This last week I gave a presentation about CRM strategy. After the presentation, there were some interesting comments made by the business owners in the group I thought might be interesting to both my technical and non-technical readers. Specifically about business services workflows. After a lot of good business question, this weekend something has been nagging at me. So I went back to the basics for business services organizations. I thought I’d take advantage of your interest and share some of the insights I gained.
From the context of workforce productivity, a business services organization is split into two business roles: Billable roles and Non-billable roles. For the business services organization to be most productive these roles need to be delineated and organized to avoid staff members performing both types of roles. The business services staff workflows are divided into either billable or non-billable roles. All role tasks are then organized to support keeping the billable roles from being distracted by non-billable activities.
So for example, in a law office the managerial, front desk, sales, office manager and the accounting roles are all non-billable. The attorney’s and the paralegals are both billable roles. Profitability is directly dependent on how much time is lost when the billable roles are distracted from billable activities. This is fairly intuitive.
The problem is that in many business services where billable and non-billable roles. In our law firm example, the owner, attorneys and paralegals are expected to perform both billable and non-billable tasks. What happens is that the larger the business grows, the more time the billable roles spend on non-billable activities. (i.e. Answering phones, selling the business, managing the business, etc.) Every minute a billable staff member is on a non-billable phone call is lost profitability. The reality is that the more time a billable role spends on non-billable activities, will directly (and negatively) impact the bottom line profitability of the organization.
So what is the solution? Well it depends. Mostly it depends on the owner and the vision of the organization. There are basically three strategies for growth, strategy 1 is to build a larger non-billable staff to support the owner (and raise the billable rate of the owner). Strategy 2 is to increase the non-billable time the owner spends on the business, in order to build a larger billable staff and take a piece of each billable roles income. Strategy 3 is to become highly specialized and only take on the most profitable diamond (vs. dross) opportunities. (Requiring an ability to find or attract those types of diamond opportunities.)
The owner of course will ultimately decide what business strategy(s) to choose. Based on this strategy will determine how to organize the non-billable and billable staff workflows to support maximum profitability. By following these business workflows the staff activities will naturally align to keep the billable staff as close to 100% billable as possible.
From a technical perspective… To this point my technical team has been helping the owner and staffs identify and plan these workflows. With and understanding of these workflows my technical team can import these workflows into the organization’s CRM, ERP and other business systems. Each staff member is then prompted to automatically follow the workflows designed by the organization. In this way billable and non-billable roles perform documented tasks a way that the owner has planned. Because the workflow was created by the management team, results can be measured by the team itself without having to become technical experts. The technical teams can then step away from the business management roles within the organization
I can’t go away without thanking Robert Sailer (Pacific Northwest Law Group), Mark Walters , Corey Hansen, Eric Veal, Mark Brown and Gavin Johnson (In Vigor Law Group) and the AU business club for their contributions to the presentation. The educational presentations are unique opportunities to get the input of many experts. The result is seeing the same business problem through another business experts eyes. Thanks to everyone involved.
Internet Protocol Address Management (IPAM) allows the IT department to track IP address deployment throughout the organization. If you come from the world of Windows and Active Directory (AD), you know that Windows comes with its on system for tracking IP addresses throughout a windows forest. For most small and medium size businesses this is more than adequate. What happens though as the organization grows. Enterprise businesses begin buying other businesses. These businesses may or may not have the same server and hardware platforms. As the business grows, buying other businesses new platforms need to be added the network mix of servers, routers, VPN, phone systems, cell phone systems. Some of these systems are not necessarily willing to talk with one another. The one thing they have in common is each device needs an IP Address.
