A few years into my role as a CIO, I realized that having the right people in the team is perhaps the single most important factor to be successful. In the initial period, I had struggled with my team which consisted of a few old timers, some good professionals, and youngsters. Some were effective and enthusiastic and others were placid and unambitious. Frankly, some did not fit into the group at all and caused considerable friction in the team. In such cases, it was natural for me to pick up the good ones in the team and entrust them with all the critical tasks. This was rather unfair as the sincere amongst them got overburdened while others were cornered and denied opportunity.
In the next organization I was fortunate to have a small but a good team and I added a few more based on our projected plans. As we slowly built up systems, people got involved and worked together to achieve success. Having tasted success, they wanted to do more and joined hands to scale greater heights. I could then sense the synergy in the group and general positivity which was wonderful.
It is said that there is no better way to learn than by experience. Experience showed me the magic of team dynamics and the importance of having the right people together. It is pertinent to quote Jim Collins from his book “Good to Great’. He says: “First get the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figure out where to drive it.” He lays emphasis on the having the right people with you even before you begin your journey. Wrong people in the group may destroy teamwork, damage morale, and spread inefficiency and discontent.
Thumbs up to team work
Now let us look at the advantage that comes with having the right people in your team.
(a) Great teamwork: People feel comfortable working with each other and create a supportive environment. There is synergy in the group and the output often exceeds the targets set. You have self-managed and self-motivated people who need no supervision.
(b) High morale: The positive work environment ups the morale of the team and people feel excited and enthusiasm is palpable. People are self-driven and do not look for incentives.
(c) Quality of work and delivery: People put their hearts into the work and the result is high quality of work and timely execution. Committed individuals and the team practice self-supervision and ensure quality delivery.
(d) Better image of the function: Such enthusiasm is infectious and slowly rubs off on people they come in contact with. People from other functions love to engage with them and the image of the IT department is thus enhanced.
(e) Better connect with the management: When projects are rolled out successfully and the user departments express satisfaction, the message gets carried on to the management. I was in one such situation and the result was that all the further proposals by me got approved quickly and without much questioning (and that made other people envious!?)
(f) Delivery on time: We know most IT projects face hurdles and get delayed. However when right people work in a team, each person pulls his weight and delivers projects on time as the honor of the team is at stake.
(g) Personal bonding: People learn to respect one another and matters like seniority and hierarchy recede to the background. Informal get-togethers and social bonding are not uncommon.
How to build a team
Building the right team is a challenge and to be honest I have been able to build up such a team in only four of the seven organizations I have worked with. Getting the right people on the bus and offloading the wrong ones is easier said than done. Let me deal with this subject in my next article.
I have come across quite a few IT professionals and CIOs who desired change of jobs just because they had reached a level of stagnation in their current organization. When quizzed further they said they had already done whatever there was to do and therefore they have now to move on to do something bigger.
I was often amused and pretended sympathizing with them asking a few innocent questions to let them open up and tell me something more about it. What they said revealed quite a lot about their psyche and their level of understanding of the role they had taken up. These people were either CIOs of medium-sized organizations or IT managers from some larger organizations and they met me for a position in my company and in other cases came to seek my advice on their career paths.
What I found was that, in many cases, the perception of candidates was they had reached the limit of what could be done and there was nothing further that IT could do. Strange as it seemed, these candidates, however, seemed convinced of the situation. Let me narrate an instance of my encounter with a candidate who approached me for a job as manager. After the initial exchange of information about his current role and the my requirement, the conversation proceeded thus:
Me: Good to know that you successfully implemented ERP in your organization. Why then would you like to leave this position?
Candidate: Sir, once ERP is implemented there is not much else to do. Plus I have already given reports that users wanted.
Me: OK. Are users making use of the reports and have they derived benefit by reducing inventory, outstanding etc.?
Candidate: They take out reports regularly and I would expect them to put that to use.
Me: Did you explore the possibility of making process improvement in various areas and of reducing the turnaround time of different processes?
Candidate: That is a business call sir. I don’t want to interfere in their area.
