Tag Archives: Technology

Combined thoughts on “Everything As A Service”

These are some thoughts captured and co-written by Stephen Danelutti and Jason Noble, two long time contributors to the world of Everything As a Service (XaaS) who met again recently. We realised our common background and insights and decided to produce this combined thought piece – hope you enjoy.

Background

We worked at Sony together many years back and only discovered this recently when we met. Funny how our orbits work as people, and then you collide.

We worked in different parts of a division at Sony called DADC, which invented the CD and developed digital content streaming services. This was before iPod, iPhone and Spotify. Stephen has written about that, including a demo: The end of ownership and the rise of usership. This experience was a good precursor to our thinking on Everything as a Service (XaaS).

The as a service iceberg

We met when we both were (and still are) professionally in Customer Success management leadership roles, a function of SaaS companies that is, amongst others, being translated into XaaS. So we are both rather well positioned to talk on this topic.

Stephen is writing an eBook on the subject which you can find out more about here. We decided to use that as a framework (The As a Service Iceberg) for exploring our mutual thoughts. While we divided subtopics up between us, we worked collaboratively throughout to edit and progress in tandem and what you read is very much a joint effort.

 

Everything as a Service (XaaS)

There is a distinction between the purely technological view which is where the term XaaS comes from and the one we refer to in this article. In ours we have jumped from technology to other industries – we have “crossed the chasm”. Essentially we are talking about taking the learnings from the Software as a Service (SaaS) industry and applying it to other industries.

Some examples

SaaS has been around now for a good few years, and we’ve seen other as-a-service philosophies and approaches pop up since – most related to technology (e.g. infrastructure as a service) but there are more and more examples now across all industries. Some great ones include:

  • Mobility and transport – think of an extension of your Oyster card
  • Property – renting plus add-on services and services like airbnb
  • Shopping – home delivery pre-prepared meals
  • Healthcare – shaving services
  • Airlines – yes even some airlines are often monthly subscription
  • Digital content – not just music, but now movies, TV, games and books

It’s not just about what is being delivered, but how it is being delivered – and the level of experience offered that takes these examples into the true as-a-service arena.

In times of crisis, like COVID-19, there is a stronger need to justify new technology services and innovations, and many businesses are looking at rapid return on investments as part of it. We will see a continued development of new as-a-service ideas coming over the coming years that have been accelerated by the need to innovate and change.

The as a service iceberg

1. Customer solutions

This is the outward manifestation of all of the others and is all about solving problems and meeting needs. No longer is something purchased just for its intrinsic value but what it will help a person or organisation achieve. Several sub components or theories support this and some have been around a while:

  • Systems thinking views a system as a cohesive conglomeration of interrelated and interdependent parts and in the case of customer solutions, it represents how products are now increasingly being viewed as tangible goods plus services.
  • Business outcomes management entails identifying, measuring and achieving business outcomes for the customer, often with the help of Customer Success teams (see the next influence).
  • Jobs to be done theory is a framework for understanding customer needs and innovating around them with new offerings.
  • Solution selling is an approach taken by sales teams that incorporates a consultative approach to identifying solutions to best meet a customer’s needs in the most cost efficient way, especially with multiple product offerings.

More elaborated on this in this post: As a Service trend research – customer solutions.

2. Customer success

With the shift to XaaS, the way we interact, work with and deliver to our customers has also evolved. Our customers’ expectations have risen rapidly and we need to focus on what experience they require and want, and also what it is that they are ultimately looking for, in outcome or value terms. The idea from SaaS vendors, that gave rise to customer success, is that they work with customers proactively to drive value and growth for the customer, in turn justifying the vendors offering. The old reactive way was letting the customer figure things out for themselves after the sale. This has been a monumental industry shift and it’s one that is still evolving and maturing. The role of a customer success manager (CSM) is one of the fastest growing roles today as more and more companies understand that it is critical to their own and their customers’ growth and ultimate success.

CSMs are generalists and facilitators, skilled across the business, commercial, technology and product functions. They are uniquely positioned to be able to guide and help customers achieve the outcomes they need, through the (technology) services they acquire. CSM’s act as trusted advisors, facilitators, business and growth consultants, analysts, project and programme managers, even as change managers for their customers.

