Subscribe: Fred on Tech
Preview: Fred on Tech

Fred on Tech

Trends, analysis, and interesting topics in the world of enterprise technology.

Updated: 2017-10-02T10:15:21.171-04:00




Narrowing focus to Cloud Services/Cloud Computing. Check out my new FredInTheClouds blog!

The Six Steps to Effective Customer Engagement: Step 4, Enable Business Collaboration (Social Networking at Work)


(Part of an ongoing series of articles about Customer Engagement strategies.)

"For a company to successfully earn the trust of its customers, there must exist a vibrant culture within the organization that recognizes the importance of trust and enables and empowers employees to act upon that perspective. - "The State of Customer Experience Capabilities and Competencies," SAS Institute Inc. and Peppers & Rogers Group

Just as consumers are seeking to support themselves and reach out to social communities when they need assistance, so are the people who make up businesses. Businesses should capitalize on the acceptance of collaboration and social networks by their employees through providing them the same tools with which they are familiar from outside the work environment: blogs, wikis, function-driven communities, profile updates, etc. By creating collaborative environments throughout the organization, a company can become more productive while simultaneously embracing what their employees are seeking as individuals.

Collaborative environments help break down – or eliminate entirely – traditional cross-departmental and “business vs. IT” barriers. Creating a social environment promotes communication and cooperation and ultimately yields a faster time-to-market for new business initiatives.

By putting in place the same social structures that people are using in their personal lives, businesses can become more productive, more collaborative, and improve employee satisfaction and retention.

The Six Steps to Effective Customer Engagement: Step 3, Deliver Seamless Experiences for Delighted Customers


(Part of an ongoing series of articles about Customer Engagement strategies.)

Automating processes and empowering customer self-service by offering rich multichannel points of engagement can result in operations cost savings of 33% or more.

Market leadership requires delighting customers every time over a sustained period. Each interaction should be direct and personalized: from empowering new customers to on-board themselves, to delivering compelling and personalized offers and providing consistent experiences across the lifespan of the relationship, to giving today’s customers the ability to self-help that they are demanding. These personalized interactions can result from previous purchasing history, channel preference, and up-to-date transaction information from inside the company or across affiliate organizations. And, when the situation calls for it, a specific customer engagement needs to flow across departments and across channels without making the customer feel like they are doing all the work.

The reality is that companies often fail to delight their customers, not because they don’t want to do so, but because they simply don’t have the technology required to make it possible. Companies can’t provide the information necessary to meet the customer’s expectations, and they can’t offer the same level of service across different channels. Customers can do one thing via a web portal, another via an IVR system, and yet another only if they call and speak to a live representative – and information does not flow freely between the various systems and departments.

Agile, enabling technologies must be brought to bear to expose the right data and provide access to features at the right time, ensuring the customer only has to answer questions a single time whether they are sitting in their office or using their cell phone on vacation.

The Six Steps to Effective Customer Engagement: Step 2, Have Smarter Conversations


(Part of an ongoing series of articles about Customer Engagement strategies.)

Companies must be prepared to engage ‘anytime and anywhere’ with their prospects, customers and partners. However, critical data and the customer-oriented information required for smart conversations is scattered across back-office systems and repositories, each with unique data structures and dedicated interfaces that are typically not designed to engage directly with customers. This makes it difficult to access, collect, and present relevant information in a meaningful way, limiting the ways that companies can reach out to customers and vice versa. Customers demand rich conversations and interactions that draw upon the information and functionality of this conglomeration of business systems, and they want those conversations to happen across the entire spectrum of communication channels.

Smart conversations should be customer-focused, direct, informed and personalized. Relevant data should be seamlessly collected from across the company to deliver real-time historical context; and the entry of new transaction information must be coordinated across processes that flow throughout the enterprise. Siloed systems make this a near impossibility, so enabling technology must be applied to draw upon the power and previous investment in legacy systems and synchronize real-time data prior to either reaching out to the customer or enabling self-service capabilities.

