All posts by ianm32

The silence of the cloud: What is truly driving growth – and what should be?

Opinion Cloud in various iterations has been around now for approaching 20 years (longer if you go back the concept of compute as a public utility introduced by scientist John McCarthy in the 1960s), many remembering seeing iterations such as the ASP (application service provider) as a failed step along that journey until we matured to the SaaS, PaaS, IaaS and varying other ‘as a service’ offerings now in the market.

We have witnessed the varying vendor hype marketing around ‘all in’, ‘everything cloud’ to more recent brandings of ‘fear no cloud’ and even the race to zero – the phrase used to describe the rapid price reduction on IaaS and PaaS offerings from the big name lead technology vendors in cloud, implicating someone will one day give it away for free.

Cloud has driven a behavioural change in business and its people enabling lines of business to navigate around the CIO and tech policies to get things done. Through utilisation of their own budgets and cloud switch it on capabilities many have gone the way of ‘shadow IT’ subscribing to cloud-based systems without IT knowing of the use or budget and changing the landscape of consistent procurement, integration and security across the business.

Some business leaders embrace this departmental agility and work to bring it into an aligned strategy, while others resist fighting this new mantra. We live in a time when compute and its use and responsibility in business is rapidly under change. Witness three types of fundamental business driver – those where:

  • The CIO reports into the CFO and we see the behaviours of a cost reduction business
  • The CIO reports into the CEO typically resulting in an innovation focused business
  • The CIO reports into the CTO resulting in a product focused company

In the innovation business, (the ideal state of successful growth focused firms), gains being sought include an optimisation for the business, an aim for frictionless operational processes and better business insight for smarter decisions; these lead to a focus on revenue value-add and lesser of a focus on cost saving to the business.

There are often 3 barriers for change and innovation in a firm that hinder cloud adoption; culture, tech religion and politics.

Culture

Where you find an agile born in the cloud company, the culture leads to fast adoption and leverage of new emerging tech and receptiveness to fast change.  Take a legacy firm, where change has always been slow, leadership is from the old world and you more often find a lethargy to change, projects that take years and often get deferred time and time again and an environment where by the time change happens its already time to start changing again as the market has moved on. These firms are those that face the greatest risk of disruption and we are already seeing a growing number of long existing big brand names across sectors struggling or even going out of business.

Tech religion

Another frequent hampering is the technology religious debate, where the organisation's strategy becomes aligned to a specific vendor brand. When asked what their IT strategy is, in other words, the resulting answer should not be a brand name!

Becoming agile and having a strategy aligned to process and methodology improvement not a vendor brand, allows for the mixing of technology approaches, platforms and brands as and when applicable. In the old tech world this would have aligned to being a Unix, Lan Manager or Windows NT house instead of an agnostic approach, using Unix, NT and perhaps VM for example, mixed and integrated where applicable for the best business outcome.

Politics

Finally, politics comes into play where an organisation finds itself going against performance indicators and best logic; doing it through emotions of people due to brand favouring, historic bias or existing skillsets.

Businesses additionally are challenged to bring together legacy in alignment with new innovative technology offerings to not only become agile but allow agility to scale across the organisation.

Oracle reports client engagements of cloud evolution as having four main themes; a need for modern data management, a shift to the enterprise, a need to be agile to scale, and for all the new tech to show a fundamental positive impact to revenue results

Often businesses are too focused on getting ready for the coming storm; defending their base; instead of focusing on the challenge of constant innovation and agility. We live in a time of the ‘art of data’, where data insights and data itself are often the currency of value and what drives the success of a business. What data tells us and enables us to do is more critical than ever in the world we reside in; without this we would not have the services we rely on daily such as Uber and Amazon and the Facebooks would not exist as free services. Data itself and how it is purposed has a high value in today’s economy.

We can expect to see a continual hype of technology types; cloud, big data, AI, IoT and the like; however, the real focus should be on the outcomes, the creation of success and meeting the needs of the future customer be they external or internalised through leveraging of the most relevant tech available as an enabler.

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The cloud awakens: What needs to happen now to move from teenage kicks to adulthood

Having worked in the cloud computing arena for approaching 14 years I have seen many changes in technology, strategy and opinion of clients in their views to cloud technology platforms and solutions. 

Attitudes to cloud adoption have changed, going through many phases from the ‘we’ll never go cloud’ to ‘we’ll use it in simple non critical areas’ through to today’s cloud committed firms pushing to leverage cloud compute power across all areas possible. Alongside this has come a change in diligence and questions, less why should we consider cloud, to more mature questions relating to data security, access controls, portability and scalability. 

Businesses have an increased focus on moving away from the world of custom code wherever possible to more repeatable cloud offerings, where configuration replaces custom, reducing operational and maintenance costs and allows firm driving of a faster time to market. 

Cloud has changed the customer-to-vendor landscape dramatically in several ways including; 

  • Flattening of the market: Not so long-ago solutions designed for the enterprise required infrastructure, hardware and implementation costing them out of the market for the average firm; cloud has removed this barrier allowing all firms access to the rich power and function equally
  • Relationships: Many traditional vendors only engaged with their clients through resale channels, with cloud this has changed with the delivery mechanism allowing vendors to reach direct customers on a global basis rapidly; an increasing number of customers now having direct cloud vendor relationships 
  • Financial: Cloud has changed models from an upfront capex approach to an opex subscription model, changing how the business views its IT assets and investment
  • Installation: Installation of old solutions was a necessary evil, having no true value, simply a necessity to getting to the start line of configuring for your business. With cloud this is removed, with deployment being near instantaneous, all focus switches to the more valuable configuring to business needs and processes

For the enterprise vendors such as Oracle, this leads to a wider addressable market, where the cloud offering is affordable and applicable to all from very small to the largest of enterprises. Brands traditionally seen as expensive or addressing a specific market size segment can now broaden their appeal and value.

Cloud empowers removal of the ‘tech debt’ of focusing spend on keeping the lights on and maintaining the status quo, allowing a refocus on innovation and progression. The understanding and reasons to adopt cloud have moved from the infancy stage to the teenage years, moving past the ‘it’s cheaper’ mantra often sold in the early days to a more mature position of consideration. 

Today businesses may lead with cloud for a plethora of reasons from greater agility, a refocus of core efforts from keeping the lights on to focused innovation, through to making the business more attractive to the new employee economy where skilled millennials and ‘Zs’ look to join forward thinking agile firms. 

Often cloud is also adopted as a conduit to a greater flexibility where businesses are acquiring and merging and having a need to uniform processes across work forces quickly and at lower cost. Cloud makes absorption and growth easier, buy a company and extend your platforms to those users in minutes and hours, not weeks and months. Another driver comes from a need for organisational value, investors taking favour to organisations that are agile, cloud ready and utilising leading cloud brands for market advantage.  