IPAM systems are designed to solve this problem by centralizing DNS (Domain Naming System) and DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) for large networks. Imagine a billion dollar company buying a 500 million dollar company. Instantly the management teams of the various companies need to work together. Unfortunately the AD forests, Server systems and VPN’s are not talking to each other. Nor will they probably ever be able to talk. Imagine too that the newly purchased company has cell phones integrated with their entire system will the buying company lucky to just see email. When connecting the two organizations, with common private IP addresses, duplicate IP’s becomes a big problem. Haven’t 1000’s of duplicate IP’s that need to be figured out is even worse. Yet if the two companies can’t work together, they are losing money. It’s an IT Management nightmare
What the IPAM system is designed to do is to take over the DNS and feed the correct IP addresses to the entire organization. While windows DNS talks best to Windows systems, IPAM systems talk with everyone. I’ve been looking most recently with Proteus. In addition to managing the IPv4 addresses Proteus and other systems allow central control, planning and management of the IPv6 environments for all IP systems. When I was studying IP addressing everyone was taught IP sub-netting. It became a matter of pride to be able to sub-net in one’s head. With IPv6 that’s just not possible or reasonable to expect everyone to do this. Instead one set of experts can plan and manage the IPv6 for everything in the Enterprise world. Proteus has a GUI interface that is not too hard to pick up with 20 or so hours of practice.
There are a lot of advantages. For one thing it reduces the points of failure in complex networks. This means less downtime. As long as there is redundancy build into the IPAM system. A few years back I was working on a banking system that was using AD to manage security for their online banking customers. This was the first time I’d seen Active directory run without DNS. It was a security issue that reduced the points of failure for the system. An IPAM system would be able to manage the DNS in separate trees without the same levels of security risk.
Another customer I worked with was selling a mobile VPN system. Tracking customers as they maintained the same IP number, but move from location to location on the same VPN, was a difficult problem for small networks. For larger, international networks, it was difficult to manage centrally in real time. With an IPAM like Proteus, these mobile VPN problems are solved as a part of the IPAM solutions.
As network continues to grow in complexity, it may require that smaller and smaller networks will benefit from an IPAM system. While Microsoft has a strong dynamic DNS system as part of it’s network operating system. Still an IPAM takes this to a much higher level.
How to you feel about your management team? Is this a confrontational relationship? Perhaps your relationship is open and mutually beneficial? As an IT consulting expert, what I find is that most IT groups are completely oblivious of the management teams when making decisions. That’s not to say they have no opinion. Ask the typical IT expert what management wants. The reply will often be that management just wants everything done cheaply. It it’s too expensive they won’t do it no matter the value to the business.
Phillip Ellis, with RGL Forensics, specializes in forensic accounting. He is also an expert in evaluating the true value of a business organization. I asked Phillip how a business network could improve the value of the business.
“It takes money to make money – capital investments in IT can help a business grow faster and avoid costly “emergency” expenditures, which can often be more costly than the original IT investments would have been.”
Phillip understands that cheap is not better. As IT experts we all know that if we take shortcuts on the technology, it will eventually fail. What Phillip is looking for is a solution that will maintain the cost effective workforce productivity. He realized that emergency expenditures cost the organization more than the savings when taking shortcuts.
I asked another expert Robert Sailer is from Pacific Northwest Law Group a similar question. Robert works on the legal side of evaluating businesses. In addition to legal due diligence, his company also drives technical due diligence for the business organization. When analyzing a technical assessment he is looking for answers before the sale of a business.
”… is the hardware platform sufficient to accept new upgrades coming along from the software, cyber security, and communications companies.”
Eventually all businesses will be sold. This type of due diligence can mean millions of dollars in the sale price of the organization. As Robert points out,
“…the life expectancy of the IT system, and the older/less flexible it might be, that results in a lowering of the eventual purchase price…”
When I walk into a business organization, my first step is to do an assessment of the present technology. When I bring up my concerns with the IT department the response is usually something like,
“Yes we’ve brought this up every year with management; they just won’t let us spend the money to fix it. Our management is only looking for ways to save money, not spend money.”