3. From products to services

This fits alongside the customer solutions view where products play a role in a much wider ecosystem that includes services. It’s not just about technology and technology products, it’s much broader. Having said that, technology does enable this to a far greater degree, see next point. Think about how Apple has taken its iPhone and built an app (and services) ecosystem that serves to add value to Apple hardware and creates new revenue streams for them and third party app developers. These apps are increasingly being sold on a subscription basis which is also interrelated. For the broader context which incorporates service-dominant logic, check out this post: As a Service trend research – products to services.

4. Technology ecosystems

Technology has played a massive part in the shift to as a service. As we’ve seen the rise of technology services over the last 30 years, many more traditional companies (for example content creators and manufacturers) are now working with technology partners, for their technology development and almost outsourcing it. The focus now is about being enabled and empowered to use technology, as opposed to having to own and build it directly. Think of your internal IT department and how that’s changed. They’re now there to help you better utilise technology within the business and integrate with much wider technology ecosystems with external partners.

5. Being data-driven

Collecting data and understanding usage so that it drives greater insight, which in turn drives better products and services, has become a competitive differentiator. Translating this data into meaningful insights is the real challenge that only the leading companies are mastering. Questions like who is using what, how much and to what end, with which outcomes, need answering. You also need to consider where the data is, who can access it and whether this falls within regulatory compliance or not. These are big questions that require a holistic approach. Data science is a growing field that serves this area well and smart as a service companies are investing heavily into building their capabilities in this. A data-driven, decision making culture is also imperative.

6. Customer and user experience

The terms user and customer experience are front and centre now when it comes to technology. This has been driven by the rise of the consumer application ecosystem and high bars being set by companies like Amazon, Netflix and Apple (amongst many others) in how they interact with customers. Customer experience starts from the initial engagement with your customers and potentially through your marketing campaigns and outreaches. It then follows through with onboarding and implementation, project management, delivery, support and more. The challenge is ensuring that you deliver a constant customer experience and that it is specific to that customer (or segment of customers). The key to remember is that not every customer needs, wants or expects the same levels of customer experience.

7. Subscription economics

One of the biggest aspects of the as a service business model is the shift away from one-off payments to recurring payments, or subscription economics. Products and/or services are purchased in this way (on subscription) and sometimes even on an on-demand basis. Especially for B2B firms, this has shifted the financial impact from big capital expenditures upfront (capex) to more manageable on-going operational expenditure over time (opex). Many factors that this model of payment enables, need to be considered. One of the foremost on the vendors side is the emphasis this places on ensuring the customer continues to renew their subscription (not churning) by providing excellent service. For this the customer success managers role is key. Conversely, this makes the model very flexible for customers who can stop payments if they are not receiving any benefit or value. Take a look at this post for some graphics covering other aspects of what makes subscription models successful: Subscription Model Success Factors.

Other examples of where we’re seeing this shift

The shift to as a service as we’ve said started off in the world of technology but we are now seeing it everywhere across all industries. Some great examples include:

  • Gaming – all the big players like Sony and Microsoft have game subscription services, and even Google and Apple are now also in this booming market. From our days back at Sony, this way an area that we both were both closely involved with – the digitisation of content and streaming services.
  • Groceries – this is one to watch. The big supermarkets all have loyalty plans and they know what we like to buy and when. It won’t be long before this data is used to determine what our weekly grocery deliveries should be and we pay for a subscription service and food is just delivered at the frequency we pay for, and best of all most of what is delivered is exactly what we need.
  • Technology – infrastructure as a service, platform as a service and more. With the like of AWS and Azure, we can now “subscribe” to technology services including CPU power and data storage (and the related sub-services) and we can expand or contract our technology operations in response to demand from our own customers (this is all part of the big shift we’ve seen over recent years out to the cloud).

Other considerations

Customer centricity

There’s a lot of talk today about organisations making moves to be more customer centric and it’s something we have spoken and written about many times before (see link here to previous blogs). It boils down to really understanding your customers, as an organisation and being able to be agile and responsive to change as your customers’ needs and requirements change.

From a previous talk Jason did with a firm of VCs, the reason being customer centric is important is not only the obvious – that your customers stay loyal when they have good experiences – but also as our customers keep evolving and changing, so too are the ways that we operationalise that and support those customers.

