Monday, April 28, 2014

Leadership: attract & retain millennials or fail!

This work by Marcelo Bernardes (@marcelobern) was originally posted on LinkedIn.

Over the next decade, many organizations are at risk as they fail to attract and retain the very professionals necessary to keep them "alive".

Here is why

The workforce is changing:
"By 2025, millennials will account for 75% of the global workforce and by next year (2014), they will account for 36% of the American workforce." (Forbes)
"Millennials want to work for organizations that support innovation. In fact, 78 percent of Millennials are influenced by how innovative a company is when deciding if they want to work there, but most say their current employer does not greatly encourage them to think creatively." (Deloitte Millennial Survey)
So organizations will need to find ways to bridge any existing gaps with millennials, as those unable to cater to this millennial desire to innovate will struggle to attract and retain millennials, and may be unable to secure their own existence.

The enemy within

For years, a lot has been said about the inability of large organizations to innovate. In a recent article, Steve Blank, states "Every large company, ... is executing a proven business model". So, it should come as no surprise when large companies "... have a hard time with continuous and disruptive innovation.", continues Blank (Inc.). Does it sound familiar to you?

Still, organizations like 3M, and Google are widely recognized for their effort to promote innovation from within, also known as intrapreneurship, or corporate entrepreneurship (Wikipedia).

So, could intrapreneurship be just the tool to attract and retains millennials, and solve this conundrum? I say at the very least, it is worth educating yourself about it, after all, the future of your organization might be at stake.

Intrapreneurship 101

Although with a significantly smaller media coverage than its counterpart entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship reference material has been around for decades, and is still being created and fine-tuned as we speak. Here are two recently released books on the topic:
If your organization would rather focus on the greater good, social intrapreneurship (Wikipedia) might be a better fit. In this case, The League of Intrapreneurs is a great starting point for you. In particular, their Cubicle Warriors Toolkit, is a great resource which can be used to guide your own social intrapreneurs.

And finally, for curated articles on intrapreneurship and related topics, feel free to join us at Innovate Within (@InnovateWithin), where our goal is to keep novices and experienced intrapreneurs alike up-to-date on the latest information about intrapreneurship, and uncover areas where intrapreneurship concepts may be worth exploring within your organization.

The healthy intrapreneurship "side effect"

Once your intrapreneurship program is underway, engage millennials and gather their feedback. And make sure to measure the program impact on employee retention. Including questions about the program on your regular employee surveys and exit surveys is a great way to track progress, and fine-tune the program.

It could also be of interest to track other business results, after all, a well oiled intrapreneurship program should increase your ability to create value from within and improve your organization social accomplishments and bottom line.

What is your take? How is your organizations attracting and retaining millennials? Do you have experience with intrapreneurship programs? Feel free to use the comment box below to share your experience and point of view. And please follow me, if you would like to be automatically notified when I publish new articles.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Will Customer Service Ever Be The New Marketing?


This work by Marcelo Bernardes (@marcelobern) was originally posted on LinkedIn.

Industry experts have been touting this convergence for years, but will these practices ever fully integrate? What should you be doing today?

Customer Service and Marketing lines blur

More and more, social media is becoming the primary mean by which users reach out to ask for companies to solve their problems and express their opinions about a brand. According to the 2012 American Express® Global Customer Service Barometer, 1 in 5 Americans have used social media to get a customer services response at least once in the last year (infographic).