We have to remember that cloud encompasses SaaS, PaaS and IaaS alongside internal apps, so a multi-cloud approach is becoming the norm. Here customers have a breadth of options now available from traditional brand names to newer born in the cloud vendors. With exceptions, such as Oracle, most vendors play in only one or two of these cloud form factors and a mix of cloud relationships will develop for the customer. 

However, the path is still not cleared for easy and fast full cloud adoption and before we enter the ‘adult stage’ of cloud we need to see some further progression. For example, from the burying of the legacy tech mindset, where a favour to develop and install locally often remains, protecting legacy people tech skills and accreditations, believed job security and political ad emotional drivers.  

Cloud is the underlying enabler for so much, from big data and AI to IoT, that long term resistance is futile and the new generation entering business will look back wondering why it took so long for the barriers to come down. 

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Supply chains and digital transformation: How Manutan rebuilt its systems and strategy

Executive summary: Distributing giant Manutan moved from a reactive customer engagement strategy to a proactive approach through going cloud-native. While the process had various roadblocks, the sense of engagement and community was key. Xavier Laurent, director of value added services at Manutan, has ‘lived the journey of transformation’ over the past 10 years and discusses how the company meets customer demand in the digital economy through becoming more agile in its engagements, as well as combining technological and cultural innovation

Longread We live in a time of disruption, where brand names and legacy businesses cannot rest on their laurels due to increasingly affordable technologies. The supply chain demands faster, most cost-effective processes leading to the panacea of frictionless engagement.

Transformation sounds exciting and positive – but often the barrier of change and threat of the unknown deter the necessary action, speed and commitment needed to achieve the promised land. We live in a time where technology enables what 10 years ago was either impossible or cost prohibitive for all bar the few. Cloud, IoT, AI, big data, VR, drones and more are all changing the living environment around us – and with this, the customer expectation and demand also changes.

It is time to take stock of what is achievable, the importance of starting the journey now, and to appraise the impact of doing nothing. The gain is far greater than the pain to get there; are you ready to value your future and make the first step? Distributing giant Manutan is an example of a legacy firm which has transformed to say relevant – and here they bring us the realities from the story of their journey.

The time to transform is now

Having been in the cloud sector for more than 13 years, I have watched as it has gone from infant, to child – initially crawling past those holding onto legacy approaches and fearing the cloud – through to walking, and now starting to jog. The full sprint is still ahead of us as we witness the acceleration of innovative and disruptive use cases being brought to market.

We are finally seeing more cloud advocates in the room than cloud doubters and resisters, and seeing enough momentum to view cloud and its cohorts of big data, AI and IoT push past the human barriers. Technology used to divide the market, with solutions offering ‘enterprise’ functions requiring associated costly infrastructure and complex deployment. For example, you would find an application that required numerous high-end servers or mini-computers to run it, database servers and complex installations which quickly raised the entry price bar to a level that distanced them from the average firm. The ‘have nots’ who could not afford such elite offerings were relegated to using different products often lacking key functions, or the backing of vendors large enough to deliver innovation and as many enhancement updates.

This technology hindering went on for many years until the disruptive entrance of true cloud offerings. With cloud, we started to witness application delivery, through multi-tenancy efficiencies, which flattened the market, making the commercials for a 5000- or 5-user license viable for both respective companies. The smaller firm, for the first time, was able to choose the same class offering as the large enterprise brand name, without the high upfront investment cost barriers.  Cloud has enabled new innovative firms to revitalise many areas of the software market, delivering innovation, more function, and fresher user experiences that befit our mobile, Internet-based world. Legacy vendors have therefore been forced to revitalise their offerings, re-platform and transform them to a more flexible technical and commercial model, all to the benefit of their employees, customers and business partners in the supply chain.

Supply chains have long relied on traditional manual processes, heavy lifting, and inefficient data insights into where to tune and gain competitive advantage. Proven cloud technology is here today to transform this effectively and affordably; it may seem obvious to take the first steps to making this happen, but many embroiled in the old way are hampered by legacy thoughts and perceived barriers of the journey ahead and hence take no action. With the disruption happening across industries right now, even a successfully performing company can quickly turn sour should a competitor change the game on them. Today, a breadth of companies are undertaking this transformational journey and are on their way to surprising competitors, as they come out of the gate refreshed and supercharged.

A digital transformation success story

I recently had the pleasure to gain great real-world insight with the challenges and market benefits this transformation brings through conversations with both SAP Ariba and Xavier Laurent, director of value added services at Manutan, who has lived the journey of transformation over the past 10 years.

Digital transformation is not as easy as the words and hype written about it may make it seem. It is a combination of change involving people, process and technology and needing the business gains to visibly outweigh the losses and pain to drive people to make it happen.

Deferring digitisation is easy when realisation of the work involved comes to light. No wonder so many default to the status quo, delaying projects and wading on painfully with existing systems and methods

Manutan has a 50-year legacy of B2B distance selling, from original paper catalogue through to being an innovator in the initial days of the web, through to dynamic cloud-based digitisation of the B2B supply chain. Originating in distance selling of lower priced transactional products, higher cost of sales through manual engagements were palatable in the early days where competition was less stringent, and margins were more supporting. Manutan was one of the first to identify the importance of the web, going back 15 years; its first foray into digitisation. This undoubtedly made the decision to digitise the supply chain process further an easier one than for many firms.

Noticing a pressure from customers looking for an easier, most cost-effective relationship, it was the last four to five years which took the change further as Manutan invested in an e-procurement team focused on a portfolio of customers. Combining this with a digitisation of systems and procurement has driven a very positive increase of clients 10% ahead of industry averages – the sort of outcome any business will happily accept.

To achieve the level of supply chain digitisation and client positivity was not simply a case of technology, but a combination of smart decisions, investing and resourcing in the right places. For example, Manutan has 10 people (purchase consultants) in charge of building KPIs around productivity, speed, and accuracy of customer projects. Whilst people and resources help, without the new cloud systems to empower them, the successful gains being recognised would not have been as great.

The drivers and challenges

One of the initial challenges was that spend from ‘class C’ customers typically only represented 5% of their acquisition process. Hence it was not the focal point for gains. Purchase directors seeing low value transactions in class C had not focused in this area. Despite there being a volume of orders with small value items across the business, the true value gain that could be recognised here was hidden – they could not see the wood for the trees. However, once class A and B had been optimised fully and customers had reached this maturity in their lifecycle, they quickly realised that whilst with class A, and to a degree class B, purchases there was some easy wins in simple price savings, with class C price savings were not going to be as easy to achieve, as with lower cost items there was less to play with.

The gains here are to be made from process improvements; reducing supplier breadth, management/removal of rogue purchases, lowering supplier management costs and, as much as possible, automating and digitising the process. Through adoption of effective tools – in this case SAP Ariba – it is a clear benefit to improve productivity on class C purchases and thus gain competitive advantage.

