Archive for November, 2010

Vision

Monday, November 15th, 2010

There’s an apocryphal  story concerning President Kennedy  visiting the space centre at Cape Canaveral and asking a janitor “What’s your job here?” to which the man looks up at Kennedy and says “Well Mr President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon”.

It echoes the Story of Christopher Wren designer of both St Pauls Cathedral and much of London after the Great Fire in 1666. The story goes that Sir Christopher walked onto the building site one day and asked a man “What are you doing?” to which the man replied, “I am cutting a piece of stone.” He then asked a second man the same thing and the man replied, “I am earning five shillings twopence a day.” As with all these stories he then asks a third man the same question and received the reply “I am helping Sir Christopher Wren build a beautiful cathedral.” (Perhaps you can see the likeness with the Kennedy story). The point is that these men knew what they were working towards and didn’t just turn up to take a wage or to do a job but were working towards a common goal and knew how they would make a difference towards achieving that goal.

Now, I could have used these quotes to demonstrate why the correct delegation of tasks and motivation of staff is important (people work better if they are motivated and know what the purpose of the task is) but I think they speak more towards leadership and giving people something to believe in as a motivational technique.

Ask yourself this, when Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28 1963 wanting to bring the masses with him on his crusade for social justice did he say “I have a plan” or did he say “I have a dream”? People are far more likely to follow a man of vision than they are to follow a great strategist.

Build a private cloud

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Want to know how to build a private cloud ? Think its difficult ? Maybe you’re a small organisation and think that private cloud is too expensive for you ?

Don’t be fooled – private cloud can be easy and you may even find that you have lots of the pieces in place already. Just follow the Microsoft guidelines here => http://www.microsoft.com/virtualization/en/us/private-cloud-get-started.aspx.

If you want to extend your private cloud solution then they even have a pre-approved list of vendors and what they can do for you to make your solution complete. http://www.microsoft.com/systemcenter/en/us/virtual-machine-manager/vmm-self-service-portal.aspx.

How easy is my job ?

Monday, November 8th, 2010

You know you’ve got it right when your customers say you have. Here’s some feedback I received this week about a new training course we have launched for CA’s Threat Manager R12.

“We’ve just finished our training with Pete.

 I’d like to say how well it’s gone. The training far exceeded our expectations and we were able to cover much more than we’d anticipated. Pete’s very knowledgeable and came across very well indeed. 

Would you pass on our thanks to Pete and also please pass this on to his manager.”

Suffice it to say that we are probably first to market in the UK with this course, it gives me a warm feeling inside to know that the team have managed to produce something so good and our consultants, as ever, continue to exceed customer expectations.

Congratulations guys (especially Pete) and thanks for making my job so easy !

Are you a Control Freak or a Freedom Fighter ?

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

I speak with a lot of people who work in IT run departments. Some of them even run the department. What I’ve noticed is that people involved in IT tend to fall into two distinct groups which can be labelled “Control Freaks” and “Freedom Fighters”. These guys are easy to distinguish between.

A typical conversation with a Control Freak will go something like this:

Me: Tell me, what are you hoping to get from this solution ?

Client: We need to stop our users from doing this, we have to prevent them from accessing that data and stop them from sending it out. They shouldn’t get to this site and we don’t want them able to do this.

By contrast a conversation with a Freedom Fighter will sound more like the following.

Me: Tell me, what are you hoping to get from this solution ?

Client: We need our users to be able to do what they have to do, we need to allow them to access data and let them to send it out. They should be able to get to web sites when they need to and we want them to able to do whatever it takes to succeed.

As you can see, the first example is a legacy view of IT about prevention and locking down of systems. The second has IT as an enabler to the business, allowing people to work whilst keeping the business secure. In truth achieving the correct result can be a fine balancing act between the two. If you lock down systems too much then clearly users will either try and work around your security (not good) or the best of the bunch will not want to work under such restrictions and will leave to go somewhere else that suits them better. Again, not good if the best of the talent leaves the business.

By contrast, if you ease up security too much in the hope that users will be productive than you face the risk of more downtime and being the target of malicious attacks which will also bring systems down, possibly destroy brand image, lead to loss of sales and, at the extreme end and depending on the attack could mean the failure of the organisation.

So, which is the right answer; Control Freak or Freedom Fighter ? Perhaps the answer is more Business Enabler.

Me: Tell me, what are you hoping to get from this solution ?