The obvious challenge is that such interactions happen on a very public forum. So, every reply needs to be carefully crafted in a positive way, and in line with the company branding. Failure to do so, has lead to disastrous consequences, as in the cases of McDonald's, Tesco, and many others.
Social media represents a new dynamic in customer experiences in which the company, its products, services, reputation and the way it treats its customers become highly visible to millions of people. - Dr Natalie Petouhoff and Kathy Hermann, Calculating the ROI of Social Customer Service

Convergence challenges

Industry experts have been arguing the convergence of customer service and marketing for years now, so why has it not happened yet? Here are some reasons:
  • Current investments: organizations have already made huge investments to purchase, train, and deploy customer service and marketing solutions. A compelling business need is required to justify additional investment to introduce a new product. This is history repeating itself.
  • Evolving customer requirements: social media is still fairy recent, and user behavior is still evolving (SOURCE). Forward-thinking organizations are learning what is required to address the needs of today and reacting to new trends as they are uncovered.
  • Organizational aspects: in many corporations, marketing and customer service activities might have been historically split among different areas (Wikipedia), which means the CEO is still the first level at which these functions converge today. And CEOs might not be aware or incentivized to promote such convergence.
  • Milking the cash cow: as it is often the case ("The Innovator's Dilemma"), established software vendors for the customer service and marketing segments have little incentive to promote consolidation, and disruptive innovation.

What are trail blazers doing?

Rather than "boil the ocean" trying to figure out how customer service and marketing might converge, trail blazers are identifying and addressing their current social customer service need, to reap the benefit.
... consumers who have used social media for service in the last year are willing to pay a 21% premium at companies that provide great service. They also tell three times as many people about positive service experiences compared to the general population. Ultimately, getting service right with these social media savvy consumers can help a business grow. - Jim Bush, Executive Vice President, World Service, American Express

Best practices you should consider

The article "The Ignored Side of Social Media: Customer Service", by Knowledge@Wharton, shares the following practices about effective social customer service:
Responses must be personal, and it’s essential to strike the right tone. But how personal? And what’s the “right tone?”
... (the) team might look at a customer’s Facebook page, timeline or Pinterest pinboard before crafting a response. "We strive to make it look real-time, but we’re really doing a ton of research in the back."

The turning point: convergence might happen when...

Once organizations figure out that their marketing (e.g. brand awareness) budgets can be reduced by excelling at social customer service, vendors will be compelled to cater to the changing needs, and enrich the customer service tools with marketing features to measure "campaign" effectiveness, for example.

What is your take? Feel free to use the comment box below to share your point of view. And please follow me, if you would like to be automatically notified when I publish new articles.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Cloud Integration (iPaaS) Analysis & Trends

 
This work by Marcelo Bernardes (@marcelobern) was originally posted on LinkedIn.

From vendor fragmentation and acquisitions to open source, the activity level in the cloud-based integration market, is indication that we are about to experience deep changes, similar (or bigger) than those experienced when software as a services (SaaS) was introduced (Forbes).

Note: please check Wikipedia for details on what is cloud integration, also known as infrastructure platform as a service, or iPaaS.

This article is a short compilation of the cloud integration market, vendors, and trends.

iPaaS market

The iPaaS customers can be segmented as follows:
  • Individual and start-up customers: these customers are cost sensitive, so vendors targeting this segment generally have a freemium (Wikipedia) business model, and their prices go up to USD100/month. Zapier, IFTTT, and Cloudpipes are examples of vendors in this group.
  • Enterprise customers: these customers are looking for global footprint, scalability, and performance. Vendors in this segment may offer a free 15-30 day trial followed by a paid service, with prices starting in the USD1,000/month range. Dell Boomi, Informatica, and MuleSoft are examples of vendors in this segment.

Individual and Start-up focused vendors

Current Focus: For these vendors, the focus has been in either breadth of SaaS integrations (e.g. Zapier with 250+ integrations), or niche market (e.g. IFTTT which unlike others, includes home automation capabilities).

Entering the market: In this segment, new entrants may use an opportunistic approach, for example, by employing an invitation only marketing approach to pre-screen potential customers, and prioritize development cycles (this seems to be the approach being employed by Cloudpipes).

Growth opportunity: Due to growing number of vendors in this segment, we might see companies looking to carve their own niche with a purpose-built approach (The Agile Entrepreneur), going forward in this segment.