With class C purchases typically having a wider spread and less attention, the challenge is even greater in procurement to collate, structure and analyse related data in order to ratify and streamline purchasing. Reports show that up to 80% of company data is unstructured, and thus not delivering business insight in order to drive value. It is unsurprising then that only 8% of companies currently believe that they have effective class C purchase process management.

On class C products seeking to make the gains from cost reduction on unit pricing may seem obvious, but this can also be counter-productive. The impact of a lower cost supplier can be a less reliable service; costly errors and longer lead times, with knock-on effects on your supply chain and larger orders and relationships, where the class C itself is not the key but contributing to the whole for the customer’s output. Focusing on streamlining inventory, removing silos, and improving forecasting of demand, can all enable a gain across the chain.

Laurent’s focus at Manutan, of reducing supply chain costs for class C transactional products and helping customers gain, is not an uncommon need. The drive was to deliver an application architecture that helped customers by digitising everything possible including product visibility, workflows, new orders, delivery, and invoicing. Through time spent understanding customer purchase processes and challenges with the manual approach to class C, Manutan has achieved a three times reduction on overall cost for its customers, both raising the relationship bar whilst embellishing customer loyalty, competitive advantage, and greater growth of revenues. Some of this has come from the attitude in the business to change and make it happen, with added empowerment from the flexibility of the Ariba platform which handles the most transactions in the Manutan group today.

The use of SAP Ariba as an enabling platform for these gains is now enabling Manutan to address new challenges from customers and deliver solutions in hours and not weeks – a ‘why would the customer go elsewhere?’ advantage. Through the automation and efficiencies gained, customers are now able to see the logic of reducing suppliers to one that can deliver better cost management across product lines and overall consolidation.

Meeting customer demands in the digital economy

Manutan is driven to being known as an expert in its field, with a reputation for reliability, speed, and maturity. To have maintained this and grown above industry averages is an accolade in itself. Xavier cites SPA Ariba combined with the attitude of its team as the gateway to adding flexibility and agility to the Manutan mantras. Transformation as market needs and trends demand is not easy and requires a ‘can do’ and ‘take action’ approach, this being the hindrance of many larger organisations.

One unforeseen benefit of going through a digital transformation project is that it often drives peripheral insights and discussions that identify and drive additional positive changes to the business

Manutan did have the advantage that it was an early adopter of the web and the basics of e-procurement, but it has had to maintain this willingness to early adopt. The company historically had taken a reactive best efforts approach to meeting customer needs, as many will recognise in their own businesses. This progressed to building a team incorporating service account managers and purchase consultants in charge of partnering with customers in the same language, and then conduiting the client’s needs internally to Manutan divisions such as IT, supply chain, and finance.

Part of the process change identified meant that Manutan, on top of the technology changes, needed to become more agile in its people engagements. This meant being able to react quickly in an opportunistic mode; no blocking of requests from customers due to corporate lethargy or systems, but embracing them with the knowledge that Manutan’s systems and culture would support this approach.

This now allows long term projects to continue and be managed effectively, but enables fast responses to short-term customer needs ahead of these projects. Manutan empowers all staff to speak directly with clients. No more misinterpretations as an account manager takes their interpretation of a customer’s needs to IT; IT directly speaks with and engages the client, delivering faster outcomes and a greater customer experience for the expertise they access. Laurent reports this has driven a greater acceptance in the business of the new technologies and systems, empowerment to staff from top down, and a great level of customer partnership.

As Laurent talks, you can feel the enthusiasm he has for what the business has achieved, and the excitement for what is yet to come. His words iterate what I have heard from many – that it is no easy task to bridge the gap between old and new, to utilise the amazing technologies available today to deliver what today’s customer gravitates towards. Deferring digitisation is easy when realisation of the work involved comes to light; mapping out processes, engaging test customers, internal workshops, sometimes changing people’s roles and responsibilities, if not their long-held processes. A large action list of challenging activities appears at the outset, and this is before technology selection and implementation even rears its head. No wonder many default to the status quo, delaying projects and wading on painfully with existing systems and methods.

However, as Manutan perfectly illustrates, once you step out over the chasm, momentum gains and you quickly find yourself progressing on the journey with people on board, supporting the destination, and embracing the steps to get there.

Facing up to the change process

The change process should still not be underestimated. Laurent explained that there were still cultural barriers to overcome before they achieved today’s market-changing delivery model. Both sides of the coin needed education and mentoring into the new world; purchase directors and decision makers were not aware of the technology approach Manutan wanted to deliver, and salespeople did not initially appreciate the opportunity the technology presented. Sales was familiar with talking to procurement about price and process, but not with the capabilities of e-procurement to change the game and relationship. Throughout the process the organisation engaged its staff. Right from the outset, employees were involved and not isolated from what was going on; they felt they were part of a solution Manutan was moving towards, and remained heavily involved from start to finish.

I asked Laurent what had been learned from the change process – what had to be overcome and, with hindsight, what would have been done differently? The unsurprising conclusion, to me at least, was that it took longer than expected to move from a project-based organisation to an agile one. The historical culture was one of working in a slower moving, process-barriered market, one where technology was the remit of IT and not something all in the business should embrace at an innovative pace. New staff entered and helped with a mindset of accepting the change journey was underway and a positive thing.

Laurent’s passion for the new culture as a veteran is clear; having held multiple roles himself, he cites the difference has not only been the technology platform and the capabilities it has given, but also the validation from board down of the importance of digital and innovation to the business and its customers.

From the journey, other improvements were identified, such as the already mentioned siloing of engagement with the customer relationship manager. Laurent identified that this had gone on for too many years due to an ‘always being done that way’ outlook, and that the transformation process encouraged a look across the business at what could be improved. One unforeseen benefit of going through a digital transformation project is that it often drives peripheral insights and discussions that, indirect to the defined project, identify and drive additional positive changes to the business.

The journey’s path

Laurent was also clear to point out that along the journey there were wrong turns, bumps in the road, breakdowns, and a few accidents. Importantly, the team and business remained focused on the outcome and belief of the positive. They stayed resilient and determined throughout the process and drove the same downwards to their teams. Through this, Laurent reported the incredible team passion, excitement and agility he witnesses each day that digitisation has provided to the Manutan community.

Where businesses have already achieved a true fundamental transformation, they are usually eager to progress to the next

The outputs from the journey that Manutan as an organisation and the people, such as Laurent, have been on, is clear. Customers are better off; accuracy, speed, flexibility, effectiveness and cost reduction have all become mantras familiar to Manutan’s base, as has a ‘Manutan can do’ attitude. The business has gained market share, lowered return rates and achieved customer infusion of the phrase ‘love buying through us.’ KPIs have become more measurable and meaningful and improved both internally and externally to its customers. Manutan salespeople are gaining new clients through the ability to deliver valuable and contextual insights into the savings they can make, using customers’ real data, analysing the true cost of buying from Manutan, and providing a digital procurement illustration.