Client: We want to help our users to do what they have to do, we need to allow them to transparently access data they should have access to and no more and let them to send it out in an appropriate manner to the correct recipients for the right uses. They should be able to get to web sites they need to and we want them to be successful.

If you get the balance right then the organisation can work at speed, in a connected fashion with appropriate security controls. Staff will be happy with their systems and happiness leads to better motivation and increased success. It also leads to fewer support calls, an easier life for the helpdesk and more time to do better IT leading to even more improvements.

Redstone have a very good white paper that you can download if you would like a more in depth explanation of this philosophy and how the security decisions you take can help make or break your organisation. Download it here.

Linux Version Numbering Scheme

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Linux kernel are numbered as followed

major.minor.level

Major = the major release level
Minor = even numbers are production ready – odd numbers are development versions
Level = sub level of the minor level showing which level of fixes have been applied

So, version 4.2.7 (say) can be installed into production but 4.3.4 (as an example) cannot, even though its a higher number than 4.2.7, as the minor verison is an odd number. 4.3.4 should only be used for testing and development.

Easy when you know how !

Please Support the Poppy Appeal

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Please support the poppy appeal and remember those that gave up their tomorrows so that you could have your today.

I am proud to support The Poppy AppealI am proud to support The Poppy Appeal – Click here to get your PoppE and support The Poppy Appeal

How much value do you add ?

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

I’ve been pondering recently how to promote Professional Services and the benefits to a sales organization of selling Professional Services to a customer base. It may seem obvious that adding services to a sale increases margin but there’s always the point of “If my target is £ 50k margin per month thats £ 2.5K per day. If it takes me 3 days effort to sell 5 days Professional Services then I am better off selling product.”

Of course this is true, but any Professional Services engagement includes and promotes other areas of the business such as helping to sell hardware and software, adding on follow on support services etc. Equally, just selling a straight installation service doesn’t add much value compared to providing a solution that resolves customer issues and removes pain points rather than just deploying a technology (installation only services). To this end I have devised the “Hierarchy of Value Add”

Hierarchy of Value Add

The hierarchy is split into four distinct layers. Each layer as you move up the ladder adds additional value to the solution from a customer point of view and, generally, adds more margin. The exception to this would be cloud computing which adds more discrete value per pound invested and so appears higher in the pecking order.

Box Shifters

Box shifters add little additional value to a sale above the straight supply of goods.

Hardware and Software

Here is the stomping ground of the traditional supplier or box-shifter. Someone who supplies hardware or software with very little value add. As only one supplier can charge the lowest amount each differentiates themselves by the way in which they service their customers, credit terms, relationship, time to ship, returns policy etc. The percentage margin may be low per item but as this tends to be bulk supply the overall amount earned in pure cash terms can be high. If you are not a distributor though then the low margins with no added value may leave you unable to compete.

Value Added Reseller

As the name suggests, value added resellers merely resell Hardware and Software but add some modicum of value by performing basic services around the supply of those items. This enables customers to consume that supply more easily helping the sale to take place. Depending on the purchasers familiarity with the product they will be more likely or less likely to require Value Added services.

Installation

Basic installation services offer a primary amount of value add to any supply from simple racking of equipment through installation of software to version upgrade or migration from a competitive solution. The issue with merely providing installation services is that, over time, customers learn how to install hardware and software themselves and so the perceived value rapidly diminishes the more established a product becomes.

Support

By extending installation services to include for support in case of issues arising, additional margin can be gained and customers retained. World class customer support is critical. Shoddy support services can destroy your reputation with the customer forcing them to seek alternative suppliers. On the other hand, excellent support continually reminds customers of your high quality of service and binds them ever closer to you as you understand their systems more and more. Support also provides a recurring revenue stream which, for the sales person, is an additional way to contribute towards target.

Training

Installation and Support provide customers with a working system that they can plan to be available within SLA. By providing training customers receive additional value in that they can install or upgrade in future. While this may reduce revenue in future it provides value (and therefore margin) now and £ 1 of margin now is worth £ 5 of margin in the future. That is, present margin can be used to pay current bills and fund expansion or pay out profits whereas future estimated margin is like a morning fog .. liable to disappear when the sun comes out.  The customer also gains additional value as they can now resolve more queries and issues themselves shortening the time to resolution. Depending on the pricing model for support, training may even make the support contract more profitable outside of notional margins due to the reduced number of calls placed.