Me: May be BI can help in analyzing business performance.
Candidate: I know but other managers don’t listen. Plus, it is difficult to train them.
Me: What about connecting other stakeholders like suppliers and dealers over Internet?
Candidate: That will take a long time.
You may have guessed it right, I rejected this candidate.
Those who came out of this syndrome
A young CIO once approached me requesting me to mentor him on his career path. Besides seeking a direction for his career, his immediate requirement was to change his present job for something better. I tried to understand his current role and factors that limited his progress. His answers were somewhat similar to what is mentioned above, but in this case he was searching for answers.
I talked to him about various possibilities including process re-engineering, BI, content/ document management, web-based processes merging into ERP, introducing mobility, etc. He then left with a few ideas in mind and worked in the same organization for the next two years bringing about changes and getting management’s attention.
He met me again and said he wants a change now, not because he was stagnating but because the organization had limited growth plans and therefore he wanted to use his new-found learning and confidence in another organization that is looking for improvement.
I thought that was an amazing turnaround displayed by this young man. He simply demonstrated that he could grab initiative and act when others slept. Problems are only in the mind and once you act things start things start falling in place. There is no point in running away from any situation as you may encounter the same problem in the next outing. Unless we use our faculties to improve the situation around us, we may fall short of our self-esteem.
Networks are the sensory nerves of the IT set up of an organization and extremely critical for the functioning of information systems. They connect the users to the information database and carry data and information to the users and let him operate on data and applications. Should the network snap, the entire organization’s work comes to a standstill. Yet the network is sometimes not given as much attention as it should be. There is a tendency to handle problems as and when they occur without getting into the root cause or taking steps to augment the network to take care of increased traffic or to remodel the network to ward off problems that occur frequently.
When reviewing IT performance of a few organizations I found networks either failing or delivering poor performance. User complaints were usually attended to with the IT in-charge either blaming the components, vendor or the budget sanctioned but doing nothing to work out a long term solution to the problem. In many a cases I found the network to be one which was designed several years ago but continuously burdened with additional users and applications without the network being adequately reviewed or upgraded. Some organizations had no network diagrams while some had no one specifically assigned to take care of the network.
Some good practices
I am discussing Local Area Networks (LAN) here as that forms the backbone of full network. People do connect from outside either from their other offices or through internet but that is through the WAN network. To make the LAN reliable it is necessary to follow some good practices which I explain below:
- Network planning and design: Laying of networks is not a case of ad-hoc cabling but requires careful planning and designing. The network should cater to the present and future requirement of business. Network planning therefore should take into account the business plan and growth projections, network capacity planning, definition of the number of LANs / VLANs and following structured cabling process.
- Network layout: The next step is a detailed design of the network identifying different types of physical connects for example places that need to be wired and those to be connected through wireless or radio. Documentation is essential in the form of a network diagram to show the placement of switches, routers etc. and types of connects for example cables Cat-6, Fiber, wireless etc.
- Laying cables: Once the network topology is drawn up, it becomes essential to make it work on the ground. It is important to choose routes through which cables would run and decide whether they would run either above or below ground or on walls and ceilings. In factory environment, it is essential to flag the route, use different color for network cables (to prevent accidental damage due to digging & construction), keep away from high tension cables and avoid mix up between network & electrical cables. For wireless networks placement of routers needs to be properly fixed up.
- Use network monitoring tools: The story doesn’t end with laying of the network; its good performance is a critical need. Physical or manual checking and surveillance are not an easy task and therefore it is necessary to install proper network management tools which can indicate traffic volumes on various segments of the network, measure performance, help diagnose faults and facilitate resolution. It is essential to move towards centralized monitoring and control.
- Concern for security: The local network need to be protected from unauthorized access both from within and outside the premises. Network sign-in should be through registered user-id and passwords. Extra care needs to be taken for Wi-Fi networks.
- Connect to the outside: All external connects should pass through VPNs, firewalls/ intrusion detection tools, etc. With increase threats, a 24/7 check by in-house staff becomes impossible and therefore companies prefer to outsource network security monitoring.