The cultural change has been an important one to support the changes the technology has enabled. A clear empowerment of staff to be responsible and the freedom to say yes or no to clients was driven across the business. This was described as the ‘007 license’ by Laurent; the license to find a solution for your client. Laurent’s voice was energised when he spoke, as a long-timer, of the ‘free’ feeling, supported by the organisation to be allowed to try and fail and challenge the status quo; to be different, to go faster, taking risks with the aim to create opportunity and be inventive. Much of this has been brought about by the underlying SAP Ariba platform that bridges Manutan more closely with its customers.

The next stage of the journey

With all the great upsides for Manutan, what is left? The focus has been on the downward supply chain, so by utilising a similar process of appraisal and alignment to the power of SAP Ariba, Manutan sees great opportunities to improve its upward supply chain, enabling greater efficiencies through even speedier delivery through approaches such as drop shipments. The delivery thus far has focused on the B2C channels, so B2B is also wide open to be transformed using a similar approach.

Manutan is now progressing on its continued journey and the strength that SAP Ariba has enabled allows the growth into other geographic regions. Laurent explained to me that the ideal is to build a ‘rinse and repeat’ model, one that will enable them to go faster as they enter new markets and drive even greater growth and competitive differentiation.

The key, however, is that the ‘better customer experience’ that SAP Ariba has enabled Manutan to deliver is continued through anything it does. While Ariba is at its foundation a technology, to Manutan it has gone far beyond this to a true business partnership for mutual gain; a transformational enabler.

There are still areas where much more could be done, Laurent explained, but from the experience and outcome already gained you can feel that Manutan does not fear entering a new process of change or innovation. I often engage with businesses and find where they have already achieved a true fundamental transformation, that they are eager to progress to the next. From Laurent’s pragmatic and transparent sharing, it is easy to see the strength that the platform has given Manutan, its team, and its customers, making business happen in the way customers want it to happen.

Manutan has aspirations to leverage AI capabilities. For example, where a client or prospect issues a large multi-thousand catalogue tender there is still a time consuming, manual and error-risk process to undertake. Being able to automate this for speedier response, with greater accuracy and reduced effort, would gain competitive advantage. There is also aspiration and plans to increase the catalogue size exponentially and this has impact on the marketplace; documentation needs, manuals, photography and support, which only becomes possible through utilisation and expansion of smart technology and increased digitisation.

Getting yourself involved

Industry’s wheel keeps on turning – and it is turning faster than ever before in history. We are seeing new goliaths seemingly born overnight, and legacy brand names failing at every turn. Sitting on your laurels and avoiding what looks like a potholed road is a dangerous option to take in lieu of doing nothing and not embarking on the journey.

If you have a supply chain where you have not optimised the procurement process and done all you can to engage with suppliers and customers, the time is now. There is no simple panacea switch to jump to the other side; how much pain you must go through will vary, but not doing anything has a far more painful outcome and risk waiting for you along the path. However an increasing number of firms, as Manutan for one has demonstrated, are showing that the only way to truly tap into effective supplier and spend management today is to adopt a cloud-native approach and leverage it to transform not only your tech, but as a conduit for positive effect on people and processes.

By making the change you will benefit both your own business, through a combination of efficiencies and consistencies helping to remove ‘rogue buying’ and gaining competitive advantages, and that of your customers in reducing their operational buying costs. Engagement becomes easier – and a pleasure.

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Microsoft, Amazon and Google infrastructure-centric: Why the cloud is increasingly ‘magic’

Opinion We hear the term ‘the year of the cloud’ many times. I profess that it is ‘the decade of the cloud’ – and what’s more, we haven’t even really started yet.

Having been in the cloud industry for more than 12 years, and had a wealth of opportunity to engage with business across vertical sectors – from small local businesses to global enterprises and across geographic regions – I have witnessed an evolutionary change in acceptance of cloud technologies. This has gone from adamant “we resist” no-cloud policies through to “all in” cloud-first strategies.

We seem to have settled down now into a world where there is acceptance that cloud options should always be considered and the fear of cloud has diminished to a point where questions are asked and diligence done – rightly so, but as a necessary checkpoint, rather than a barrier to progressing.

Cloud is going to rapidly proliferate, not through the name – who says ‘I want some cloud’? – but due to the accelerated and rapid growth of emerging technologies powered by cloud somewhere or somehow. These are fast becoming the norm in everyday life and are appearing on business agendas across sectors. We find big data, AI, IoT, VR, and even drones all appearing in ever more interesting and applicable ways, with their prices becoming consumable by even the smallest of firms. By 2020, we can expect to be seeing AI and IoT increasingly in our everyday lives – often transparent to us, and with cloud hidden away powering their wonderous delivery.

We now hear the terms edge computing and fog computing, as well as wider use of ‘as a service’ as the cloud sector matures. With this maturing comes a wave of change in the underlying delivery mechanisms and platforms.

We started with hosting, data centres hosting your own racked equipment, or providing racks where you could remotely install your applications onto your own single tenancy instance. Heading towards 2020, we are seeing an acceleration of re-platforming and customers moving their workloads to the public cloud, where the early concerns have gone and we now see compute and storage costs constantly reducing on what is known as the race to zero (who will be the first to give it away?). This whilst performance, reliability and function have increased. We have never seen a time in compute previously where the power and function went up at as high an exponential as prices are coming down.

Compounding this is technology vendors who are themselves re-platforming, moving their SaaS offerings from their own hosted data centres to the likes of the big three – AWS, Azure, or Google. We have seen major technology SaaS firms doing this and, in my experience, both where I have worked and those I know well in the sector, this is increasingly commonplace. Cloud firms are realising their core is the IP and expertise, not running the traditional cloud infrastructure itself. Add to this that we are seeing a growth of hosting firms, traditionally fighting against these public cloud giants, not getting on board, instead reselling their hosting and wrapping their cloud expertise around the unbeatable ‘compute power <> price’ ratio that the goliaths can deliver.

By 2020, we can expect cheaper prices throughout the cloud chain, the emergence of eye-opening new tech at home and in the workplace – and a change under the covers of how the cloud providers themselves deliver and monetarise their own offerings.

Ian Moyse is a cloud industry thought leader and cloud sales director at Natterbox.

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In today’s cloud world – phones don’t need to be frozen out

Over the past few weeks in the UK, thanks to the ‘Beast from the East’ – with a third instalment potentially on its way – we have seen the usual grinding to a halt of the nation as snow has hit.

For business, such a simple, uncontrollable and unexpected event can be eventful, painful and even catastrophic depending on your business type and how you have planned for such occurrences. Snow has a wide sweeping effect, but also consider unfortunately in today’s times, terror attacks and the more localised effect of businesses also not able to get to work.