Obviously this statement just doesn’t jibe with what Phillip and Robert are saying. My next trip is to the management team. I explain the risks and/or missed opportunities I’ve found. I explain the business value of solving these problems. This value could be in the reduction of risk or the leveraging technology to build workplace productivity. When I explain this in a way that Phillip or Robert might explain it something always happens. IT departments are shocked to see money coming into the IT department to pay for projects they had been proposing for years. Then after implementation the bottom line benefits to the organization are more substantial than I even promised. (I take Scotty’s advice, lower expectations and blow them away with the results.) The result, management begins asking,
“What else can you do for me?”
Next time you can’t convince a manager to fund a new project, price is not the real reason. They just aren’t sure how to tell you that you just haven’t sold the value of your proposal. It may be that you just need to change your proposal. It might help to find an expert like Phillip or Robert to align with (either within or outside the organization). Build value in the minds of managers using business language. Then exceed the promise with values that are important to your management team. You will succeed over and over again.
As a consultant, I find a strange paradigm in the IT departments. We all work on a mission critical aspect of the business. Yet most business owners and managers almost ignore the IT department. When I work with IT departments I’ve also noticed that IT Experts seem to ignore the business owners and managers as well. I can’t help but think that both management and IT experts are missing some interesting opportunities by not trying to understand what each other is doing.
Look back through my blogs and the first thing I write about is how things change in technology. Because of this we, IT Experts, need to re-invent ourselves over and over again. This is of course, because technology changes so quickly. As an IT expert, we always need to be on the lookout for new and interesting ways to direct our careers. So one question I like to ask, is where should we be re-inventing ourselves. Continued »
For the owner, manager and staff…, business technology can be like climbing a stepladder blindfolded. The bigger the business the higher the ladder. The owner depends on their IT Support Company or IT department to design, build and maintain that ladder. Business owners realize that technology is mission critical to the business.
The question is now being asked, is technology too critical to be left strictly in the hands of the IT department???
For over 21 years I’ve worked in the technology field as a Seattle Consultant and I think I’m finally getting it. The business is more than just the technology; it’s actually about the goals and vision of the owner. This is not the way I started out. An important mentor in my life taught me that business is business. Technology is a tactical not strategic. By understanding this you can write your own ticket in terms of the projects you want to implement. Until a few years ago my ticket was interesting projects. I loved walking into businesses and looking for opportunities to deploy new technology. I later found as a consultant that most IT guys could only get interesting projects when the technology failed. So I began teaching IT experts how to build a technology ladder that supported the business and was interesting to the technologist. It’s starts with the abilities.
And many more abilities
You can probably name two or three more. What I found is that if I wanted to get a project through, I needed to pick one or more of these abilities that was important to management. Where do you find what ability is important to management? Well you could ask, but that’s slow and tedious. So when was the last time you looked at a mission statement or a vision statement? As a consultant I work with so many businesses and see so many mission statements that the employees have never read. The reality though is that the CEO and the Board spent a lot of time putting those together. Want to impress them? Write your proposal bases on their mission statement. Use one or more of the abilities I’ve described, to base your metrics on that will measure the success of your project.
So if the vision statement says something like…”… we will be the biggest widget maker is Seattle.” They are talking about scale-ability. Scale-ability is a data design that will allow the business to grow to the biggest in the area. So the value statement for whatever you write about must be based on building a scale-able business that won’t fail when the business grows to half to their goal. Instead you want to sell a business that will grow past the present goals. This will make the managers take a second look at your proposal.
So what are some of the other keywords to look for? Well think about the company who “…wants to provide the best customer service?” This is about connectivity of data so that every department knows the same information about the customer when they talk to a customer.
Some companies want a great environment for their employees. That’s reliable and available services that allow the employee to focus on work rather than failure.
Managers are always looking for Usability so that customers and employees have systems that are easy and fun to use and require very little training.