A great way to think about customer centricity that really resonates with us is – “A business is customer centric when it delivers on-going growing value to and for their customers.”

Business transformation

Becoming an as a service business is not something you can easily tack on, like a plaster. That’s because of the overarching reach of so many of the factors listed above that are required for success. So wholesale transformation is often required for long term success. That doesn’t mean you have to do it all at once – see diagram for different stages and an approach you could take. This is like a product portfolio view of the transformation and tackles it one stage at a time, eventually rolling up into wholesale organisational transformation.

Keep an eye out for more joint blog posts we’ll be working on in the future.

How does your company culture stack up?

A great article from Mashable – by Lauren Drell on improving your company culture.  All the tips make perfect sense and are not too difficult to do – but they may require change in your thought process.

Take a read… 9 Tips for a Better Company Culture.

Google company culture

Your company culture is the killer differentiator between you and the competition – it’s why guys want to work for you in the first place, and why they will in many cases go out of their ways to secure a position with you.  They like what you do, your vision and the opportunities with you and want to be part of your journey.  Take Apple, Google and Amazon as prime examples of well known companies with great cultures where people want to work.

Apple company culture

Lauren suggests a number of different tips on how you can change your company culture for the better.  I’ll summarise these below:

  1. Hiring should be a continuous process and not just when you have specific vacancies.
  2. Encourage entrepreneurial thinking.  What would people do if it was their company.
  3. Hire fantastic people, remember people are your business.
  4. Lead by example – culture starts with you.  Show passion for the company and vision.
  5. Character counts – hire people for attitude and positivity.
  6. Don’t forget the freelancers or recent graduates.
  7. Your gut reaction is more often than not right – listen to it more.
  8. Encourage ownership and flexibility – we want happy people.
  9. Continue to build your company culture.

Lauren sums it up very well in one sentence…

“Hire in tech, product or business, but only take people that really wow you.”

A great culture, means an even better team, resulting in better productivity from the guys, improved services, better relationships with your customers and a great vibe in the market about you.

Culture word cloud

The strange life, death and rebirth of the CIO and what it means for the future of technology

A re-blog from a very good article earlier this month on ZDNet (by Steve Ranger – the UK editor-in-chief of ZDNet and TechRepublic) which follows the same theme as my recent posts on the changing role of the CIO and CTO in organisations and what this means.

Which way to go

The way companies buy, build and use technology is changing rapidly, which means the teams that build it and run it will need to change too.”

Technology business alignment

Are you as a technology leader changing quickly enough and giving the necessary direction to your teams and the business?

We’ve faced some huge shifts in technology services and provision of these in business over the last 5-10 years.  First outsourcing and offshoring, then the cloud and technology as a utility, then more recently consumerisation and the whole BYOD phenomenon, and this is forcing us to make big changes in how we lead and manage technology teams and functions in businesses.  These changes will accelerate over the next 2-3 years and new changes will emerge.  Technology will become more and more critical to businesses and needs to be more agile and responsive to change.

The challenge for us as technology leaders, is to manage increasingly conflicting business expectations – to increase efficiency, reduce costs and come up with new innovative ways of using technology to create new business opportunities.

 

CIO-DNA part 1 – an event hosted by BCS

British Computer Society

I attended the CIO-DNA event earlier this week, hosted by the BCS Elite Group, the BCS London South Group and the IOD.  It was a 1/2 day session with technology leaders from different organisations speaking and with some very thought provoking discussions around what makes an effective CIO and CTO, and some of the speakers’ personal journeys to becoming technology leaders.

I’ve summarised some of the key takeaway notes – the fundamental drivers behind what makes a good CIO – from the session below .  Let me know what you think – do you agree?