Whenever we experience the snow we see headlines, news reports and discussions ensuing over the cost to business. Should we not already be mitigating against this – and should a simple weather impact be able to affect work so easily in today’s world?

The costs and impact can be very simple. Take petrol station sales, down 10% the last time this happened. Building projects are stopped. Cafés, restaurants, taxi drivers and train operators receive less throughput. Likewise, there are those whose business requests go up; gas engineers, breakdown services, takeaway restaurants.

Be it you cannot get to work through being snowed in yourself, the office itself being shut, or through having to stay home to look after the kids as their school is shut, the outcome is the same – you are not at your desk and, for many roles, therefore not able to perform your duties.

For a customer service, call centre, support or sales environment, this can have a severe impact on your clients and your own productivity. For businesses the effect is costly, as if you have not empowered your workers to ‘be able’ to work, you cannot put the impact onto your employees – the law prevents this.

Assuming that, as you’re impacted, so may be your clients, is a false sense of security. Not all regions may be affected; your customers may still choose or need to call. If they now have downtime due to the weather, they may choose to make that call they have been putting off sorting an issue or order out. Therefore, it can be argued that you may incur spikes of need at a time when your team is weakened to respond.

In today’s world, the technology to empower true business continuity, fast and affordably, is in reach of us all. Mobile phones, laptops and tablet devices all enable workers to be mobile and have that virtual office and are within financial reach of even the smallest company. Indeed, you will likely find your employees already have their own tech, often better than what you are providing to them.

The missing component today is often the fundamental of your own business phone system. How easily and quickly, when caught short by the weather, can you, as an employer, switch users to fully remote working? Can you have their desk phone calls routed to their mobile, a soft-phone or web-phone, and all routing, call queues, wallboards and reporting of calls working as normal? You should be able to remotely switch on a DR policy that makes this happen. Wouldn’t it also make sense to have users able to make outbound calls that come as if working at their desk?

Imagine the snow hits; you make a decision that all or some employees need to work but be remote today. You want all working as normal despite their physical location. Wouldn’t it be ideal if all the user had to do was to login to their CRM or service desk system on any PC, and be immediately on their desk phone right there from the browser session.

Today, this is easy, simple for the user, and something you can deploy quickly to even the largest of teams. Once the snow thaws, you move onto day to day business, seeing the issue as passed and not planning to take any further action – until it happens again and you wished you had.

Weather patterns are getting worse, terror attacks unfortunately are growing, and we can expect increased disruptions over the coming years. Don’t let your customers and staff be left out in the snow. In today’s cloud technology world, there is no need. The solution to this is practical, affordable and here today. Don’t be giving excuses or apologies – be the one giving service.

The top five reasons for a multi-cloud infrastructure

Having been focused in the cloud sector for more than 12 years now, I have experienced much fast paced change and continued assumptions, misunderstanding and over-promising of cloud as the saviour of all ills.

Cloud is used as a generic term and yet covers a wide plethora of sub form factors (SaaS – software as a service, PaaS – platform as a service and IaaS – infrastructure as a service) and delivery mechanisms (private, public and hybrid clouds). Within these you then have a growing breadth of vendors with offerings, either born in the cloud or developed from former traditional on network server led models; each being architected differently from physical infrastructure components through to functionality, hosting locations, pricing and security models.

For the dispersed needs of a business, there is not one cloud vendor that can or does provide a total end-to-end solution fit for all and nor should there be, with cloud being a highly innovative and agile market sector that is driving change and disruption. The right fit for each project needs to be assimilated from the business needs, the technical mix, the security requirements the businesses skill set and future predicted needs and the commonality sought by the business (meaning a possible focus on reducing the breadth of vendors, perhaps choosing one PaaS platform as the standard to be used whenever PaaS is applicable).

There are five key focal reasons for driving your business to a multi-cloud infrastructure:

Best of breed

Cloud has driven aggressive innovation and disruption; with new providers replacing both old and newer approaches, commoditisation reducing the cost of compute and varying cloud providers offering a range of different capabilities and functions.

Multi-cloud allows you to select the best of each on offer for your needs at that window of time, some being medium to long time commitments – such as an ERP or CRM re-platforming – and some being short term tactical options such as spinning up IaaS or PaaS for testing or project-based DevOps work. Multi-cloud allows you to pick and choose from a growing range of services on offer to create a customised portfolio that fits the needs of your organisation.

Ability to mix delivery mechanisms from SaaS, PaaS and IaaS

No one of these delivery mechanisms is best for all customers in every instance. For example, you may have a customer CRM application that has specific value to your business through a lot of prior investment done to align to your specific business processes. You have the choice to switch to a robust, industry common SaaS based CRM and invest in re-building the processes and specific aligned customisations (a quick switch on of the generic and longer investment in the configuration) or to re-platform your proprietary setup to a cloud based platform to increase the robustness of the underlying infrastructure, add flexibility and reduce ongoing costs. A multi-cloud strategy allows you the what if capability to weigh up a wider option base for each new and existing application and do the right thing for you and your business in each individual case.

Risk mitigation and reduction

There has always been a panacea target of 100% uptime and availability (excluding scheduled maintenance) and no matter what the guarantee offered by any cloud vendor and regardless how mission critical they are, there will always be risk for failure as has been demonstrated by some very global performance and outage issues from brand name vendors. The comparative however should be with traditional methods of delivery and the efficiency scaling of costs delivered through cloud.

We pay far less now per compute/storage for far greater resilience than we have had previously. In choosing packaged cloud applications the level of redundancy delivered by the cloud provider will outweigh that you could afford or choose to provide yourself. When spinning up your own apps into the cloud, you can now build greater hot standby resiliency at a price lower than older cold redundancies would have been. By spreading your workloads across multiple cloud providers, the possibility of simultaneous downtime reduces exponentially.

Autonomy

Historically vendor selection led to lock-in, which led to costlier, prolonged and risk averse proof of concepts, delayed decisions and in the case of a mistaken decision a situation where good was often thrown after bad as the cost to change was too extreme. With cloud, whilst the full panacea of switch on and switch off has not been achieved across all form factors and vendors, it is invariably easier to switch onto a cloud service and switch onto another if required than it has ever been with network server installed products.

With IaaS / PaaS workloads, if platformed more generically (not utilising vendor-specific APIs) then the workloads can be shifted quiet easily from one vendor offering to another, leaving the customer with the ability to run the app regardless of the chosen underlying infrastructure provider. As we progress the ability to move cloud vendor will become easier giving increased autonomy to the client for performance, security and cost reasons. This will lead to the advantage of reducing dependency further on any single cloud vendor and allow the negotiation of more favourable pricing and agreements.

