting five is the right number, or the wrong number).

The Customer Process is a Macro/Micro Concept

In the world of outside-in process, you will often hear how to look at a company’s process from the outside-in. We start at the point of the final transaction and we work our way back through the process asking how steps add value to the customer along dimensions like speed and quality. I have problems with this because it focuses on existing processes, much like a customer journey focuses on specific services. The other big problem is the goods-dominant logic built-in to this approach. We are assuming that value is transacted at an exchange event (the end-point of the company’s process).

MB-1

Using the lens of Service Dominant Logic, we understand that products are actually services, and that value is co-created between company and customer during the use of the service. Just as importantly, we understand that a customer is trying to get a job done when they hire a service. When this job (which is a solution agnostic process) is deconstructed into steps, we understand that they have multiple needs at each step which they evaluate relative to importance and satisfaction (Net Promoter Score not required).

So, each step is a chance to co-create value through resources that enable the customer, or through resources which can be integrated with other resources (by the customer, or you the company can help there too). However, you need to understand one more thing: value will not be optimized until the customer gets the entire job done; whether you can see the steps or not (green steps). Visualizing those invisible touch points (including that last step) in a quantifiable fashion is critical; and these steps are clear opportunities for a company to find new ways to co-create value with a customer, and thereby enhance the overall experience.

Mapping the customer process (before designing solutions) is critical in order to understand quantifiable value at a granular level, as well as at a high level. It must start from the ground up in order to have the sort of actionable message themes from the customer you need to make strategic bets before anyone else. Understand what your customer is trying to accomplish first, using this approach, to make sure you are providing the right service; and then use the same approach to measure how well your service is being consumed (and you can also use it to monitor the consumption of competing services).

A Map is Important for any Job

In the world of customer journeys, each journey may very well be different. This is the beauty of job mapping: we are looking at a solution agnostic process of what steps are required to get a job done; not the process of using a specific service. In order to do this we need to make some distinctions:

  1. Getting to work in the morning: this is a job that a customer is trying to get done. They may opt to take the train, they may drive, walk, or ride a bike. Context is important; such as what options are available, and what constraints (budget, time, etc.) a particular customer might have. Taking a train to work as a journey, is only partly helpful.
  2. Purchasing a ticket; e.g., for a commuter train: this is one of many consumption jobs. There are steps a customer will go through to determine what options are available during this job (maybe comparing bus to train) and understanding this will help a company with their job of selling the ticket.

It’s highly unlikely that a single map will get your job done any more that a single number will tell you how awesome you’re doing; or what specific strategies must be employed if you’re not so awesome. You may need to deconstruct each step as a separate job and create metrics for them as well. While marketing will greatly benefit from this process, this is not a marketing job.

MB-2

Once again, optimization is great if you are already doing the right thing. The problem is that the right thing changes over time; because while customers continue to get to work in the morning, and they will define the perfect execution of that job the same way over time (the underlying customer metrics), the weight they give these metrics will change as their perception of value will change as new solutions emerge over time – and features ultimately overserve a market whose needs have shifted across the value chain. It would benefit companies to see this early (in a repeatable process), so they can get ahead of the game (they might not be in the train industry anymore). Look at what Tesla is doing; they may not be in the car industry much longer if a larger growth market appears (and that might be happening with batteries – we’ll see). The key is their willingness to find new growth markets and not show blind devotion to their core business. Will journey mapping a train ride make any sense when we get Star Trek transporter technology? Oh, perhaps for some.

Feedback Comes in Many Forms

Oh, this is so true, but what customers are not saying could be the biggest miss of all. The proper form of feedback must be created in order to bring predictability and usability to the forefront.  As Tony Ulwick puts it, the problem with VOC (Voice of the Customer) is that there is no agreement on what a need is. This is both true across functional areas of a business (R&D, Marketing, Sales, etc.) as well as across businesses and industries. He states:

  • Companies do not know what inputs to capture
  • Customers do not know what inputs are needed
  • Customers offer “requirements” in a language that is convenient to them
  • Many firms try to translate the inputs into something useful
  • A mix of input types results
  • Inconsistency in structure, content and format is common
  • Success is not always achieved

As a result, companies determine that customers don’t know what they want, or that their requirements change too rapidly over time. In fact, the most important feedback we can capture is related to what our customers need. Therefore, what companies need is a more systematic method of structuring and measuring what customers need.