DNA

  • The CIO and CTO roles are now primarily about innovation.  The focus is no longer about keeping the lights on.
  • As technology leaders we need to advocate the creation of an environment in which the team feels empowered to create sparks of innovation.
  • You need to be fundamentally close to the business and to the customers.  They need to help drive the priorities for technology.
  • A great quote from one of the speakers – “The death of the mouse is only weeks away” – in reference to how important touch is becoming and will be.  Interesting point.  Yes touch is critical but I think there’s a longer transition for a lot of core technology products and platforms.
  • Related to touch, devices that are touch enabled remove barriers to entry for C-level executives and help get wider buy-in to new technology services.
  • Communication and visualisation are key for the CIO to raise their profile.  And as part of this we need to be recognised as equal contributors to business transformation.  The CIO needs to be the agent of business transformation.
  • See technology as an enabler to open up new markets and do things the business wasn’t doing before.
  • The key areas where there are new opportunities, are – smart machines, capturing the real world, mobile computing, touch and cloud.  Where cloud can be seen as more about provision and delivery.
  • Knowledge management will continue to be a challenge for technology leaders, with retiring staff taking know-how with them.  This isn’t a new problem though and can’t be changed.  Focus instead on the new guys coming in and give them an environment that they can be most effective in – and that doesn’t just mean yes to BYOD.  New recruits – and the work force of the future – now have very different expectations for IT and technology.
  • Develop techniques for managing different streams of inputs and see where they match and where they conflict.  Where they conflict, dig deeper – these places show the most interest.
  • Move away from being a pure technologist and focus on the business transformation agenda.  And get proportionately more focus on the profit side of the business – technology is no longer just about costs.
  • Technology does not have users any more – something I’ve been saying for a good number of years.  We need to shift our way of thinking to see them as our customers – whether external or internal ones.  We as technology are providing our customers with a service!
  • Understand what your customers want from the services and systems, and move then to create and deliver that!
  • Create a clear future workspace vision – that allows the business and teams to be more flexible, work smarter and to work faster.  And get the inputs from the business for this – don’t drive with technology.
  • Technology is about change management with the business, and utilising technology to do that.
  • Test the vision with the business – and use visualisation tools (e.g. storyboards and animations).  See a great example of this by Gavin Walker at NATS below – this part of the session was from Gavin….

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfdES2fKyAU&w=560&h=315]

 

  • Position technology as the enabler – to help your customers work better and more efficiently.  Get the decisions pushed into the business – to give them greater accountability.
  • Don’t see IT as a cost centre – the business own the costs and budget.  Technology spends the budget on behalf of the business, with the business making the choices.
  • Focus on change management, not technology.
  • Focus on information, not systems.

These last 2 very nicely summarise where the focus needs to be for technology.  A very pleasant afternoon at the BCS with a good theme and great sessions and as always great networking.

More thoughts soon!

Technology leaders

A guide to understanding customer success

Two relatively recent formal functions within businesses are those of customer engagement and customer success.  Clearly not new as in we’ve not been focusing on success or engagement before but in that it wasn’t someone’s job title or sole function.

Customer success

Or was it?  Customer success and customer engagement have clearly been critical to businesses, since commerce first came about and it’s always been – or should be – part of everyone’s job and the function of every department.  But what has changed is that a need has been identified to have individuals and teams who focus just on success and engagement, particularly from a leadership perspective – and ensure all other teams are working in a customer focused joined up and collaborative way, that results in the best experience and service for our customers!  All great to have.

There’s a great blog post from last month that looks at the role of someone heading up the customer success function from Dan Steinman (Chief Customer Officer at gainsight).  Dan highlights the key traits that are needed for a successful customer success leader and does so by asking his team about him in his role – a very interesting and insightful exercise.

Do read Dan’s post for full details but in summary the key traits are:

  1. A passion for customers.
  2. A willingness to get their hands dirty.
  3. A philosophy.
  4. An understanding of what the customer success team do each day.
  5. A knack for influence management.

Influence management

Passion makes perfect sense.  You need to have be focused on the customer and making things right for them and caring about them being successful.  And your team need to share the same passion – and then let it spread beyond just your team!  It can be a cultural shift but a critical one.

Getting involved when there are customer issues and challenges, means getting stuck in and doing what is needed and engaging with the customer and team.  And not just taking a back seat overseeing it all.  It’s about credibility.

As a new field, it is evolving fast and there are lots of new ideas.  You need to be committed to what your phillosophy on customer success is and what that means for your customers and your teams.

The better you know your team and what they are doing, the better informed your decisions are – not rocket science, but all about good leadership.

The last point is the big one I think – influence management.  You need to be working across all the functions and teams in your company so that they understand their roles in customer success – from sales to operations to development to product management to admin to support – so they can understand what and when changes are needed and implement them.