Interoperability

Cloud platforms, regardless of form factor or delivery method, are not all interoperable with each other or with legacy systems. There is often an assumption that all will play and talk nicely together and push and pull data easily; this is not the case. Therefore, the ability to mix and choose between offerings in a multi-cloud environment is key in today’s world where data is king. For example, if a key business requirement is to link a legacy on network system to a new cloud offering and bi-directional data flow is a key aspect, then having the flexibility to choose a cloud solution that is strongest for that need and not be forced down a particular avenue is key.

Conclusion

One cloud may be better suited than another for a specific task; for example utilising a public cloud for services extendable to your ecosystem of workers and partners and a private cloud to host a more focused internally critical system. High security workloads may be determined to run in private clouds whilst regular generic business applications and data can leverage cost effective public cloud offerings. With a multi-cloud option on offer you can spin up resources and options more easily than in the old world where selecting a vendor led you into far longer tie ins and more costly and complex deployments. With mixed clouds, you can elect to choose a richer set of options to solve a wider set of business functional needs.

Today’s cloud services are resilient, secure and delivered using multiple regions and data centres to form a single cloud network. Multi-cloud takes cloud to the next level and allows businesses to build sophisticated inter cloud services encompassing an ecosystem of large and small, niche and broad, PaaS, SaaS and IaaS providers.

With increasing focus on security and data regulations evolving quickly, such as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), the ability to choose a provider where needed, that has the most stringent alignment with your data security needs is also key.

Multi-cloud capabilities and options make the case for cloud stronger and the ability to adapt to changing business needs easier.

How cloud can neutralise the telephony hot potato

Telephone systems and PBXs (private branch exchange) have historically been a hot potato in a business; an important service for users needing firm ownership and the most obvious bucket thrown into being that of the traditional IT team. This IT team is often frustrated that they do not have the telecoms experience to know what they are dealing with.

Over the years I have lost count of the times the IT team has commented – both from customers and businesses I have worked within – of struggling with the telephony component, lacking skills, experience and understanding of the ethos of this historic comms world. The telco world, its  approaches and components, are very different to the IP based world that traditional IT is used to operating within. Often these historical telephony deployments are also creaking, having through accident and sometimes design, been configured in weird and wonderful ways that now no one is familiar with or has the time to unpick. So, IT are keen to have someone else own the problem, but find there is nowhere else to locate it in the business.

In 2017, a vast number of firms still sit in this camp, faced with the challenges of supporting and maintaining telephony systems, often based on ageing technology and bolted together from varying suppliers to achieve delivery of provisioning, PBX, desktop devices and IP interfaces with today’s modern world of softphones and PC and mobile based technologies.

Often the biggest challenge is when something breaks and the IT team has to circle around, reacting to fix an issue none really has the confidence or experience of. This same team has to maintain, monitor and manage not only telephony, but the breadth of IT services and solutions serving the business.

The challenge with telephony over email services or most typical IT services, for example, is that it is real time and any degradation in packet quality is seen immediately from both ends of the spectrum, caller and recipient.  Send an email that gets delayed and more often than not neither end notices as it is seen as a transient communication method. A phone call is immediate real time two-way communication, where any degradation in service results in packet loss and obvious call quality issues to those on the call.  Thus, have an issue on your PBX and find your breadth of users complaining about mid call line drops, sound quality (hissing or crackling) or issues making or receiving calls.

This situation is exaggerated quickly when you have multiple sites with local PBXs and issues to manage on a wider scale. In today’s demanding world to support customer demand for high quality service and response, and staff’s need for more flexibility to work anytime, anywhere on any device a new approach is essential.

As we have seen in the CRM world, once cloud has proven its disruption it will grow fast

So along came VoiP and cloud telephony to deliver the common benefits of cloud from better resilience (uptime and performance), removal or reduction in capital costs, faster deployment, easier upgrades and scaling of usage.

In today’s world, there is rarely a logical reason to deploy a traditional physical PBX. As we have already seen in the CRM world where now 50% of all new deployments globally are cloud based – and expected to soon reach 70% of all sales – once cloud has proven its disruption it will grow fast.

So with cloud telephony, much of the challenge for the IT team in managing the telecoms for the business is taken away by the cloud provider, except the administration, provisioning and configuration of policies for the business.

The bigger question is: should this even be with the IT team? Take Salesforce as a business application platform. Is this managed by IT? They may have been involved in the initial procurement, providing a security review, a technical approval for fit for the business network and security models, but the day to day management revolves around the business needs.  Provisioning and decommissioning users, configuring data presentation (fields, reports, dashboards), managing business rules, helping users – this falls under a Salesforce Administrator / team.

So is telephony not an extension of this? A business service that should the technical complexity and implications be removed (using a cloud provider) is better placed being owned and managed by a business services admin as opposed to a technical IT support team.

Now take another thought initiative and consider integrating your telephony and CRM, having customer and prospect data supporting the logic of voice interactions.

Imagine being able to inform a sales user that should a key customer be marked as ‘Gold’ category then their calls will automatically be put to the head of inbound call queues. That any new sales opportunity in the CRM over a target threshold value will automatically get priority support during their trial experience and bypass automated call recording triage processes. That if you put an account in your teams name that any of their inbound calls will automatically go to the sales rep allocated and then the call group for your team only.

The business and customer benefits are obvious in this day of a heightened buyer dynamic expecting and demanding high quality customer service.

To enable this should it not be easy and intuitive for the same Salesforce Admin / team to manage the customer telephony in alignment with the CRM system?  Embedding the cloud telephony end to end inside of Salesforce itself is long overdue. This allows the utilisation of the same security model and all rich data to create a non-technically managed, customer centric phone system that is as flexible as Salesforce itself.

Telephony has been in the hands of the technical IT team out of necessity, not choice. Now you can choose to put it where it belongs, in the heart of customer-centricity land aligned with customer service and sales.

Editor’s note: Find out more about Natterbox’s latest announcement with regards to Salesforce here.

Why you need to understand GDPR now – and what you need to do from here

(c)iStock.com/FrankRamspott

If you’ve not yet heard the term GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), you certainly well. As we approach May 25 2018, when this becomes law, the noise around it will grow.

Don’t stop reading now if the acronym seems boring and not relevant to you – it is, on both counts. What’s happening is a new law will come into play across Europe; Brexit or no Brexit, it will apply.

Yet this is not another year 2000-type hype where there was no impact or pain. The impact is already happening and the pain is going to get greater. If you’re not sure what the GDPR is or how it will affect your business, now’s the time to start paying attention. This is all about companies’ legal liability to protect data they hold on staff, customers, and in fact anywhere personal details are stored, and the impact – in other words, fines – that are going to ensue if you don’t.

This encompasses cloud, on premise, IoT and mobile. No matter where you store data, if it meets the criteria of personally identifiable and relevant information, then you need to comply. Ignorance will not be an excuse and will in fact put you in a far worse position; better you can demonstrate your diligence of action and how you have tried to mitigate any risk as a defence. It is good practice to be able to demonstrate that you have attended training, acted on the process recommended from it and tried to do the right thing; you have a far better chance of being treated leniently and worked with rather than against it should the worst happen.