Customers purchase services (and products) to help them get functional, emotional and social jobs done. Each step of a deconstructed job is where customers (even though they may not know it) use forward-looking metrics which define exactly what the successful execution of the job should look like. In the terminology of outcome-based logic, these metrics are called desired outcomes; and are each equivalent to a specific customer need, at a specific step in the process.

There can be scores of these metrics for any particular job. And keep in mind that you will want to look at related jobs and consumption jobs as well; so it can be a bit more work than we’re accustomed to. In a nutshell, there is only one form of feedback that is forward-looking, consistent in value, and repeatable; and it can be used in a variety of ways.

Keep it Easy and Consistent

There are a number of dimensions through which customers evaluate a service (or product).

  • Speed: while not all jobs have to be done quickly, they do need to operate within contextual time constraints. A customer might wish to minimize the time it takes to accomplish something; but they might also want to increase the likelihood that they can accomplish something within time constraints (e.g., obtain as much rest as possible before morning)
  • Stability: This relates closely to consistency, where it’s important the inputs into a process, or outputs from the process are more predictable.
  • Output: A customer may wish to scale, and volume could be constrained by waste and inefficiency. Therefore finding ways to eliminate obstacles is a key category for customer metrics.

Surveys around effort are nice, but they completely lack context. Some jobs simply can’t be “easy” today. Take, for example, understanding customer needs. I wouldn’t say the process I’m describing is easy, but it’s far more stable and provides better output than other options available. It’s also faster to target new opportunities to co-create value in current and emerging markets. Another common assumption is cost which is also contextual; just ask the owner of Ferrari.

If you understand customer needs (functional, emotional, and social) at each step where value is co-created between the company and the customer, you will be creating the experience with hard data that can be updated fairly easily over time. This will feed back into your product/service innovation, marketing, sales, and support processes (etc.).

Flexibility is not Optional

Once you have built an effective targeting system for perceived value in getting jobs done, you need to determine what the current level of capabilities within your organization and/or the market are. The underlying article talked about obsolescence, and the need to make sure you aren’t investing in service models that will completely change in five years. A suggestion was to “build an infrastructure that enables customers to get what they want.” This deserves further exploration…

One thought leader I follow is Simon Wardley from CSC’s Leading Edge Forum. He has developed an interesting way to understand the dynamics of the value chain called Strategy Mapping (although it appears he has recently renamed this to “Value Chain” Mapping). Essentially, new services (or products) begin in the genesis category where everything is custom and expensive. Eventually, over time it moves toward commodity as components standardize, and possibly even to utility.

I would agree that placing huge bets on building infrastructure that has already (or will soon) become a service makes far less sense than building a genesis service on top of a platform; which is likely built on a set of technology standards that used to be in the genesis category individually. However, someone has to make those initial genesis bets and generally, the timeline for disruption is far longer than 5 years. As Simon corrected me, the length of these cycles is still decades.

I think what we will all agree with is that investing in custom solutions to interface with customers in a multi-channel way, when you can subscribe to a multi-channel capable service, makes little sense. However, if you are in the business of providing a service to customers, you may very well be building custom solutions that are expensive because it is new, highly profitable, and there are few competitors. In that case, obsolescence will likely not occur in 5 years (unless you really don’t know what you’re doing!).

Summing it Up

Visualization is important. However, we need to make certain we are not looking backwards (existing solutions) when striving for customer-centricity, and we need to be certain that we can put a number to the experience at each step of the way. I’ve probably expanded well beyond the scope of the round table discussion; but I get to do that! As usual, the comment box is below. Go for it J

Further reading

Giving Customers a Fair Hearing

The Customer-centered Innovation Map

Turn Customer Input into Innovation

Simon Wardley’s Blog

 

On Electrical Grids, Cloud, And What We Are Doing Wrong

If you read my “stuff” you know I am a very big proponent of cloud computing.

I wrote a small e-book on how to be a cloud purist (which talks about and describes the proper way to — well, cloud).