Enterprise focused vendors

Current focus: Due to the growing market opportunity and currently decentralized fashion in which iPaaS is being consumed by line of businesses, a significant discrepancy of capabilities exist between vendors, in part fuelled by the fact that current buyers are not accounting for the enterprise-wide needs, and not driving such enterprise requirements back to vendors.

Entering the market: In the recently released 2014 Magic Quadrant for Enterprise iPaaS (complete the form to download), Gartner analysts indicate that the current growth in the iPaaS market is leading to a "free for all" where:
"... growth will attract investments from startup companies, established on-premises middleware players, providers of other forms of PaaS ..., and SaaS providers all eager to get a piece of the pie..." (2014 Magic Quadrant for Enterprise iPaaS)
Growth opportunity: In this segment, disruptive innovation, and exclusive partnerships could be explored to carve a niche through a purpose-built approach (The Agile Entrepreneur). Examples of such approach are a vendor focused on telecom integrations, due to its unique partnerships in this industry; or a business process focus, where a vendor specializes on customer service integrations across multiple industries.

Other noteworthy developments

There are some specific approaches being explored which could significantly impact the course of events.
  • The availability of open source iPaaS options (e.g. Bip.io) opens the possibility for vendors to primarily operate an open source iPaaS solution, much so along the lines of web hosting using Apache.
  • Some iPaaS vendors are allowing users to build their own connectors (check out Zapier), which could lead to a crowdsourcing created advantage difficult to be matched by late entrants.
  • Other vendors still are using crowdfunding as a way to gauge user interest and spread initial development cost over a number of potential customers.
  • SaaS and enterprise software vendors are leveraging iPaaS rather than developing native integrations (e.g. Podio announcement).
I am working on a more detailed iPaaS vendor comparison, and if there is enough interest, I would be glad to share it with you. So, feel free to use the comment box below to let me know which vendors you might be interested in.

And please follow me if you would like to be automatically notified when I publish the iPaaS vendor comparison or other new articles.


 

(Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG - FreeDigitalPhotos.net; Post updated Apr/11/2014)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Why add start-ups to your investment portfolio?


 
This work by Marcelo Bernardes (@marcelobern) was originally posted on LinkedIn.

I recently had an epiphany: I should review my investment portfolio to include start-ups. Let me share my rationale with you, so you can reach your own conclusions.

The Corporate Scenario: Proven Execution

According to Steve Blank, "Every large company, ... is executing a proven business model". So, it should come as no surprise when large companies "... have a hard time with continuous and disruptive innovation.", continues Blank (Inc.). And my observation of large companies corroborates that seeking efficiencies and cost cutting, are here to stay.

Millennials Are Here!

There is a lot of debate about millennials. Be it because of economic reasons (Entrepreneur), social reasons (infographic) or education reasons (CNBC), the reality is that millennials prefer to build their own businesses, rather than join existing companies, regardless of size.
"54 percent of Millennials say they either want to start a business within the next five years, or have already started one" (Miami Herald)
"By 2025, millennials will account for 75% of the global workforce and by next year (2014), they will account for 36% of the American workforce." (Forbes)

The Perfect Storm

So the stage is set. By attracting Millennials - the youngest generation in the workforce, start-ups are likely to become the key innovators. As innovation eventually leads to (economic) value creation (infographic), it means today's start-ups are to be responsible for a growing share of the value creation in their industries.

On the other hand, by failing to attract Millennials and foster innovation from within, large organizations will have to acquire innovative start-up companies, often at a premium price, in order to incorporate the needed innovation to their product lines.

Granted, historically established companies were unlikely to come up with "the next big thing" ("The Innovator's Dilemma"). That is not what I am talking about here. I am talking about feature level innovation, which used to be driven by internal R&D and bright professionals, who may be leaving to build their own businesses.

Start-ups as Part of Your Investment Portfolio

So, for an investor, this means that start-ups are ever more attractive, specially for those looking for growth. Fortunately, equity crowdfunding is now available in various countries, making it possible for every day investors to explore start-ups as an investment option.