Smart conversations can be automated and allow customer or partner self-help; they can be two-party with an internal knowledge expert providing guidance to a customer; or they can be multi-part and collaborative. But, in all cases, the right information has to be provided at the right time and delivered effectively – which is only possible when a company is aware of the information and functionality they already possess. What’s more, that information and functionality must then be accessible by relevant parties in an effortless and transparent manner.

By breaking down technology barriers and exposing the richness of existing investments, companies can provide customers with positive engagement each and every time they interact.

The Six Steps to Effective Customer Engagement: Step 1, Embrace a True Multichannel Strategy


(Part of an ongoing series of articles about Customer Engagement strategies.)

Since the early to mid-90s, communication channels have been emerging at a staggering rate. Business that had previously been conducted across only one or two primary channels less than twenty years ago – phone, mail order – is now happening across a dozen or more channels, and companies have been scrambling to keep up. The result has been a lack of strategic approach to communication channels, and companies finding themselves falling behind their customers.

The traditional solution has been to build channel-specific interaction points for customers and partners, including functionality within each channel that is often limited to technology constraints unique to that channel. This costly and time-consuming approach is reactive instead of proactive, and subsequently is certain to lag behind marketplace demands. This approach also makes it almost impossible for customers to begin a task in one channel then easily complete it in another channel, or get assistance from a customer service representative without having to provide the same information multiple times.

Instead, companies need to first create a shared foundation, including information, processes, and functionality that will feed – or ideally, drive – all channels. This strategy needs to encompass common services that the company wants to deliver to customers and partners, and then treat each and every channel merely as a window into those services.

Once there is a shared, common foundation for information, processes and functions communication channels simply become windows into the company, not confusing bolted-on appendages that are not synchronized.

A New Model for Customer Engagement: The Relationship Mindshift


(Part of an ongoing series of articles about Customer Engagement strategies.)

In this period of economic uncertainty – marked by some signs of renewed growth, but with continued softness in consumer confidence and cautious discretionary spending – companies must focus more than ever on maintaining customer loyalty, cross-selling and up-selling offerings, and acquiring new customers efficiently. Coupled with the continued emergence of the web, mobile platforms, and social networks as viable business channels, companies must be prepared to engage with their prospects and customers anytime, anywhere, via any channel, at their convenience, or they will lose relevance, customers and market share.

Today’s customer looks vastly different from the customer of five, or even two years ago – and tomorrow’s customer will be more different yet. Customers are not only tech savvy, but are increasingly on-line around the clock. They are more driven to find their own answers and solve their own problems, and, when they cannot solve their problems on their own, to meaningfully engage through social media with others who are trying to solve the same or similar problems.

More and more customers are also showing a preference for subscription-based offerings, which means that companies need to offer web-based services that promote customer ‘stickiness’ – loyalty, regular and repeated engagement, etc. – in order to maximize revenue. But, because consumers have more choices than ever, it is increasingly easier to “unplug” one service provider and “plug into” another, when a customer is unhappy.

The Relationship Mindshift

The first step toward meeting today’s customer where they live is to make a fundamental mindshift in how your company will create and maintain relationships with prospects, customers, and business partners.

People want meaningful and positive interactions with the companies with which they do business – every single time they do business with them – and they expect consistency across all communication channels. Focusing on building and maintaining these business relationships will be the most critical success factor for businesses moving forward, across virtually every industry sector.

Companies must be well-positioned to maximize the value of their relationships with customers and partners through the continual and rapid launch of creative offerings – recombined or bundled products/services, personalized and targeted campaigns, etc. – and then be able to measure the effectiveness of those offerings while also guaranteeing optimized service levels tailored to the unique needs of each individual consumer. This will require movement toward campaign-driven sales patterns, agile business systems, and proactive business intelligence/analytics. Without re-evaluating an organization’s approach to conducting business, and embracing the shift to enabling and maintaining long-term, positive relationships, companies will likely repeat common mistakes of the past: siloed systems, disjointed and inconsistent functionality, fragmented and inconsistent customer touch points, all of which lead to dissatisfied and frustrated customers.

Unhappy customers are ten times more likely to stop doing business with their current proviers.