- Review of network once every few years: Requirements of organizations are never static and steady growth puts pressure on the network. Newer applications ride the network, more elements are added and the topology also undergoes a change over a period of time. Networks sometimes become unwieldy and therefore need a re-look and redesign where necessary. Components on the network also require replacement or upgrade.
It pays to keep the network healthy, live and kicking. It can be done only through adequate care and nurturing. A smooth flow of data and information brings smiles on the users’ faces.
The job of a CIO is not an easy one. While on one hand he is expected to be proactive in addressing business challenges with technology, on the other, he is supposed to keep the lights on, ensuring that the IT infrastructure is available at all times. He is on his toes trying to meet deadlines on projects, is drawn in to discussions, arguments and brawls with users, is involved managing various vendors, and is busy ensuring that all elements of the IT infrastructure work in an uninterrupted fashion. He sometimes looks dazed at the end of the day.
All of this saps his energy. If he is resigned to his fate and carries on with complaints, he faces the danger of stagnation. If he wants to grow and rise up in his profession, he will have to break free and find a way out of this daily rigmarole. This is however easier said than done.
1. Take a break
He is to come out of this monotony, take himself away from the clutter and give some time to himself — time to be quiet, to think and relax, without the constant interference of TV, telephone, and the Internet. He will find that he comes back clear-headed and refreshed, and his work time will be more efficient and productive. He can take off and go for an adventure which brings back joy and the challenge in him.
He can take the entire staff on a development break — let us say a team building exercise which has adventure, role play and pep talk by motivators. Being together but away from the workplace, increases bonding amongst the team members and infuses new ideas into the group.
It is the responsibility of each individual to effect the change necessary to reinvent work so that it has personal relevance. Companies want that employees take responsibility for their own careers. To accomplish successful career transitions within an existing organization or a new organization requires personal motivation. Successful transition can be achieved by a willingness to learn and by possessing a positive attitude. He has to work on himself to add new skills and to expand his horizon of thought and action. To do that he can work on various ways to renew himself:
A good way to attain knowledge is to read chosen books on management, self-development or on technology. He has to ride over excuses of time availability or of not being in mood. I have often set aside one hour before dinner for reading and then it turns into a habit which lets me finish the book soon.
4. Attending development programs / workshops
I have sometimes seen CIOs shying away from developmental programs arranged by their HR departments. Sessions on leadership, negotiation skills, motivation, or managerial skills can often act as change agents and instill renewed enthusiasm into the individual.
5. Requisition for professional short term courses
Many event management firms and management institutions hold short- or medium-term executive development programs. These may be on management subjects, technology, or personnel development but are very useful. Personally, I have benefited from them and was fortunate to get opportunity to apply the learning in my workplace.
6. Attend seminars
Various technology seminars held from time to time present an opportunity to keep you abreast of the new developments and the changing landscape.
7. Join courses like MBA, MS, etc.
There’s nothing like adding new capability. Of late, I have seen many from the lower- or the middle-management levels taking a shot at new degrees either on full-time or part-time bases. They come out stronger and are ready to take a leap.
Blessed are those who keep reinventing themselves and are ready to grace new pastures. No one knows one’s limits and therefore it makes sense to test our worth and stretch ourselves to the extent that we can.
It was during my school days that I first learnt the importance of good writing as a means of communication. Our English teacher was once distributing answer-sheets of our periodic exams in the class. One of the questions in the paper was of essay-writing. The teacher singled out my paper to explain to the class how an essay needs to be written. I was overwhelmed as I always thought I was poor in English and often used to envy some of my classmates who had rich vocabulary to boast of. The teacher simply said that the key was not about using a flowery language but of simple expression conveying the story to the reader in a way he can understand. I could never forget that advise and that stayed with me ever since.