I have engaged in numerous battles and debates (both online and offline) that were lengthy and passion-filled about this topic and have always tried to approach them as a way to explain why cloud computing should be the way organizations approach their computing.

There is so much potential and value in adopting cloud computing that it is almost impossible to understand how the bastardized concepts of private-cloud and hybrid-cloud even became a reality (don’t worry, Sameer Patel – no rant about that here… fodder for another post).

In keeping with the role of “thought leader” and “visionary” often assigned to me I wanted to find a way to explain why we are not approaching cloud the right way.  Then the other day came to me in the middle of a run.  Electricity.

We take electricity for granted in this country (well, in most places around the world where a comprehensive solution exists).  We expect it to be plentiful, available, and low-cost.  We use it to power our lives, businesses, and just about everything else (including cars lately).  The true test for anything in this world is to compare it to electricity: you flip a switch and it’s there; you flip it again and it’s gone.

If you bear with me for a few minutes I can explain how we can make cloud work as electricity.

The entire US is covered by an electrical grid.  This is what makes electricity always available (or shortly after it goes out in most cases).  The grid’s purpose is to ensure easy sharing of electricity that is generated in any one region with many other regions.  It also ensures that disruptions that occur in one location don’t affect a larger area and they can be easily and fast overcome.

In the old days, before the grid existed, each town and or region needed to have their own power-generation.  A town that generated too much electricity could not “sell it” to a neighboring town (unless they laid out a cable between them – and another for every other city or region they wanted to sell it to) and would often end up being wasted (it is not possible, counter to popular sayings, to store electricity in a bottle for a long-term).

The grid that is laid out around the entire country (and parts of Canada) is used to backup power failures and ameliorate peak load usage.  It also makes it far more efficient and cheaper to operate.  It was established in the 1920s (and evolved many times since) on the same principles that made telephony and telegraphy work: sharing common infrastructure costs reduce costs and improve efficiency among the suppliers and providers.

The concept of cloud computing, based on models of distributed computing established around the same times as the electrical grid – even before computers, should work the same way.  A public network connects myriad resources (storage, computing power, services, etc.) that should be shared.  By providing a centralized set of security, management, and allocation rules enables anyone connected to that public network to use those resources.

Before the internet was the public network we could barely do cloud computing: it was a dream (if you remember, CORBA, COM/DCOM were early versions of distributed computing that failed due to the lack of a public network – think of them as “private network” technologies).  The introduction of the ubiquitous and cheap network made it possible.

And this is where the story differs.

Software vendors decided, as the electricity and telephone providers did before them, that controlling their customers (and retaining them in their own private networks somehow) was more important than building a computing grid similar to electricity.  Today, we are still undergoing that same problem.

The question that always kills me is when I hear someone ask “how many clouds do you have?”.

When we talk about cloud as if it was a storage location for files, or when we discuss how each vendor offers their own cloud (or even clouds – hybrid, private, government-only, etc.), or when we say that anyone that offers a product or service via a browser is “in the cloud” we are missing the big picture.

The public network, is not the cloud – it is the equivalent of the power lines that transverse the world (and having lived in Argentina and Roseville, CA I know power lines – trust me).

Delivering an application via a browser is not the cloud –  it is the equivalent of selling someone an electrical generator.

Hosting your own “cloud” is not the cloud – it is the equivalent of selling someone a transformer.

A cloud requires infrastructure built by each participant and common standards to support the connections between those components.  If you want to operate a power plant you better make sure you connect to the appropriate grid to take advantage of all the benefits of operating within it.  While building your own power plant for your own purposes may work for some situations not every homeowner will benefit from doing so.  Even if you have solar or wind energy in your house – you still need to connect to the grid to both sell excess production or power your house when there is no sufficient production.

The cloud is the grid that distributes all those resources so that anyone who needs them can use them with the assurance that their solution will not be “hacked”, changed, altered, or stolen.  Just like you don’t expect an electrical appliance you plug into the electrical grid to be corrupted or blown away (as long as it complies with basic standards), you expect any application you plug into the cloud to be secure and perform as expected.

That is the model we need to strive for.  Not owning electrical transformers, generators, or power lines.