A New Model for Customer Engagement


I recently collaborated on a white paper about effective customer engagement and what it takes from an operational and technological perspective to achieve it. So, over my next few posts, I'll share bits of that paper, including the key steps to take in order to enable multichannel customer engagement in today's ever-changing customer landscape.

First, an overview:

In today’s competitive business climate, customers expect more than ever from the companies with which they do business. Customers are tech savvy and want to engage with companies when, where and how they prefer, and they want that engagement to be meaningful, consistent and efficient. What’s more, as new communication channels continue to emerge at a staggering rate, effectively engaging customers has become even more complex. Companies that are willing and able to embrace a new way of engaging their customers will be better positioned for acquiring and retaining customers and building loyalty.

This series of posts will discuss the six steps to effective customer engagement, including embracing a true multichannel strategy, having smarter conversations, delivering seamless experiences for delighted customers, enabling business collaboration, leveraging affiliates, partners and bundled offerings, and measuring customer retention, loyalty and revenue potential through real-time business analytics.

Additionally, I will take a closer look at ‘relationship architecture’ – the technology foundation that streamlines and helps manage all aspects of customer-facing business initiatives. Establishing a relationship architecture will provide lasting benefits to the company, partners and the customer, ultimately leading to success for the business.

Only those companies willing to embrace today’s ‘rules of engagement’ will emerge as leaders over the next decade. Acquiring and retaining customers and building loyalty calls for ‘A New Model for Customer Engagement’.

SaaS != Hosted (Or at least it shouldn't have to!)


These days when people hear Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), they almost always interpret that to mean "hosted" or "in the cloud." That's perfectly understandable considering that many of the market leaders in SaaS also happen to be hosted offerings ( comes to mind!).

However, there's nothing necessary about delivering software in a hosted model in order to support SaaS or subscription-based pricing. After all, why does it matter where the software is installed -- in my data center, in a hosted data center, some of each -- when it comes to how or when I pay for it?

Dynamic and forward-thinking companies are getting this, and looks like we're about to start seeing more software that is available on-premise and/or in hybrid models -- in addition to "pure" hosted software -- in a SaaS/subscription/pay-as-you-go model. This helps businesses control their capital expenses, flex their usage and consumption of software both up and down, and get started on initiatives faster.

Software companies who recognize these benefits to their customers and embrace non-hosted subscription-based pricing models for their own offerings are teed up for growth as more and more of the market looks for ways to control costs and increase agility.

Barriers to Churn


These days it seems like the only real barriers to churn -- i.e. leaving one product/service provider for another -- are artificially-imposed early termination fees (ETFs). It used to be really hard to move from one provider to another for a wide range of reasons including differentiated offerings, difficulty in transporting data/information, or even things like not being able to take a phone number with you.
Technology and regulations have made most of those things very easy to overcome. And, with more and more providers offering great incentives for new customers, the enticement to move is at an all-time high. The result, however, doesn't appear to be that providers are working really hard to convince you not to leave -- quite the contrary, they seem more interested in the next person they sign up than the one(s) they just did. And, the natural result is that they threaten you with fees if you leave before your contracted subscription with them matures.
Why not go the other way around? Why not focus on providing customers with what they want and expect from you -- and making sure your enterprise technology "stack" can help you deliver it effectively -- than imposing penalties so customers are afraid to or cannot afford to leave? Imagine building loyalty, providing great service, and effectively communicating with customers as the carrot that makes them want to stay with you, instead of the ETF stick that forces them to.

Customer Interaction vs. Customer Engagement


I recently heard this comment, and it really hit home: customers have all kinds of interactions with a company -- good, bad, indifferent -- but the real question is whether or not they are engaging and staying engaged.

That may seem obvious, but it's a point worth making in today's "customer interaction management"/"customer experience management" world: sure, you can interact with customers and they with you, and you can even get all sorts of analytics on those interactions to try to figure out what they are and aren't liking. But, until you engage them, all you're doing is piling up numbers and stats about your customers...and not building loyalty.

Today's customers have virtually unlimited options with regard to with whom they do business, and the "always on" nature of mobile communications and emerging business via social network efforts makes it far too easy for customers to find and switch from one provider to another. The way to make sure that doesn't happen with your existing customers and/or encourage more to come to you isn't just to make sure they can and do interact with's making sure that every time they interact they are engaged.