There is a wealth of information and articles on GDPR available – yet many mostly quickly defer to complex detailed information and do not give clear and plain guidance as to what it means and what needs to be done. So let’s make this clear and simple in three buckets; why it is, what it is, and what you need to do.

Data is important and you have a legal responsibility to do certain things

Data breaches hit an all-time record high in 2016, with an increase of 40% over 2015. You may have already heard about some of the high profile names who had such breaches recently, from Three Mobile in the UK, French naval defence contractor DCNS, Vodafone in Germany, the Czech Ministry of Education, the Irish Department of Social and Family Affairs… we could go on, and it’s a certainty there will be more of these stories coming.

Data protection laws are long due an overhaul. For example, most Data Protection Acts have not been revisited since the late 90s at best, since when the world has changed radically through the internet, cloud and mobile changing the volume of interactions and data exchanges taking place.

What GDPR is

GDPR is the new law that requires from May 2018, any business that operates in the EU or handles the personal data of people that reside in the EU must implement a strong data protection policy to protect this client data. It is the EU’s way of giving customers more power over their data and less power to the organisations that collect and use such data for monetary gain. Businesses that fail to meet the new standard will face fines of up to 4% of global turnover or €20 million (£17.2m), whichever is larger, and businesses that suffer from a data breach without having adequate measures in place will suffer the same.

In other words, this is a law – something mandatory you need to take action on as a director of a firm with director liabilities and something that your customers care about. See this not as a threat but as an opportunity to get your ship in shape and proudly state to customers you have been on GDPR training and are taking action with processes to be a good, caring supplier. Consider putting a GDPR and ‘how we care for your data’ section on your website.

What action you need to take – and don’t panic!

You need to be prepared as a business to take action now and to mitigate the risks you face. Do not assume you are immune from a security leak of data and that you can deal with it afterwards. By taking action now you can help reduce the risk of it happening and by taking demonstrable action will provide you with a defensive protection should the worst happen.

The May 2018 deadline may seem a long way off at the moment, but businesses must act today in order to understand what it will take for them to achieve compliance, to have time to do it, and to do it without panic and fitting it in alongside your day to day running of the business. You need to get the ball rolling and have a plan of actions for your journey to GDPR, so that come 2018 you have no panic, no worries, and can assure your customers of your compliance.

There is much talk, for example, that every organisation will need to appoint a data protection officer, and that failure to do so will expose you to possible huge financial sanctions. In some cases this may be required, but you need to understand this now and the work out the most effective plan you can take to ensure you are compliant in the most effective manner for your business.

The last Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) survey found that 75% of adults don’t trust businesses with their personal data; so as well as being legally compliant you can also utilise this in a positive way to assure your clients are assured in dealing with you.

You will find many offering three day courses and/or complex expensive consultancy, and whilst for some this may be appropriate, for most allocating someone in your business to own the process as a special project ownership, and then sending them on a day’s awareness and process training workshop now, will get you on the way with plenty of time to work it out well for your business.

Editor’s note: If you wish to know more and find out what sort of training options are available, check out gdpr.direct.

Why you need to understand GDPR now – and what you need to do from here

(c)iStock.com/FrankRamspott

If you’ve not yet heard the term GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), you certainly well. As we approach May 25 2018, when this becomes law, the noise around it will grow.

Don’t stop reading now if the acronym seems boring and not relevant to you – it is, on both counts. What’s happening is a new law will come into play across Europe; Brexit or no Brexit, it will apply.

Yet this is not another year 2000-type hype where there was no impact or pain. The impact is already happening and the pain is going to get greater. If you’re not sure what the GDPR is or how it will affect your business, now’s the time to start paying attention. This is all about companies’ legal liability to protect data they hold on staff, customers, and in fact anywhere personal details are stored, and the impact – in other words, fines – that are going to ensue if you don’t.

This encompasses cloud, on premise, IoT and mobile. No matter where you store data, if it meets the criteria of personally identifiable and relevant information, then you need to comply. Ignorance will not be an excuse and will in fact put you in a far worse position; better you can demonstrate your diligence of action and how you have tried to mitigate any risk as a defence. It is good practice to be able to demonstrate that you have attended training, acted on the process recommended from it and tried to do the right thing; you have a far better chance of being treated leniently and worked with rather than against it should the worst happen.

There is a wealth of information and articles on GDPR available – yet many mostly quickly defer to complex detailed information and do not give clear and plain guidance as to what it means and what needs to be done. So let’s make this clear and simple in three buckets; why it is, what it is, and what you need to do.

Data is important and you have a legal responsibility to do certain things

Data breaches hit an all-time record high in 2016, with an increase of 40% over 2015. You may have already heard about some of the high profile names who had such breaches recently, from Three Mobile in the UK, French naval defence contractor DCNS, Vodafone in Germany, the Czech Ministry of Education, the Irish Department of Social and Family Affairs… we could go on, and it’s a certainty there will be more of these stories coming.

Data protection laws are long due an overhaul. For example, most Data Protection Acts have not been revisited since the late 90s at best, since when the world has changed radically through the internet, cloud and mobile changing the volume of interactions and data exchanges taking place.

What GDPR is

GDPR is the new law that requires from May 2018, any business that operates in the EU or handles the personal data of people that reside in the EU must implement a strong data protection policy to protect this client data. It is the EU’s way of giving customers more power over their data and less power to the organisations that collect and use such data for monetary gain. Businesses that fail to meet the new standard will face fines of up to 4% of global turnover or €20 million (£17.2m), whichever is larger, and businesses that suffer from a data breach without having adequate measures in place will suffer the same.

In other words, this is a law – something mandatory you need to take action on as a director of a firm with director liabilities and something that your customers care about. See this not as a threat but as an opportunity to get your ship in shape and proudly state to customers you have been on GDPR training and are taking action with processes to be a good, caring supplier. Consider putting a GDPR and ‘how we care for your data’ section on your website.

What action you need to take – and don’t panic!

You need to be prepared as a business to take action now and to mitigate the risks you face. Do not assume you are immune from a security leak of data and that you can deal with it afterwards. By taking action now you can help reduce the risk of it happening and by taking demonstrable action will provide you with a defensive protection should the worst happen.

The May 2018 deadline may seem a long way off at the moment, but businesses must act today in order to understand what it will take for them to achieve compliance, to have time to do it, and to do it without panic and fitting it in alongside your day to day running of the business. You need to get the ball rolling and have a plan of actions for your journey to GDPR, so that come 2018 you have no panic, no worries, and can assure your customers of your compliance.

There is much talk, for example, that every organisation will need to appoint a data protection officer, and that failure to do so will expose you to possible huge financial sanctions. In some cases this may be required, but you need to understand this now and the work out the most effective plan you can take to ensure you are compliant in the most effective manner for your business.