Still, as 80% of the start-ups fail in the first 18 months, for the equity crowdfunding start-up investment to be profitable on average, it is desirable to mitigate this risk. And why not take a page from the venture capital playbook and leverage start-up funds, where you can invest in a group of start-ups at once, aiming to reduce the investment risk. And in fact, companies like wefunder are already offering such products.

That is my rationale to add start-ups to my investment portfolio. I would like to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to use the comment box below to share your point of view.

And feel free to follow me if you would like to be automatically notified when I publish new articles.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Establishing a Customer Base in Brazil: Avoid Common Pitfalls

 
This work by Marcelo Bernardes (@marcelobern) was originally posted on LinkedIn.

During a casual conversation, I heard the tale of a technology company looking to establish a presence in Brazil, but failing. It turns out the company had decided to solely rely on a local partner to develop the market for them, and had little checks and balances to track the progress being made by the partner.

With all the interest in the Brazilian market over the past decade, I have heard similar tales too often. Like many others, I also learned the hard way, so let me share some of that learning in hopes it will increase your chances of success.

Some common challenges

In order to avoid the most common mistakes, please consider this short list of suggested "homework" items which should be addressed prior to trying to establish an operation in Brazil (some of this rationale might even apply to other geographies as well):
  • Competitors and taxes: check if your main competitors have a local assembly in Brazil. If that is the case, be ready to fight an uphill battle, as your products will be taxed at import rates, while competitors will benefit from local tax breaks.
  • Language hurdle: if your customer support help desk does not have the ability to take calls in Portuguese, you will struggle, and likely government contracts are out of your reach. This is an item where a good local partner might help you easily bridge the gap.
  • Local references: initially, Latin American or even global references might suffice to win the first deals. Some customers (e.g. government) might require local references. Make this determination early to avoid spinning your wheels.
  • Red tape: be ready to jump through hoops to comply with local regulations. A good local partner should definitely be able to help here, even though expediting some processes may not be possible. So, be patient and add for extra time when planning activities early on.

Establishing your presence

If after your homework you still believe entering the Brazilian market is a good business decision, here are a couple steps which should help you win the first deals and setup a "command post" in Brazil:
  • Put your best foot forward: it will be critical to make a great first impression. So, plan to have a top subject matter expert fly to Brazil on a regular basis to help develop the first opportunities and get to know the customers. This might seem expensive but will help you make sure deals were not lost due to lack of technical expertise in the local team/channel partner.
  • Leverage your customers: check your installed base to determine which customers might have a presence or future interests in Brazil. Even customers with no local presence might have local business partners which could become your initial leads and even your first Brazilian customer. Parts of this sales strategy might help you also.
  • Channel partner selection: it is always easier to trust an old friend, so, if a current channel partner has presence in Brazil, you could leverage them. It is also a good idea to find out who are the channel partners for your main competitors in Brazil, and make sure your channel partner candidates are already familiar with their future competition.
  • Check and balances: it is critical to be able to measure the impact of your effort (direct or through a channel partner). In the case of a channel partner, make sure to keep track of proposals delivered, contact names, and win/loss analysis. An important point on the win/loss analysis is to uncover possible feature gaps, due to unique local needs. It happens more often than you might think.
Of course, each situation is different, for example, hardware, software, or services have specific challenges associated with each; so please use the comment box below to share your experience and I will be happy to reply with my thoughts on how to address any specific challenges you might be facing. For now, welcome to Brazil and good selling!

Please follow me, if you would like to be automatically notified when I publish new articles.


 


(Image courtesy of domdeen - FreeDigitalPhotos.net; Post updated Apr/30/2014)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Cloud integration will change Professional Services

 
This work by Marcelo Bernardes (@marcelobern) was originally posted on LinkedIn.

Since the mass adoption of cloud computing started, it has dramatically impacted Professional Services practices and their P&L. Now a new aspect of cloud computing, cloud integration - also known as Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS), is poised to deepen this impact. Let me share with you why.