Companies need to provide rich, consistent, and fully-functional touchpoints to customers in every communication channel. If a customer can do something on the web, they should be able to do it via IVR and other voice systems, via SMS, via an iPhone app, etc....and they shouldn't have to deal with different information and/or functionality being available in different channels as is far too often the case these days. That can be very difficult for a company to do without incurring tremendous price up front and/or every time something changes about what processes/services they are offering to their customers.

That means that companies need to look to supporting technologies that lower that cost of publication and cost per channel of communication. True customer engagement demands it, and companies will need to adapt, or they will lose customers and fail to attract new ones.

Human-Facing BPM


For the last couple of years, the Gartners and Forresters of the world have been pointing out that traditional BPM offerings don't handle people nearly as well as they handle systems. This is generically called "the people problem" for BPM. And, one way the analysts described this was by saying that the BPM offerings weren't "human-centric" enough.

Lo and behold, what do all the traditional BPM players start doing? Saying their products are, in fact, "human-centric." Then they point to all the ways you can depict human involvement in processes, etc. In this manner, they basically took ownership of the analysts' own way to describe their shortcoming to hide the fact that they still have that very same shortcoming. Nice trick.

So, what I'd like to do is talk about Human-Facing BPM instead of human-centric BPM...since the industry has pretty much obliterated the meaning of human-centric. But, that begs the question, "What exactly do you mean by Human-Facing BPM?" Well, I'm glad you (I) asked...

Human-Facing means exactly that: the part of a process that actually faces the person or people engaged with a process, and including the very interfaces they use to accomplish their tasks. This is vastly different from human-centric which essentially defines the fact that there needs to be a person or people involved -- and to be fair, sometimes even includes the characteristics of that involvement -- but doesn't actually contain fully functional ways for people to accomplish the involvement.

For a BPM tool to be truly holistic, it really needs to go that next step and provide appropriate user interfaces -- in multiple channels of communication, not just a proprietary web portal -- based off the definition of the step that requires human involvement. And, in order to do that, it almost certainly requires a fundamental re-architecting for any BPM tool that wasn't built with that in mind in the first place, because it involves state management, session management (which some do) and also flexible and abstractable interface generation (or "rendering") which almost no viable commercial offerings can do.

So, when thinking about which BPM tool might be right for what you or your company is trying to do, make sure you think about the real human-facing aspects of your processes and see if the tool(s) being considered really can give you a leg up by automatically providing a wide range of rich, consistent, and user-friendly interfaces in all the different channels people are using these days: web pages, VXML/IVR systems, mobile devices, social media, and beyond.

Relationship-Centric Companies: Part 5 - "Demonstrable Return on Investment"


The benefits to be gained from investing in the strategies mentioned in this series can be substantiated, and the return on investment can be quantified, by assessing real-world case studies and comparing our customer’s pre- and post-solution key performance metrics.

Tranzact is a relationship-centric performance marketing agency that specializes in large-scale, fully integrated customer acquisition solutions and acquires hundreds of thousands of new wireless, credit card and insurance customers for its business affiliates — all while maintaining the systems and infrastructure to support 20 million annual satellite TV transactions. Theirs is a complex, high-volume and ever-changing transactional environment where each clients’ campaigns are not only vastly different, but also subject to daily change.

By implementing software that focuses on interaction delivery and enables the strategies discussed here, Tranzact was able to:
  • Reduce development costs by 30% through improved efficiency and reduced IT lifecycles.
  • Reduce time-to-value by 38%. Previously, new project roll-outs took 16 weeks as compared to the new, and considerably speedier, 6 weeks for new launches.
  • Reduce workforce levels while improving manageability.
  • Hire programmers who are proficient in solving business problems rather than hiring highly paid architectural experts.
"The results have been remarkable. From an infrastructure performance standpoint, just relating to our satellite TV business, we’re now processing more than 822,000 web service calls per day for our clients, while managing Web applications in real time that are used by more than 80,000 call center agents daily—and we are exceeding 99.9 percent uptime." - Jonathan Washburn, CIO, Tranzact

Relationship-Centric Companies: Part 4 - "The Benefits of Relationship-Centric Strategies"


While there are numerous benefits to be gained from adopting a relationship-centric strategy for interaction delivery we have identified five primary benefits that any company, of any size and in any industry, can achieve.