The last Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) survey found that 75% of adults don’t trust businesses with their personal data; so as well as being legally compliant you can also utilise this in a positive way to assure your clients are assured in dealing with you.

You will find many offering three day courses and/or complex expensive consultancy, and whilst for some this may be appropriate, for most allocating someone in your business to own the process as a special project ownership, and then sending them on a day’s awareness and process training workshop now, will get you on the way with plenty of time to work it out well for your business.

Editor’s note: If you wish to know more and find out what sort of training options are available, check out gdpr.direct.

Are you being served? Big data and the disrupters of customer service

(c)iStock.com/sorbetto

We often hear the buzzword phrases of customer service, quality of service, customer first and net promoter score, and both the B2C and B2B markets have been constantly changing, driven by more demanding customer expectations with the bar being set ever higher by new disrupters. Take the age-old example of Blockbuster, a model and brand that was globally successful and known, quickly disrupted when newcomers set the de facto bar: download a movie anywhere, anytime to a growing number of devices, cheaper, quicker and easier, with nothing to return to the shop, and the film you want always being available.

Customers are having that bar set by these new unicorn firms, such as Uber, Airbnb, Netflix, JustEat, eBay, Amazon…the list goes on. This means of course that existing legacy firms are now dealing with companies and people that have a natural in-built expectation for things to be easy, clear, customer friendly and ‘of the new world’.

A Titanic moment on the horizon?

This is not easy to achieve for a legacy business. The phrases ‘digital transformation’ and ‘digitally agile’ abound, as if this is just a button you can click to get there. For existing firms, making this leap can be a big one and a complex, costly and painful journey to undertake. New cloud-born firms design around the new world with processes, systems, people and attitudes aligned to efficiency and customer service – very often self-serve.

Take estate agents as an example. Having engaged with Purple Bricks recently and taken benefit of their online model of estate agency, I can personally see why the existing bricks and mortar estate agents should be massively worried. This new model costs the customer roughly a quarter of the commission, and is slick and effective with self-serve portals combining with a human touch for the initial engagement, and a very slick process flow to sell your property in the most effective way for both you as a customer but also them as a cost model. We had eight offers quickly, a good percentage over what traditional estate agents said to sell for, and we had visibility of all that was happening 24×7 – a very slick process.

The only thing holding this back is the nervousness of ‘don’t we need the traditional model to tell us all what to do and handhold us’. This was done as well and there was nothing complicated, as the traditionalists would want you to think. In meeting with several traditional agents, they were fast to bad mouth these new merchants; ‘It won’t work’, ‘they won’t affect us’ and – more ridiculously – ‘but they don’t have a high street window to put the photo of your property in!’

My message to all those traditionalists thinking ‘what iceberg?’ is to open your eyes: you are heading straight for it. As those who use the new offerings prove it and tell all their friends, more and more will try it, questioning why the old model is so expensive. The Blockbuster-Netflix change will set in. It is the customer that decides, and those decisions are being made easier with a wider gap in service quality versus price attracting customers away from traditional form factors, delivery models and brands, to new ways and new brands. Add to this millennials, generation Z, whatever term you wish to coin; they expect online, self-serve, fast, low cost, slick customer experiences.

Disrupting the disrupters

What will let new entrants down of course is the service quality provided. If this is lacking, customers likewise move fast with their feet and also their bad recommendations fire off faster than good. Coming in as a disrupter or an existing provider refreshing its market offering, customer service remains key. In this new world, dynamic customer service is not simply the ‘speaking to the customer’ experience; it is far wider and far more expensive.

Take a bricks and mortar retail store – its opening hours may be six or seven days a week, 9am to 5pm perhaps, and the customer service is the touchpoints of staff, often only at the point of paying. In the new world offerings, we expect 24×7 access, from anywhere, from any device, with multiple interaction points from easy self-service and search of answers, shared service from other customers, such as provided by GiffGaff and Livechat, as well as email and phone support ideally when it is required. On top of this of course is the delivery quality of that service, its availability, is speed of (online) response, underpinned by the SLAs and processes that make the whole experience seamless and enjoyable.

For the providers and businesses providing these services there is a new dynamic, new business metrics, new approaches of development and support required in order to be operationally and cost efficient. Offering one of these new experiences is one thing – doing it at a market competitive price is another. Deliver it at twice the price of a rival and you will find how fickle the new customer breed is, and how fast you can be displaced and made irrelevant.

For the unicorn disrupters, they first need to change the market dynamic and disrupt the status quo, while second is to maintain and retain this differential – change and change again, and be willing and able to do so in technology, process and service. We will see disrupters being disrupted themselves. Take for example JustEat and Hungry House in the UK – did they see UberEats coming? Will they be able to defend against it? Uber is now reshaping not as a taxi firm, but as a logistics firm – one with a technology platform, processes and brand that it can leverage into other markets.

What’s coming next? After food delivery, why not parcel delivery, flower delivery, and so on? Can you see a time when an Uber driver taxis someone from A to B, gets alerted to pick up a parcel near B that needs to go to C and when approaching there gets alerted for a food delivery near C to deliver – thus maximising the earnings and their utilisation of their third party driver community, and giving a single brand experience to customers with the same lead they have on technology utilisation?

For the customer of new services, there are also challenges. Data privacy is a concern – who is tracking what you do, what if that data is leaked, and what if their service is unavailable, or cannot get online – am I able to operate, or have I relied on it to totality? For the business user of new world services, the issues are more complex, from service quality for the business users, security of access and data, data sovereignty and governance, supplier and SLA management, and control and mitigation of shadow IT – an increasing problem with new services being licensed and accessed by employees on work devices on network and when mobile. Of course, it’s worth noting that the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) aims to make some of these issues easier from both the consumer and business side.

What this means for IT

In the corporate environment, the service demands are often on IT to fix things when they go wrong, even if the service is externally cloud-provided and often even if the department has procured it directly without IT’s knowledge. When there’s an issue, IT is called upon to resolve and help.

Increasingly, internal IT is going to grow into a service broker, mixing in-house skills with those from external cloud, IoT and mobile providers to enable a cohesive service experience for its business users, and hence onward to the customer. This is important as one service quality often begets the other – how many times have you heard on a phone enquiry that the operator’s system is running slow, or has crashed, or could you be transferred to another advisor?

Corporate IT more than ever is going to need to have the processes and tools to manage not only the traditional environment and user requests, but to encompass those of cloud, IoT and mobile services, as well as smarter, more self-serving users and users with a higher demand expectation on response times and quality of service. Internally facing IT will have to align with external business quality of service delivery onwards to customers, to choose adaptable and empowering ITSM and ITAM tools, and ITIL best practices, to empower their agility and capability to deal with this faster changing IT environment.