Systems Integrator

Systems integrators take the value add to a new level. Because Systems Integrators work with more than one product to provide a solution customers are more likely to need their skills and will therefore pay a premium. Aristotle Onassis put it well when he said “The secret of business is to know something that nobody else knows.” and this is the essence of the System Integrator.

Consultancy

Many say that Consultants are paid merely to tell you what you already know. In terms of business consultancy that may well be the case but in IT consultancy, other than filling in for staff shortages or absences, that is rarely the case. Generally consultants are employed to review and assess a situation and then propose alternative solutions to the issue at hand. This will rarely involve the configuration or supply of one product hence consultancy residing under the Systems Integrator node. Consultancy has been split from solution provision as consultancy will usually involve explaining and detailing a fix leaving  organizations with the option of either using in-house personnel to deploy their choice of proposed solution or recruiting a supplier to perform the work or even employing the consultant / their company to undertake the program of agreed works. As consultancy takes customers beyond their comfort level and ability to self service a premium (and therefore increased margin) can be charged.

Solution Provision

Consultancy tells you what you should be doing to achieve a certain aim or to resolve a specific issue or set of issues. Solution Provision is concerned with the implementation of that solution and will either contain an element of consultancy to agree the solution detail or will follow on from a previous consultative engagement. As solution provision builds on consultancy it adds more margin to a deal. Also, solution provision differs markedly from installation services as from a system integrators point of view it typically involves blending several products together to obtain the overall benefits required. An example to differentiate the two would be that installation services would simple deploy VMWare ESXi with vCentre, perform physical to virtual conversions, supply machine templates, provide documentation and handover training and support the solution thereafter. Solution Provision would extend this out to provide integrated backup, off VM anti virus scanning, disaster recovery to an alternate site, backend tiered storage and a storage management solution, the ability for users to self deploy VM’s, high end virtualization aware data centre switches and so on and so forth. It is easy to see how providing a complete solution extends far beyond installation services. Solution Provision can also be used to sell training and support services as well as the initial supply of hardware and software.

Trusted Provider

Trusted Providers may also be known as Trusted Suppliers. These are suppliers that organizations will work with full time placing a large amount of trust in their ability to deliver now and far into the future. This high level of trust is required as responsibility for IT shifts from the in-house teams to external teams.

Cloud

For the purposes of the hierarchy, cloud is any supply hosted externally on a shared platform that allows for changes to capacity on demand. Frequently such services include a non-annual payment period such as quarterly of more often monthly. Cloud services provide a tremendous amount of value add for a reduced cost. Value Add items can include:

  • included high availability of service
  • included 24 x 7 x 365 support
  • included disaster recovery of service
  • included free product updates
  • included backup
  • included service monitoring
  • integrated security services
  • automated synchronization or co-existence with internal systems
  • little or no requirement for dedicated internal IT personnel

Cloud services are fully established and almost de facto in some areas such as e-mail scanning and provide recurring revenue and income streams. This is a boon over and above all of the items previously mentioned. As for Solution Provision, Cloud should not be seen as a stand alone supply but needs to be coupled with consultancy to ensure the proposed solution is a good fit for the organization, implementation services to help with migration to the cloud of the current service, ongoing support for the cloud solution and any synchronization technologies.

The “downside” of cloud is that you cannot generally bespoke the service to your own needs. Only simple changes are allowed within the parameters of the service (how often do I backup, who can provision more storage, which type of virtual machines can I deploy).

Managed Service

To overcome the limitations of cloud a truly managed service can be purchased which provides the benefits of cloud but with the ability to bespoke the solution to your needs. An example would be a managed firewall service where complete rule bases can be configured and the firewall device is devoted to one organization and usually based on the customer premises. Similarly may be managed BES with all devices homed on one server which may be hosted on the supplier site with a secure link through to the customer messaging environment allowing for high levels of security, distribution of approved applications, high degrees of configuration of policies etc.

Conclusion

Not all customers are the same and so no company should offer just one level of solution. Professional Services permeates each of the upper three sections of supply and so are a natural choice to help extend and grow sales opportunities to grow margin. The industry is driving ahead on differentiating offerings through marketing and promotion through social media but I believe that demonstrable added value that solves real business problems and helps drive organizations forward will always win over lists of purported benefits from out of the box products, services and solutions.