They are:
  1. Technology-Enabled Agility
    Minimizing the risk of lengthy all-or-nothing software development cycles by facilitating an aggressive micro iterative release strategy that delivers progressive incremental value rather than heavily regimented and regulated process methodologies that are time-consuming and often inflexible to change.
  2. Optimized Operational Efficiencies & Reduced Operational Costs
    Optimizing internal efficiencies related to staging and coordinating the people, processes and programs that result in a reduction in the costs associated with those operations.
  3. Lowered Resource Costs
    Decreasing the cost of resources — operational, technological and managerial — associated with implementing new business initiatives and offers or maintaining and changing existing ones.
  4. Compression of Time-to-Market
    Reducing the amount of time it takes to conceive, design, test, and implement new, technology-enabled business initiatives and more rapidly positioning the business for
    return on investment.
  5. Reduced Total Cost of Ownership
    The cumulative effect of achieving the preceding benefits results in the apex of any value proposition: reduction of the total cost of ownership — in terms of systems (software applications and hardware and other IT assets), processes (manual or programmatic procedures that guide all manner of business activities) and people (the internal and external end-users, software developers, IT staff, managers and executives).

Relationship-Centric Companies: Part 3 - "Maximizing Relationship Value Through Technology"


Software can enable companies to broker value-driven business relationships through agile technology solutions. By focusing on the relationship-centric business pattern and the delivery of agile interactions, software product suites should help a company manage the internal relationships between business, operations and IT that together drive the external value-based relationships between the business, its partners and its e ndcustomers.

Value to the Company
By using appropriate products and services companies can reduce the time it takes to deliver their offers to the market by efficiently optimizing operations and reducing the resources (personnel and costs) required to do so through the adoption of agile methods. Agility with respect to the interactions that affect the internal development lifecycle and the external interactions that forge value-driven relationships with partners and end-customers ultimately result in a lowered total cost of ownership.

Value to the Partner
Companies that have been enabled through appropriate software and strategies can extend to their partners the intrinsic value gained from the use of those same products and strategies by establishing deeper, more meaningful connections by way of seamless integration and linkage of business processes that present the end-customer with a consistently delivered, contextually relevant and brand appropriate, high quality customer experience.

Value to the Customer
The end-customer is the ultimate recipient of these benefits because they are able to manage their relationship with the business on their own terms: they chose when, where, how and why they initiate interactions with our customers and their partners. And the end-customer knows the power is with them — if Company A is not committed to the relationship, Company B certainly will be. The right software can enable companies and their affiliates to elevate the end-customer to their rightful position: the top.

Relationship-Centric Companies: Part 2 - "The Characteristics"


While the characteristics of each industry segment are unique, similar underlying business goals exist: building strong business partnerships and delivering personalized interactions to their end-user base. And while the preceding examples show the relationship pattern on a large scale, the fundamental concepts are scalable in both directions and significant value can be achieved from even a simple implementation of these concepts.

Even if they themselves don’t think about it in these terms—these companies have demonstrated an evolution in thinking beyond brick and mortar concepts and widget-based sales, and even beyond SOA and traditional IT implementations. These companies are embracing an evolved vision of providing all-encompassing value in the way they deliver their offerings to their affiliates and customers that goes beyond their individual products and services.