As an evolving new function, there is no commonly agreed standard definition of what customer success (or engagement) management is.  Having a team focused on customer success, has a strong message for both internal teams and stakeholders and customers.

Pay as you go technology

As technology moves more and more to a utility based – pay as you go – model and more focus is on long term relationships and not the legacy models where there was a huge upfront cost (as CAPEX – capital expenditure), customer retention becomes more critical.  This is where customer success and customer engagement both come in – ensuring customers are retained.  And key to this is ensuring customers can easily see the commercial value of the platforms and services you are providing.

These new technology models, have created a need to formalise and structure the customer success function, but it’s not just in technology companies where it applies.

The more value your services provide, the more successful your customers are and the more successful you are.  Customer success can be the focus of your VP of customer success, or your chief customer officer, or your customer success director, but their role is to make sure everyone understands what customer success is all about and everyone’s own role in it, and to make your customers successful.

Customer success

CIO Connect 2013 conference – thoughts, ideas and observations

I was invited recently to attend the CIO Connect 2013 Conference in London, billed as the IT leadership conference in 2013 and this year with a theme on the gaming changing CIO. It was a great 2 days spent listening to global technology and business leaders’ key note sessions, attending workshops and networking with IT leaders from around the world.

CIO Connect

Most definitely a conference that should be in your diary if you’re a technology leader and more importantly if you share an interest in the major business changes and disruptions, that are happening now and how technology can play the best role in them – and add the value to your business it should.

CIO Connect 2013

They had none other than Brian Cox presenting last year – sadly I couldn’t go – and the final presentation this year on day one was by Dr. Steve Peters, author of the Chimp Paradox (billed as a mind management programme to help you achieve success and almost gospel for the Team GB Cycling team and many other leading sports teams and players). Day 2 was rounded off with a session from Fraser Doherty who founded Super Jam.

Super Jam logo

I always find it useful to capture comments, thoughts, notes, observations and light bulb moments from conferences like this and play them back after the event. A blog gives you the ideal forum to do this with and to share them with a wider audience. Any comments and questions are very welcome!

The thoughts and more…

  • Kevin Segall was presenting on the idea of keeping things simple and reflecting on his time at Apple and working with Steve Jobs. I had the privilege of seeing Kevin a few years ago and he’s a great speaker and very entertaining. The simpler things are the better and simplicity never fails. People love simplicity. Even in the organisation structures we see in business these days, the simpler they are the better and more powerful. A great example of Apple and how Steve Jobs was the ultimate decision maker and could make or break ideas. It might sound harsh but at Apple it works.
  • The “I” in CIO is no longer just about information.  It’s now far broader and covers innovation, integration, intelligence, implementation and imagination.
  • CIOs need to be compelling in improving the digital customer experience.
  • As CIOs we need to work with our peers to define the business decision making criteria. Help build and maintain a “make $ and save $” register to record technology successes.
  • The concept of the PR of IT as people, processes and best practices and CIOs working to ensure these are all aligned.
  • We must see how the overall customer experience works for the business and how this fits with technology. How do we serve the customers (better)?
  • Big themes in 2013 for the CIO are (and continue to be) the cloud (and moving services to the cloud), BYOD (good old bring your own device into the business), big data and security (which ties in to all the above).
  • View IT as a benefit centre, not a cost centre. And as a benefit centre IT is then a value contributor to the business. This represents a big shift for many businesses where IT can still be viewed as a back office service provider for the business. But this is changing and there was a general consensus on how this change is accelerating now.
  • With IT as a benefit centre, prioritise what will get these benefits as early as possible.
  • Focus on people, not on technology and be compassionate.
  • CIOs and their (technology) teams will be the engine rooms for major business changes, over the next 3-5 years.
  • The new norm for how technology teams need to be focused is as 50% strategic, 30% tactical and 20% operational. This is a big shift from now where only 20% is strategic and the vast majority of time and energy is spent maintaining the status quo and keeping the lights on (i.e. BAU). This is all about looking at the commoditisation of IT and moving the BAU parts to be run as lower cost (well) managed services.
  • For business programmes and projects, move to working with the key stakeholder at the business owner, not just the project sponsor. And with the programmes being business investments, not IT projects.
  • The CIO needs to be viewed a business leader. And as CIOs we have a unique understanding of the complexity of the business processes.
  • In many companies there is a vacant seat on the board for the “Chief Customer Officer”.  This is someone who acts as a bridge between the CMO, the COO and the CIO divide, and most importantly this person owns the overall end-to-end customer experience.
  • We need to test the public view of stuff (services that we provide) and to get out and be a consumer of our services. Do they work like they should? And like we expect?
  • The “Chief Customer Office” is the new board member who represents the customer experience in the market.
  • Stop talking about something called digital, as something different. It’s all one now. Platforms, channels and media. We need a more holistic approach – something I’ve blogged about before.
  • We are now in an exponentially changing world, no longer a place where business is linear. Technology is a critical game changer in this new world.
  • And finally from Dr. Steve Peters, the two key areas to focus on for performance and success, are emotional skills and impulse control, and everything is about probability.