Let’s build a cloud computing grid.

The Scapegoat Mentality

This is a combination between a bad Jerry Maguire scene and the conclusions of many months of conversations around many topics (yes, I woke up at 3:30 AM from a bad dream about “scapegoat” execution and had to write it and share it; I may get fired but my boss is quite understanding since he is more into results and outcomes than into looking good doing things…)

As a stream of consciousness post I may get some parts wrong (and feel free to correct or change what I say in the comments; that’s why they are there); as an observational post it is going to be a summary of the past 6-12 months of my conversations, observations, research, and work.

Here it goes.

First, we are entering what has been called many names (investment years, executions years, GSD – getting “stuff” done moments, etc.) but all points to the same: we are done talking about things and having big ideas and “thought leadership” moments and we need to make things happens. As an analyst it is a scare stage: I make my chops as a thought leader pointing to the future and what may be and now it is about to become reality.  For the next 2-5 years (and maybe longer) and as long as we don’t screw up the economy somehow we are going to have banner years of investment and implementations (and this is not just in the enterprise software world where I live – everything in the world is coming around to be at the same level).  This is what paradigm shifts and transformation looks like at the beginning.

Second, the moment of big ideas is behind us and we are to the second part of the plan: get them done.  I had the pleasure to participate in an innovation summit last week and one of the speakers was from Amazon; as he was talking he reminded me of the guiding principle that Jeff Bezos always talks about: stubborn vision, flexible execution.  We are past vision – better be formed and in place.  If you don’t know what is going to look like in 36 months right now (and can recite it with your eyes closed and backwards in 10 languages) you are too late.  You will miss the boat and be a laggard instead of a mainstream or advanced adopter. Nothing anyone can do to fix that now – you either have it (because you invested the past 18-24 months preparing) or you don’t and will implement a half-baked vision and “shoot from the hip” as you go along (not always a good idea, unless you are an itinerant execution and have succeeded at that before – but even then, weaker model than knowing where you are going).

Third, you have 18-36 months to invest and you won’t see the results until then.  You may see small incremental results before then – but not the big picture all put together.  We keep repeating obsolete (I wanted to say stupid, but don’t want to insult lots of people) phrases (culture eats execution for breakfast, relentless pursuit, passionate driving, continuous improvement and some others) spun out by pundits looking for notoriety (or should I call them ninjas and rockstars? doesn’t matter – they are still nothing more than catchphrases and sound bites) but the bottom line is that transformation is hard and will take 2-3 years to see results (note: this is better than last time we did this and took 4-5 years; cycles have greatly improved – but still takes time).

Fourth, We love to follow leaders (the real ones, not the ones that speak in platitudes and sound bites and have no idea what they are doing – but look good doing it) but I see few of them.  For all the talk for transformation of marketplaces, workplaces, and schools – they are mostly an inch deep.  There are some serious changes that happened in our societies in the past few years (online communities changed the nature of the world, everyone is more empowered with more and better access to information and knowledge, traditional models have collapsed under their own complex weight, and more like that) but very few people who totally understand and have figured out a way to carve a path forward and have people follow them.

Fifth, this is inevitable.  We are at a crossroads in history and we need to make something happen.  There is time if you want to come from behind but no more if you want to lead the early charges.  You need to have a strategy mapped out, a timeframe built up, and your key players identified already — or continue working in execution and come in as a late mainstream or laggard (and miss the opportunities and rewards of being early to market).

You are reading this and nodding along, I hope, and then you say, “fine – I believe you… but what do you want me to do?

Don’t get an scapegoat mentality.

It is tempting to put someone without understanding of how the world changed (but that talks big words and good sounding catchphrases) in charge.  A large number of organizations have done that over the past 2-3 years.  The people leading the strategies have proven they could do it in the past, or have proven they could do something in the past, and have been placed in charge.  Because they did it in the past does not mean they can do it again.  Hopefully the qualifying discriminatory stages identified people who get and set a vision (the most critical part is knowing the metrics of success and the urge to iterate instead of arriving at an end-stage) and know how to move towards that.

In spite of my hopes I am finding more and more organizations with the wrong models for implementing their transformation.