There are common and recognizable characteristics common to the relationship-centric company:
  1. Substantial Customer Relationships
    Relationships between end-users and the business that rely upon historical relationship data being readily available and contextually relevant to the specific interaction (i.e. placing an order, checking an account balance, or requesting service).
  2. Collaborative Business Affiliate Relationships
    Strategic and partnering relationships between organizations that collaborate to drive mutual value and to deliver product/service offerings to end-users. These relationships often require different processing rules and branding and may benefit from deeper integration with partner systems and data stores.
  3. Content Rich Touch Points
    Highly personalized and appropriately branded end-user interaction points that deliver targeted, relevant information through a variety of presentation channels. These offer-related interactions, initiated internally or indirectly via affiliates' systems, need to be delivered in a repeatable and consistent manner through multiple channels—web, desktop, voice/IVR, mobile, etc.—while fully leveraging the benefits and characteristics of the underlying media.
  4. Substantial Underlying Technology Investments
    Investment in systems to support core business, industry functions and data stores related to proprietary, differentiating, and end-user information. These systems bring meaningful content and value to both the end-user and affiliate conversations.
  5. Recombinant Business Offerings
    The ultimate goal: Virtualized combinations of products and services that may include discrete items, subscriptions and/or associated terms and conditions, which are driven and created by both internal business initiatives and business affiliate relationships. These offerings are dynamic, highly mutable and drive the real value to the business, their affiliates and the end-user experience.

Relationship-Centric Companies: Part 1 - "What is a Relationship Centric Company?"


Relationship-centric companies are those organizations that, while focused on the delivery of their unique products and services, are chiefly interested in establishing and nurturing business relationships with strategic business affiliates and end-customers.To leverage fully a relationship approach, a company must ensure that the individual interactionsthat make-up those relationships are appropriately branded, contextually relevant and personalized to the end-user, and they must also be delivered consistently across multiple channels.Such an approach to relationships and interactions enables highly dynamic and recombinant business offerings which are driven internally and through strategic relationships. These offerings are made up of the unique and targeted configurations of products, services, terms and conditions that a company brings to the market through its business and marketing relationships and delivers to their customer base; building value on both sides of the relationship chain.By looking at specific examples from different verticals, it can be seen that while particular industry goals might be widely divergent, the underlying opportunity of a relationship-centric business pattern, and the ability to fully leverage affiliate relationships, is common and quantifiable across many modes of is best known as an ecommerce company that began as an online bookstore and later diversified by adding a broad variety of offerings. However, Amazon does not limit themselves to the descriptions of being an ecommerce company or an online retailer. Their vision statement confirms their dedication to a relationship-centric business pattern, claiming that they strive "to be earth's most customer centric company."Amazon maintains long-term relationships with its end-users through a powerful, unified multichannel platform and website “…where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” They clearly manage a vast ecosystem of business affiliates; supply a highly personalized end-user component (the website) based on previous history and behavioral predictions; and recombines their offerings in ways that suit ever-changing market conditions. Behind all of this is a massive infrastructure of technology assets, databases and applications that facilitate these business relationships with both their customers and their affiliate partners.Performance MarketingRapp Collins Worldwide is one of the world's leading direct marketing and customer relationship management agencies, providing services for the planning and implementing of integrated marketing campaigns including direct mail, television, telemarketing and interactive media. Firmly ensconced between their customers (product and service companies with offerings), end-users (the desired customers) and a host of suppliers (every other organization that plays a role in the relationship), Rapp Collins is more than just a performance marketer—they are in the business of facilitating interactions that support and inform all manner of relationships.As such, the company has articulated their understanding of and commitment to relationship-centrism through what they call the ConsumerScape, the "new" marketing relationship between company and customer where the customer is in control by virtue of being able to block and opt-out of unwanted offerings.Within this new environment Rapp Collins has begun "deepening the connection between consumers and brands" by marrying new thinking with new technologies to create "individual touchpoints that give consumers more ways to respond than ever before."Subscription ServicesDIRECTV[...]

Relationship-Centric Companies: The Serial


Ok, so I'm a bit too young to remember the age of "The Serials," but I'm going to steal that good idea. I recently co-authored a white paper that intends to describe what value Interaction Management and Interaction Delivery -- concepts I've blogged about here previously -- can bring to a company, and specifically what kinds of companies might best benefit from those concepts and from the software that supports them. And, I thought that instead of just linking to that white paper, or just embedding it all in one post, I'd try the old serialized approach.

To that end, today I'll start with an overview of the whole thing, and then I'll come back with portions of it over the next few days/weeks. Enjoy!