Experience of the professional world
After a few years of working with two companies I moved into a management consulting firm. I was on my first major assignment and had to submit a proposal to the client. I carried out the fact-finding with great enthusiasm and then compiled the data collected to write out my proposal. The proposal, painstakingly written, was full of expression and analysis and I forwarded to our Director for his approval. The Director later called me over and told me in a polite way that though the proposal was good, he had difficulty comprehending it since he looked from the client’s perspective. He said that the proposal did carry details of the task to be done, the process that I would adopt, and the deliverables, but did not speak of the need for such a work, the purpose to be served, and benefit that would accrue to the organization. It was a knuckle on my head — in short, he told me that the proposal didn’t make sense! Feeling hurt, I sat with my senior colleague to complete the task.
A similar experience with another organization a few years later brought more sense into me. New to the organization, I set out to prepare a comprehensive IT plan for submitting to the management. There was nothing wrong with the effort that I put in or about the technology solutions I envisaged. My final report carried details of system requirements for each function, software to be developed, hardware to be procured and a schedule for implementation. Most of my colleagues agreed with my assessment but our Managing Director did not. He said he could see no connect with the organization’s plans and said that the report did not indicate the purpose it is going to serve. Another knock and I nearly swooned.
I had to understand the art of good writing and went about reading, discussing, and applying what I learnt. I wrote the following guidelines for myself for writing out any report:
- Objective: Always state the objective or the main purpose of the report.
- Context: Explain the background or build up the context so that the reader is able to make out the situation that is being addressed.
- Explain approach: It is important to explain your choice of actions and various options considered for resolution. Your arriving at a conclusion otherwise would not convince the recipient of the report.
- Specify the solution: It is important to be specific and unambiguous on your decision or the final recommendation. What you may do is to suggest and leave the final decision to the person to whom it is forwarded.
- Enumerate advantages: It is good to mention about the likely gains, advantage that may accrue or savings possible and wherever possible quantify them.
- Conclusion: End up stating clearly the action that you expect. It could be seeking approval, wanting to inform, putting the matter for debate or justifying your stand but it is important not to leave the report open ended.
Did it work?
Yes, it did. In subsequent years, I was lucky to have most of recommendations accepted without too much of a debate or with very few objections. In fact, many of my other colleagues in other functions wondered what steps I had employed “to please my bosses”. I was happy to have learnt something which I could use.
Managing the complete IT infrastructure of any organization is not easy. Many a time we receive frantic calls from users crying hoarse that they are unable to go through their transactional process, are unable to take out reports or that they find it difficult to send mails or to access information. This is a complex issue that needs tackling; the CIO goes about diagnosing the fault in order to isolate the problem and set it right.
It sometimes is a nightmare. The CIO is not sure whether the issue is on the client, the network or somewhere in the back-end infrastructure. He brings to bear his problem solving acumen and tries to go through the problem methodically trying to eliminate various issues so that he can zero in on the root cause. When he has a large and multi-layered IT infrastructure he has to drill down to each layer trying to discover the problem. This often takes too long to diagnose and resolve incidents. As users call him up frantically, he loses his peace and composure. When introducing new applications he has no means to ensure that the application performance will be as good as the developers promised and spends weeks after the roll-out to resolve issues.
Use of specific tools
It is not as if the CIO is devoid of resources. He would have bought performance measurement tools for database, applications or the network and use them to diagnose faults. When in problem he uses these tools to find out faults if any in each of these areas in order to identify and correct them. This takes time since he can’t visualize the problem in a holistic manner but has to wait to find out whether each of the areas are good or have an issue which needs tackling.
Applications have traditionally been delivered from data centers. Therefore traditional performance management has focused on data center infrastructure but delivery of today’s application deals with a complex data center architecture (including servers, storage, virtualization platforms, security layers etc.), multi-tier application architecture and an expanding mix of cloud services, third party services, mobile carriers, browsers etc. The CIO therefore needs a host of tools to manage and administer the complete infrastructure. He has tackle the issue on two fronts – to investigate whether the health of the infrastructure is alright or if not, where is the problem; and secondly, to run, diagnose, and fix problems vis-à-vis the application package if that is where the fault lies.
A holistic solution
It was therefore necessary to have a set of tools which could help IT administrators to proactively scan the environment to of any potential bottlenecks and to diagnose and isolate faults in the entire chain so that they can be attended speedily. So a host of vendors, including Compuware, Computer Associates, HP, Quest, and others, came out and have been offering solutions to make this possible.