I look at organizations today and I see three things that make me believe we are more into looking for scapegoats than executing:

  1. Vision is not stubborn or is not there, but sounds like it because “we are going to transform” became the mantra (but there is no effective strategy in place to do so)
  2. The organization is the same hierarchical model as before (and usually top heavy) instead of flat and flexible
  3. The end result is measured by revenue or dollars instead of effective change accomplished

When you get to the point where you think you had to be in 2-3 years one of three things will happen:

First, you will have succeeded to reach the vision you had and learned along the way many things about how to succeed, lead, and more importantly about how to change as you go with flexible execution.  Likely things won’t look like you wanted them 100%, but you will be close and the strategy will be embraced and adopted by everyone.  And you will know it is time to iterate and move to generation 2.0 or even 3.0 of what you are working on.

Second, you will have half succeeded but realized along the way what you missed and why and will improve the vision and strategy as you go along and come up with the second or third generation of the vision – but still be around to implement it and make it work – reaping (eventually) the rewards of achieving the goal – albeit a tad later (which is fine, as long as you iterate effectively instead of “pivoting”)

Third, you will need an scapegoat.  Someone needs to be responsible for the monumental failure stage you reached and whether you remain alive as an entity or collapse and your bones are picked by the organizations in one of the two previous end results, you will need scapegoat; someone has to take the blame for the results (in spite of the many platitudes we speak lately as mantras – fail fast, learn, etc. – we are still a society that needs to points to someone or something as a failure point; its innate).

This is where this post comes in: when you find yourself at that point where you need to point to your failure point and are looking for a scapegoat (which most likely is already identified from the beginning) take the moment to do things right then: don’t just blame, but go through the previous 1,400+ words and see what you missed along the way.

It wasn’t their fault you failed as an organization, there is no a single scapegoat capable of doing that which the organization as a whole couldn’t have done.  The main failure point (and I can tell you this way before you get there) was the stubborn adherence to a business model and organizational structure instead of embracing change and flexile models.  You have a scapegoat to blame for the lack of execution – but the indicators were there way before she or he took that spot: the organization was not ready to execute and no amount of cattle prodding or pushing will change that in a short time and without modifying things and iterating as you go along.

Scapegoats are overrated.  There is no satisfaction in knowing someone is responsible for the failure (in your mind).  You still failed.  Failing fast with a responsible party does not change the outcome – you still failed. Failure is failure.

Instead of looking for an scapegoat preemptively why don’t you focus on empowering each individual in the organization to do things as they see fit, stick to your stubborn vision, and use the empowerment you effected across the organization to succeed at your own pace.

Whereas I hope few people will have implemented an “scapegoat” mentality – I know it is not true.  My hope is to change a few of those with these and subsequent writings.

Welcome to “digital transformation” (but seriously, make the conversation go beyond digital).

Ready?

ICYMM: Gartner Prophecy is Wrong (Says Someone Else)

ICYMM: Pointers to articles and posts elsewhere in the world where my work is featured.

This one is a good article that quotes me, but not based on an interview.  I really like it when someone takes my work and expands on it – it is what I always try to do.

In this case, Chris Ward from MyCustomer.com took a little bit of the work I did with IntelliResponse last year on Knowledge Management and cross-referenced that to some work that Gartner did on self-service.

In his opinion, and I kind-of agree, the present state of Knowledge Management as reflected in my research will prevent the prophecy from Gartner on self-service solutions to become reality.

Quote

“Doing self-service right means making the self-service experience available in a multitude of channels,” he states, in the report. “This appeals to a customers need for consistency of experience. Today’s best digital self-service technologies are channel agnostic, so that the customer can select the interaction channel of their preference and expect a consistent answer.”

He says that even though self-service has high adoption rates, the trends and data points will prevent it from reaching the 85% adoption that Gartner predicts by 2017.

Quote

The good news for self-service technology providers is that 64% of companies plan to invest more in self-service and extend it to other channels in the next 1 to 3 years.

He cross-references other data from different studies as well, but makes a good solid case for not reaching the goal.  Where is Knowledge Management and Self-Service adoption right now?

Read the article and find out…

What do you think? Is Gartner right? Short? Almost there?

Tell me your thoughts down below and will chat…