I can go on and on about this. Often I come into environments where the IT department has been asking for the same thing I am recommending to the client. They assume that the real problem is price and budget. The real problem is that IT people are not thinking about the real goals of the organization. By understanding how these business abilities translate into the technical project you want to implement you can create a document that will allow you to get your project done.
Recently one of my consulting clients asked for an online strategy. We discussed a number of different strategies. Most people think about some type of online community marketing when they think of social networking. When hear discussions about twitter or Facebook marketing, these are really small technologies that are tapping into the online communities that are there right now. In this article I would like to discuss looking at an online community, rather than a technology.
So first let’s think about community. People live in a community because of a common interest. That interest could be centered on the landscape and beauty of the community. The interest could be financial, in that many people in the community may work for the same or even similar employers. The community might have a unique cultural diversity or even a cultural singularity that might be of interest to people in the community. The more of common interests there are in a community, the bigger the community becomes. The marketer’s job is to tap into those interests and you will find more and more small sub communities within the larger community. As a marketer if we integrate ourselves with an interest group, we can market to that group. Instead of selling them everything though, we are most successful when we market products and services that are of interest to that sub-community. As an example don’t sell vacuum cleaners to a group of car enthusiasts, unless that vacuum cleaner is designed specifically for the problems with cleaning a car.
On the internet, there are communities as well. These communities are focused on information and data. Find these communities and you have also found a group of buying customers. Which is the pitfall many marketers run into, in any buying community there is interest in buying a very limited product or service. That is the problem with most corporate online social marketing strategies. Instead of marketing to the group interest, they market as if the group were the general community.
As an example: Look at Facebook. Marketers will point out the number of users on the system. As if to say that all these users are potential buyers. The reality is that very few of these users are there to actually buy products. Instead they are interested in participating in an online community and sub-communities. Finding and supporting these sub-communities in Facebook or across the internet is the first step for online marketing.
Experts like Tracey Warren teach businesses understand and leverage these online communities by providing services like a “Social Media Tuneup.” So if you were a producer of car parts, the first goal is to identify the car enthusiasts groups. If on the other hand you market eggs and other groceries, marketing to a car enthusiasts group might not be as effective. The car enthusiasts are not in the buying mode for eggs. When they are, they will be looking at a different group.
The rule I share with people is that social networking is like a cocktail party. People are not there to do business. That is not to say that a lot of business isn’t done at cocktail parties. It’s done in a very subtle way. Nobody opens an egg selling stand at a pool side party. It could be argued that everyone at the party will probably be buying eggs in the next week, “Why not at this party?” The reality is that when people buy eggs they go to a grocery store… not a cocktail party. Instead go into the party and ask, “So when and where do you buy eggs?” Chances are it will be a place where you can sell your eggs online.
Oh and if they help you give them some virtual chocolate as a thank you.
So why bring up online marketing strategies and community marketing? The topic of this blog is modern network architecture, not old school network architecture. As the day to day infrastructure support moves into the cloud, there is less need for server support. The modern network architect will need to understand and answer these types of questions for their employers and clients. This is the question I was asked by a consulting client at the beginning of the article. The more we don’t understand about online marketing, integration with business systems and the like, the more we become legacy and irrelevant in determining the future architecture of the network.
Most of the deeply technical IT Experts I work with don’t spend a lot of thinking around social networking strategies. I’m not sure why, but I think this might be because most deep IT experts much more comfortable relating to things (computers) or ideas (computer systems) rather than relating to people. Being a Seattle business consultant, specializing in Continued »
When twitter was first being introduced, I talked to the students in one of my classes about twitter. The whole class laughed at me. Thinking that social networking really wasn’t something serious a system administrator would bother with. As a Consultant and teacher I try to look into the future and predict new potential opportunities for both my Continued »
Is the IT department keeping up?
Recently a client of mine suggested that UC communication was silly. I’ve worked on teams where tools like Lync make life much easier. It’s not just about text messages. It’s about presence, Continued »