A Typical Professional Services Practice

Because not all Professional Services organizations are the same, let us start by level setting on the roles a TSIA Level 2 Professional Services (PS) organization has traditionally been accountable for:
  • Consulting: either before a business solution is acquired, or after such solution is in operation, a PS team may be engaged to gather business needs and define the best architecture to address these needs.
  • Project management: project managers are critical to coordinate the activities of all involved parties, and are likely part of the PS team.
  • Subject matter expertise: in order to satisfy the business needs of the customer, a PS team will deploy the specific vendor products. This includes "unboxing" the products, and configuring them to meet customer requirements.
  • System integration: it is necessary to integrate the new components to the existing customer systems. The PS team will often configure or custom develop connectors to make this happen.
  • Custom development: when out-of-the-box product features are unable to address customer needs, the PS team may develop custom code to account for such feature gaps.

Cloud Computing Terminology Revisited

Before we start to delve into the inner works of iPaaS, here is a quick diagram (Wikipedia), so we can get our cloud terminology straight. For more details, please check this cool infographic.

IaaS, Paas, and SaaS Impact to Professional Services P&L

While IaaS and PaaS are merely a different deployment option and have little to no impact on a Professional Services P&L, a SaaS environment, when compared to traditional premise based solutions, negatively impacts the Professional Services P&L, by reducing revenue.

By integrating the necessary software components, a SaaS solution is negating the need for overall installation, and configuration of ancillary services (e.g. operating systems, databases, etc.). Only a fraction of the premise-based subject matter expertise billable hours in required in a SaaS solution.

iPaaS Impact to Professional Service P&L

Gartner defines Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) as "a suite of cloud services enabling development, execution and governance of integration flows connecting any combination of on premises and cloud-based processes, services, applications and data within individual or across multiple organizations."
The iPaaS market leaders (fill form to download the 2014 Gartner's iPaaS Magic Quadrant and report) offer capabilities so business analysts can perform system integration graphically, without any software development knowledge. So, once integration connectors are available to iPaaS customers, the corresponding PS system integration billable hours are gone forever, further reducing the Professional Services revenue.

In case you would like to experience iPaaS as a user, please check this article on iPaaS capabilities already available to the non-technical audience.

Conclusion

Continuing the trend started with SaaS, iPaaS will further reduce the Professional Services billable hours, and revenue, which may impact overall practice margin and profitability. It would be wise to take the time and start to evaluate the specific revenue and profitability impact to your specific situation, based on your services mix, and determine which steps can be taken to minimize any negative impact to your Professional Services P&L. And I would appreciate if you could use the comment box below to share your thoughts on how to address this issue on your practice.

Please feel free to follow me if you would like to be notified about a future post where I will explore how cloud computing can strengthen the demand for Professional Services and how to get your organization ready to ride this wave.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Non-techie? These cloud tools are for you!


 
This work by Marcelo Bernardes (@marcelobern) was originally posted on LinkedIn.

While people working in the cloud computing arena understand the meaning and implication of iPaaS (infrastructure platform as a service), the vast majority of regular folks are yet to understand the power unleashed by the ability to connect cloud services.

Today, rather than going into technical details, let me give some real life examples of how you can use cloud integration to improve your life!

Cloud Integration in Action

Some of the well-known players in the cloud integration space are Zapier and IFTTT. Rather than tell you how they work, let me share some examples of how I am using them to save me time and money.

Some months ago, I forgot to leave a faucet dripping during a frigid winter night. The next morning, I had to spend a couple hundred dollars to take care of the frozen pipes. To avoid this from happening again, I used decided to “ask” IFTTT to send me an SMS when The Weather Channel indicated the outside temperature would fall below 20 degrees Fahrenheit (about -7 degrees Celsius).

Here is another example. I was always struggling to keep my Google Contacts updated. I wanted to automatically update my Google Contacts when my LinkedIn connections changed jobs. So, I used Zapier to help me accomplish just that.