Most of these tools offer an end-to-end monitoring and management of application performance or in other words give a global view of application performance. They traverse the entire IT infrastructure to identify any blockage or bottleneck and also do a component deep dive monitoring to bring out specific problem in the application context. They incorporate a role-based dashboard to quickly assess health of applications. Further, analytics provide insight into faults so that corrective actions can be put in place. It is possible to define SLAs and track service level compliance over time. They follow industry-defined standards and therefore if you already have any application specific tool, it is possible to integrate it with the APM suite.
Should CIOs consider APM tools?
Choosing any solution has to be in the context of problems being encountered. IT setups in small and medium-sized businesses are not complex enough to warrant an elaborate solution. However, larger organizations with complex work environment and those sporting multi-layered IT infrastructure may well consider better methods to deal with application performance issues. Businesses are no longer tolerant of IT bottlenecks and it enjoins upon us to provide an uninterrupted work environment. APM suites therefore make a lot of sense.
The CIO and his role is the topic of many a discussion that take place during seminars. The poor CIO is in focus and hence under pressure to live up to the expectation generated out of these discussions. He is often asked to be more aligned to business and put on an influential role in his organization. He is asked a play a strategic role as against operational responsibilities that he shoulders so admirably. These discussions sure perk up the CIO and make him ready to assume a greater role in business but is often lost in thought not knowing how to go about doing so.
The CIO has to find a way in which he is more useful to the organization and make technology work for the company in its effort to grow and be more profitable. The plan that he makes for IT has to serve the organization’s objectives and goals. He also has to ensure that he selects the most appropriate technologies and solutions to help the company leap a few steps ahead of the competition. That makes his role strategic in which he has to understand company’s direction and goals and also bring in an element of strategy to his IT plans. That can enrich his role and make IT more effective for the business.
The strategic thought process
Even before the CIO starts with his strategic plan, he has to imbibe the strategic thinking process. Strategic thinking is a key thought process of strategic management framework; it is about finding and developing a foresight by exploring all futures and challenging conventional thinking to foster good decision making. This can be done either individually or collaboratively among key people who can positively contribute to the new thinking. Strategic thinking in this case involves understanding the fundamental drivers of business as also awareness about the technology landscape and various technology options available. He has to develop insight into the requirements of business and the right technology solutions that can materially impact organization response to the challenges faced.
Strategic thinking must take into account the following factors:
Alignment: The IT strategy must fit into company’s vision, mission, competitive situations, and operating strengths.
Goal orientation: Understand the goals defined and then set clear expected outcomes and make explicit links between these outcomes and company’s goals. Evaluate technology solutions accordingly.
Fact-based: Best strategies are based on some data, real facts or educated guesses. The logic behind the strategies should be clear and unambiguous. A formal documentation is recommended to set down the assumptions and factors considered for choices made.
Based on broad thinking: In order to keep the company nimble-footed, it will be best to consider multiple alternatives and a range of scenarios to arrive at the select choice. Consider technology solutions that give the company the required agility.
Focus: It is always tempting to do a lot to please everyone but it is important to go by the set of priorities defined by the company and devise an action plan accordingly.
Agreement: It is important to get people on board to work together and support the initiatives. Therefore steps need to be taken to ensure people participate in formulation of the strategy and feel satisfied that multiple view-points were heard before drawing the final plans.
Adaptable: Strategies need to be flexible and adaptable to the changing times and business changes and also based on learning from experimentation and new information. Plans should not be very rigid but one which moulds itself to the changing scenario.
When to start?
The thinking has to begin now. It is best that CIOs train their mind-sets to think strategy and make efforts to understand the situations around them. Strategic thinking is an input for strategic planning and therefore it’s important to get started and apply the thoughts to the factors mentioned above. It may not be a bad idea to seek help where necessary as the objective is to play a more effective role in the organizations that we are in.