Through this "serial," I will talk about an emerging business pattern called Relationship-centric Interaction Delivery, provide examples of how this pattern spans industry sectors, and explain how the pattern brings value to a business’s internal relationships and their strategic relationships with partners and customers. I'll include brief case studies that describe how my company has used this pattern to achieve significant reductions in cost and time-to-value for our customer base.

By following along, I hope that you will get some insight into:
  • How the relationship pattern has broad applicability across different industries
  • That there are identifiable characteristics common to the relationship-centric pattern
  • That the relationship pattern represents businesses and affiliates engaging in and driving strategic interactions with their value-based investments (customers and business partners) in order to deliver recombinant business offerings to them
  • How software can facilitate the relationship-centric model and provide agile interaction delivery (so you don't have to do all this "without a net")
  • How relationship-centric companies can achieve quantifiable return on investment by intelligently applying enabling technology to address their needs

Build vs. Buy...Part Deux


Often, decisions around how to solve a given business problem are simplistically boiled down to “Build versus Buy.” What is often lost in the shuffle is the fact that a business truly can get the best of both worlds in this regard, especially when using enabling software suites.

Larger and more complex organizations are often driven to the “build” decision because no packaged software exactly meets their needs. This can be an appropriate position to take, and even more so when the organization is dealing with rapidly changing business drivers, offering diverse business services, and needing to bring on large numbers of external customers which is often far too expensive from a licensing standpoint with most packaged software. However, when a considerable amount of the functionality needed can be provided by and/or exposed through a foundational enabling technology, businesses need to consider seriously the value of building that aspect of their technology infrastructure as opposed to looking at a packaged, supported, and actively updated solution. The question the organization needs to ask itself really boils down to “Do we want to be a software development company?”

In effect, when a business organization is presented with a solution from their technology team which appears to be a proposal to build an entire infrastructure and not a proposal to start solving their business needs immediately, they need to be concerned about the total time to solution and the hidden costs associated with the foundation-building efforts. Or even worse, they need to question if the foundation might be missed, yet again, and if they will therefore simply receive project by project solutions that leave them in the exact same position in which they started.

Agile vs. Waterfall


Borrowing from the Mac vs. PC ads, here's a cute video of two kids showing some of the differences between development methodologies.

(object) (embed) takes how many people?!


OK, so while I don't usually like to criticize other folks' approach to all this SOA stuff, I just read something over at that just absolutely blew my mind.

The point of that article is purportedly to get across the appropriate staffing mix to have a successful initial SOA implementation. There are no fewer than 10 separate types of people described therein ranging from architects to security specialists to "archivists" to governance specialists and more. Even if you figure that on a "small" project of this type that a single person can serve multiple of those roles, it's a pretty daunting list.

I'd argue that it's precisely this sort of approach to SOA (and enterprise technology in general) that scares away and/or confuses the lion's share of consumers. Further, if you're not coming at an engagement like this with a set of tools and technology that decreases the need for all these different "specialists," then I think you're doing a disservice to your customer/partner. Heck, if your customer/partner has all those kinds of specialists at their disposal and/or has the money to have you staff them, then they are in a tiny majority of companies in the world.

These kinds of technology (SOA, BPM, EAI, ESB, et. al.) cannot and should not be the sole possession of larger or well-funded organizations...and telling people they need a team of 10 or more "specialist" roles (some of which later in the article we hear we'll need multiple) will only cement the idea that these things are just too complicated/expensive/rarefied for little ol' me. I don't think that's the message any of us should be sending, and I certainly hope that "experts" in this domain will start to realize that there are plenty of good solutions out there to help make it a lot less complicated than indicated in that article.

Make Way for Interactions!


A recent and recurrent thread of conversation within my organization has been the "so now what?" angle of SOA, BPM, ESB, EAI, etc. bordering on the philosophic. The whole "why are we doing all this anyway?" kind of stuff.