 

And that is how you do good service – thank you Apple!

Apple Store

My trusty iMac (from 2008) decided to not play ball earlier this week.  It was way outside Apple’s warranty (even Apple Care) – by over a few years – but trying to fix it was beyond me and I needed help from Apple.  A call through to the local Apple Store (in the Bentall Centre in Kingston) and they advised that they had no Genius appointments that day but to come in with the iMac and they would see what they could do.

When we got to the store we spoke to one of their guys who said all the iMac tech team were busy all day with no slots, but to hold on and he would see what they could do.  A very friendly iMac Genius then came to have a look and ran a series of quick tests on the iMac.  As typically happens in these situations, everything worked fine and the iMac passed all the tests.  A number of restarts were done – where the problem had been before – but all working fine.

Apple Genius

The guy took down all the details of the problem as I’d seen it and advised that I could leave it there for them to take a more detailed look (which would probably take a few days) or take it back home and see how I get on (which I did and typically again the problem has re-occurred and I’ve booked to go back in tomorrow).

But, the whole point to this post is the exceptional level of service that Apple provided here, going way beyond what they were obliged to do, going out of their way to help as best they can, to listen to the customer and check and test accordingly, to offer options when the standard response (booking a slot for that day) was a no-goer and doing all of this in a friendly professional manner.

This level of service is what makes Apple so great and why people – like me – will now go back and go nowhere else.  It is exceptionally good service and yes you do pay a premium for Apple products but this is one of the major reasons why; it’s not just a great product, you’re buying it’s a full service experience.

It’s not the only reason of course, there are 3 reasons generally why you are willing to pay extra for a product or service.  These are:

  1. The quality of the product
  2. The level of service received
  3. The overall experience of using the product or service

These 3 are the major drivers to creating loyalty for you business and Apple yet again are are leaders here.  Fingers crossed that my visit tomorrow fixes the problem once and for all.

Bentall Centre

But it does depend on good connectivity

All nice having streaming content when and where you want as per the last post BUT – and a big but still in 2013 – we have the limitations of our current ADSL broadband connections.  Generally they work fine, still down the same old telephone line we’ve always had, but now demanding more and more – and we’re pushing the limits!

Netflix working well today – some great kids’ programmes – and then Spotify through AirPlay on the iPhone to the Apple TV.  But struggling – jittery – playing a few of the tracks!  It’s ok but with more and more of us now getting everything online when we want is the infrastructure behind the scenes ready?  Not yet….

Telegraph poles

Telegraph poles

It’s all about excellent service

A great post here that talks very nicely about building a culture of service excellence in IT.  Written by Glenn Remoreras – another fellow IT professional – and his blog is well worth a read.

Service excellence in technology is what I’m all about and it brings my passions of great service and the latest technology together.  There are sadly only a few organisations that provide great great service, in or with technology but Glenn’s post nicely gives some ideas as to what it takes to build a culture that can deliver.

Glenn highlights 5 key points, as values or behaviours, that you need to nurture and develop in your organisation to deliver service excellence:

  1. Putting the customer first always
  2. Creating a culture of collaboration and teamwork
  3. Being proactive (versus just reactive)
  4. Continuous learning
  5. Creativity and empowerment – for innovation and change

Great points and they all make a lot of sense.  I’d go even further and say that it’s not just technology services where these are relevant – but any business or organisation who wants to deliver the best service.  And today delivering the best service is what your customers are demanding.  Are you delivering?