I had the opportunity to develop and mentor quite a few of my junior colleagues over the years. Many of them progressed well and some of them really rose higher and took up position of greater responsibilities. I realized that some of them had innate qualities and traits like forward thinking, positive attitude, an adventurous spirit and leadership, and some had educational qualifications to back their endeavor. Some were triers while others were conservative and content. Those who were ambitious but felt inadequate in terms of education and knowledge, went for higher studies and were benefited in the long run.
I have been associated with management institutions and been teaching students through guest lectures and some semester courses as well. The experience has been rewarding as I learn when preparing for the lecture and then through interaction with the students who raise questions. Earlier this week I had the opportunity to take a guest lecture for students of an Executive MBA program, on the topic ‘Strategic Management of IT’. The students were executives from various companies with experiences ranging from 3 years to 10 years and most of them had an IT background wanting to give fillip to their careers. The learned professor explained to me before the session about the topics that the students had been taught so far. They had covered elements of IT planning, their alignment with business, about enterprise systems and the need to justify IT investments to the management. The professor told me that the students would like to know how it really works in the corporate sector and feIt that I can tell them based on my experiences with the corporate sector.
I started my lecture telling them how a simple IT plan differs from strategic plan and how it is important to know and understand business, its strategies, goals and priorities before embarking on any planning of IT and its management thereafter. Sensing their curiosity I explained the various aspects of business that the CIO should study, ask for and understand. I then proceeded explaining how I went about planning and managing IT in three different organizations that I worked with and presented a case study of one of my projects. This was absorbed well and people sat through the class without showing signs of strain.
Interaction with students
Students were bright and quite inquisitive and raised several questions during the sessions. They asked me about my interaction with the managements and about relationship with the CEOs that I reported to. They wanted to know why some plans fail and why some plans go through and falter later. A student even asked me why I had only presented cases where I succeeded but not about organizations where my plan did not work. That was a tricky question and therefore I had to explain about the organization environment and the attitude of the managements which were not supportive.
They were also interested in understanding the roadblocks and people management issues that I had faced when implementing plans. There were also questions on justification of investment and the ‘ROI’ factor and how to tide over them. I was really impressed with the group and their enthusiasm to know and understand. I complemented them and expressed hope that they would be apply what they had learnt that day. For me, they were a bunch of good CIOs in the making.
Developing IT personnel for CIO position
In my interaction with a host of CIOs, I see many of them a bit dissatisfied with their situation. Though they put in sincere efforts in their work, they are sometimes not able to make their mark. They find something missing and wonder why they are not able to get the management on their side. While other avenues could be available, education is one of them. If they could learn various aspects of management they would be better armed when speaking to their seniors. I wish more of our young CIOs and other senior IT staff members consider joining management courses and get equipped to make a difference in their organizations.
The change that has taken place in the telecom sector is nothing short of a revolution. What is available today is far different from what existed two decades ago. From a stage where we used to struggle to communicate with someone far away, we have come to an age where communication devices and services are available off-the-shelf. Far from being tied down with a fixed instrument attached to a wire, now we roam free with a wireless instrument in hand.
The tariffs that we pay for use of communication services today are also a fraction of what we incurred in the yesteryears. Voice calls and data services have become affordable and are being used by the masses. However, some elements of the tariffs are still indecently high and seem out of place with the current situation. Let me explain why they are unsustainable.
Information, communication, & entertainment (ICE)
Today telephony and information technology are intricately merged; both these platforms operate interchangeably. For instance, we can use the desktop/laptop for voice and video communication and our mobile handsets can access Internet and other applications. Any data flow or voice/video is free on the Internet whereas it gets charged when we operate on the telephone. This is the paradox which is hurting the telecom companies and we will perhaps see new business models evolving. Let us examine a few cases which cause this disruption.
- Use of Internet for video chat
A very popular use has been that of parents talking to their children studying in USA, England and other countries through use of applications like Skype, Gvideo, etc. They talk for hours and almost every day without paying a penny to the telecom companies. International calls over ISD have almost become a rarity. Many companies too have been using this facility to talk to their branches or business partners overseas. Since international (ISD) calls are expensive, using these tools makes a lot of sense.