Getting Started

So, how do you decide which provider to use? Let me share a step-by-step approach, which should help guide your decision process:
  • Supported cloud services: different providers may support integration to different cloud services. Make sure the selected provider supports the specific cloud services you are interested in. For example, Zapier features a long list of enterprise services, while IFTTT features some home automation services. Zapier refers to each integration as an “App”, and you can find the list of supported Zapier Apps here. IFTTT refers to each integration as an “Channel”, and you can find the list of supported IFTTT Channels here.
  • No need to reinvent the wheel: in order to promote reuse and adoption, providers encourage users to share how they are using services. IFTTT refers to these as “Recipes”, and here is a list of shared IFTTT Recipes. Zapier refers to these as “Zaps” and here is a list of shared Zaps.
  • How much will it cost?: IFTTT is still in beta and is free for now. Zapier can get expensive pretty quick but I have been able to get a lot of value from their free introductory package.
Update: since I first posted this article, I came across a noteworthy UK based provider: Bondable. While they seem to have a rounded offer, I have not had the chance to fully test their free package. Be aware, Bondable prices are way more expensive than Zapier as Bondage seems to be positioning itself for the enterprise market.

Do you know any additional providers worth mentioning? Would you like to share how your cloud integration has helped you? Please feel free to use the comment box below to share your thoughts.

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(Image courtesy of photostock -FreeDigitalPhotos.net; Post updated Apr/30/2014)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Proof of Concept Best Practices


Are you seeing an increased demand for proofs of concept (POCs) from your potential customers? You are not alone. More customers want to know how the proposed components will fit in their overall solution, and they want to understand how the overall solution will address their business needs. POCs may be part of a competitive bid or RFP process, an internal compliance requirement, etc. Whatever the reason may be, developments like cloud computing seem to be leading customers to expect POCs to be an innate ability of all their vendors.

I had the opportunity to build and lead the team responsible for successfully delivering POCs to multiple Fortune100 companies. Over time, we were able to identify a set of best practices, the core principles of which, I would like to share with you:
  • Set proper customer expectations. I cannot stress this point enough. As obvious as it might be, having a consensus between the various customer representatives, your own sales team, and the team involved in setting up the POC is critical. A key part of expectation setting is the agreement of what will be covered during the customer visit. I recommend the use of an informal document, like a list of test cases. Partner with the sales team and let the customer know the POC team is flexible and wants to be prepared to address the customer needs. The right way to address the customer needs is to know what is expected, prepare for it, and flawlessly showcase the proposed solution.
  • Dry-run everything that will be shown to the customer. And I mean everything. Do not assume that a basic feature set works just because it always worked. Proof of concept environments are very dynamic. It could be that someone decided to change the POC environment slightly for another customer that stopped by last week, or that the latest code release changed how that five year old feature works. Do not leave it to chance, test everything early, giving the POC team plenty of time to take corrective action. It just takes avoiding a disaster during that "cannot lose" customer visit for all the dry-run efforts to be paid off a thousand times over.
  • Engage the sales team. This is a hard one to get right. Most sales teams (even the technical sales members) are likely busy with other accounts and they just want to stop by on the day of the customer visit. Even though the expectation setting process should have captured the customer needs appropriately, a sales team close to the customer should be able to let the POC team know which planned presentation flow will appeal to the customer, and how to improve the planned POC presentation flow. We had great opportunities to fine tune the POC flow just by having the sales team show up some days earlier. The very best POC experiences were those where the sales team was so involved, they delivered the POC completely on their own (with the POC team supporting them in the background). What an effective way to show customers the sales team understood their needs and can deliver the right solution!
Even though a proof of concept will not win a deal when a solution fails to meet the customer needs, it should never be the reason a deal was lost.

Did these (or other) best practices seal a deal for you? Please feel free to share your POC experience with us in the comment box below.

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