And, we are starting to solidify around the idea of "Interactions" and "Interaction Management" as a good way to describe what it is a lot of us are really doing and a lot of what people are trying to get done with all those three-letter acronyms. Isn't it really all about taking an outside-in look at how you want to interact with the outside world and making sure that your internal systems and processes are enabling that and interacting themselves? Sure, it may be web services enabling those interactions, and it may be SOA principles guiding how you do it, and there is almost certainly some BPM going on to make it work right...but it's really all about Interactions.

Interestingly enough, there are some other folks out and about talking about Interaction Management as "the next big thing," namely Mike Gilpin over at Forrester as one good example. This is really starting to make a lot of sense to me and I think we're going to start hearing an awful lot more about this. Stay tuned...

Build or Buy? Not so fast...


Ok, ok, so we've all been confronted with the whole "build vs. buy" debate...maybe even from multiple sides. I think one thing that this whole SOA/BOM/EAI/EDA and now Interaction Management progress has brought to light is that it may not be as simple as "build vs. buy" anymore.

Tech groups -- especially tech groups within a non-tech company -- are often tasked with trying to decide a)should we build it ourselves or buy something and then customize it to our needs, and then b)if we decide to buy, what product(s) should we buy? And, often groups that would want to buy but then get into the "b" branch there get overwhelmed by a given product or set of products and convince themselves, "You know what? We should just build this thing ourselves anyway, because we'll spend man years customizing this other stuff to our needs anyway."

A big problem with that is the question, "What about the business?!" Sure, the end result of that approach may be that you get a perfect fit for the given company...but it more than likely will be that it takes way too long to be delivered, doesn't work as advertised, and the business has almost certainly moved on to other initiatives and needs by the time it's done.

So, what does an enabling technology need to do to help fix this? While it may seem obvious, it's worth saying: it needs to provide both a foundation on which savvy tech groups can build as well as plenty of richness from day one that the business team can immediately sink their teeth into. By doing this, more SOA/BPM/Interaction Management initiatives will be successful, will be greeted more openly by business users (and that's who we're trying to keep happy here, right?), and ultimately do a better job of delivering on the promises we make about them every day.

HOA - Not just your homeowners association anymore.


While I'm not usually that excited about yet another acronym, I think the idea of HOA -- Human-Oriented Architecture -- is a fairly decent one. And, seeing as how one of my over-arching themes here is that talking to people about "SOA" isn't always the best way to get them jazzed up about SOA, the ideas from Joe McKendrick's recent blog post at ZDNet piqued my curiosity.

A couple good ideas there are 1)bottom-up pushing of enterprise initiatives is a difficult strategy, and 2)learning from the benefits of wiki-style mass collaboration might get us the mindshare we need to be successful.

I'll take that idea and run with it in the sense that I'd say we need tools that embrace that idea as well. If we need to have full involvement from business and IT to be successful in these kinds of initiatives -- and I'm fully convinced that we do -- then we need to give both constituencies the tools they need to collaborate effectively in the planning, design, implementation, and ongoing utilization and management of the resulting architecture. Further, I'd say that in an ideal situation all groups would even be able to use the same underlying tools...all via UIs that make the most sense to the way they conceive of the problem(s) they are trying to solve.

SOA and BPM Made Real - Take 2


Just a little more evidence that the concepts behind SOA and BPM can be put to great use in an almost "stealth" mode by presenting them in terms that the target audience understands, and not necessarily as "SOA" and "BPM."

In this podcast my colleague, Robb Duke over at Contact CenteRevolution, talks about how people in the contact center space can handle the underpinnings of SOA and BPM in a language all their own -- desktop unification/virtualization, multi-system integration, the universal agent, access anywhere, etc. In fact, Robb even has war stories of talking to the exact same person first in an attempt to "sell them" on SOA and BPM and failing miserably, but then talking to them about the exact same topics on their own terms and having great success.

Words to the wise: don't ever think one size fits all. Most people understand this adage when it comes to the solutions they deliver, but many fail to understand it when it comes to the positioning they use for those same solutions. You gotta make it real.



I just started using the BlogRush service and thought I'd give it a quick shout out here. It certainly appears to be a great tool for getting your blog noticed and for networking with other bloggers in you same thought-space.

If you're a blogger yourself, you might want to check it out.