- Using instant messaging
Interactive messaging using yahoo chat, gtalk, etc., have been popular for many years and now many of these applications are available on smart phones, e.g., Whatsapp, Viber gtalk, etc. So people on the move use these options to communicate instead of using the messaging services on their phones. As most phones now use GPRS or its equivalent, use of social networking platforms keeps people in touch. Telecom companies therefore stand to lose revenue on messaging which they usually bill as value added services.
- Calling using freeware VOIP SW
Many of these software are gaining popularity for example Viber, Nymgo, Jumblo, etc. You can subscribe to these services and make calls and pay nominal charges. In fact, it makes a lot of sense to use these for international calls as the international long distance charges are still too high.
- Use of Wi-Fi facility
Wi-Fi connectivity these days is available at most airports, hotels, institutions, companies, clubs, etc. They are free of charge for guests and visitors, but even otherwise you can buy usage for a few hours or for a day and use it extensively. I was abroad for a holiday recently and though I bought a region specific card with international roaming, I took recourse to using Wi-Fi liberally thus saving considerably on ISD calls and roaming charges.
Time for change
Integrated communication has really been a disruptive technology. I believe that the whole telecom sector is set for a change and companies in this sector will have to adopt new business models to stay afloat. While talk time charges and national roaming charges in our country have come down drastically, international call charges and roaming charges are still too high for comfort. They are in fact so high that it doesn’t make sense to today’s customers. All this is set for a change.
We have seen an increasing trend of companies moving their facilities to external professionally managed data centers. Some companies still feel the need to retain their facilities in-house while many others stay undecided and defer their decisions. As far as the data centers are concerned there is a great potential for them to nab customers but this opportunity needs to be tapped effectively.
One would tend to assume that enough is being done by vendors to expand their business but it may be good to examine this premise. I will look at this situation from the users’ perspective, based on my experience in dealing with them.
In my last article I discussed various obstacles that companies face when they consider data center outsourcing. While some of these can be attributed to indecision at the customers’ end, lack of adequate support from the vendors is also a matter that impedes progress on this front. I will discuss the measures that vendors can take to address this anomaly.
- Users’ predicament
It is no secret that users feel intimidated when the sales representatives come over to meet them with their sales pitch. They invariably start off with a list of the services offered by them, cutting edge technology they possess, and their strengths. They offer the moon and throw the gauntlet in the form of ‘cloud solutions’. The customer is usually scared to death, seeks time to savor the concoctions offered and prefers to defer his decision till he understands the subject a little more.
- Important issues to consider
It is important to realize that various companies are at different levels of maturity and therefore would have different needs. It is important to approach customers differently with offerings that are specific to the their requirements. The first step, in my opinion, should be to understand the customer’s current status in terms of IT assets they have, applications they run and problems faced by them. If they have expressed a desire to outsource, it is important to understand the objective and the target that they have set to achieve.
- Sell solutions
Once having understood the requirement, it is good for the vendors to go back to the customer with specific solutions that they propose for them. The vendor can restrain himself from overselling, as is often the case with sales persons pressured to meet their targets. An honest assessment and an appropriate solution go far in building a lasting relationship with the customer.
- Help the customer decide
Customer usually seeks help in arriving at a right decision and so it is prudent to do hand-holding and to help him choose options that work best for him. Nothing works better than educating the customer, making him aware of the technology options being proposed and the advantages that the company would derive.
When organization’s data moves out from its premises, there are usual concerns on safety and security which need to be addressed. Some good vendors go a step further and help the customer in preparing a business case and a ROI justification where necessary. It may sometimes be prudent to initially take the customer through baby-steps rather than leading him to a big commitment — that will help build confidence. Filling the customer with case studies, providing references, and taking them on site-visits can help the cause further.
During my interactions I have felt the disconnect between the vendors and users and think vendors need to work more on this area. Instead of merely dispatching sales representatives to pick up orders, they would do better to assign solution specialists to work out proper deals for the customers. This, in my opinion, is the best way to expand the market and win customers.