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Posts Tagged ‘Solution’

My Way of Consulting- Part 2

November 25, 2010 2 comments


(Please note, due to job/professional ethics and constraints, I cannot share the names of the clients and the exact details of the engagements. Also, these are purely my own views and my current organization or previous organizations I have worked for are not responsible for these views.)
As detailed in the earlier post, start the ground work for the engagement in the “Pre-Engagement” phase and then collect all data and facts in the “Discover Phase”. Once you have all the data, documents, responses to the questionnaires and templates, it’s time to start with the Analyze Phase.

Analyze Phase:

Analyze and Recommend phase are very subjective and differ from one engagement to another and one client to another. As a generic rule, I analyze the data and facts collected and divide it into three broad categories:

a) Strategic,
b) Operational and
c) Tactical.

The Strategic information gives the overall direction and the roadmap. The operational information gives the overview of the process and the rules that direct the operations and the tactical information gives the details of how each and every step (rules and exceptions) is performed in the processes.

The information/data gathered in the Discover Phase can also be majorly divided into “semantic” data and “non-semantic” data. The semantic data consists of documentation, articles, process charts, job schedules etc. This type of data has to read and interpreted. The interpretations from semantic data will majorly be subjective in nature.

The non-semantic data is generally transaction data. This type of data gives objective type of results. For example: If the client shares the data related to support tickets raised for different processes/ systems, the consultant can play with the data and infer on the volume of tickets for different processes/ systems, severity of these tickets and most important, can apply the 80-20 and/or other rules to arrive at the recommendations.

Recommend Phase:

As stated earlier in the analyze section, the Recommend and Analyze phases overlap and for most of the engagements, by the end of the analyze phase, the consultant should start forming the rudiments of recommendations.

The recommendations should be governed by the following three factors:

a) Goals and Objectives
b) Key drivers to achieve these objectives and
c) Expected results/ benefits

The Goals and Objectives of the exercise are the final state that the client wants to be in. The Key Drivers are the propellants as well as the stepping stones to achieve the stated Goals and Objectives. The consultant should be aware of and explicitly state the results and the benefits which client will avail due to the recommendations.

The recommendations can be based on either extrapolation of existing resources to achieve the future state or bridging the gap between the current state and the future state. More often than not, it is a mix of both Extrapolation and Bridging the Gap.

Extrapolation:
The recommendations in extrapolations mainly consider the available resources and how the client can make use of these resources to achieve the desired results. A few examples of this type of exercise are: Restructuring the present team structure, Optimization of the current processes, redistributions and reallocation of current costs and revenues etc.

Bridging the Gap:
The “Bridging the Gap” scenario requires an analysis of the gap between the current state and the future state. The recommendations should have the steps, resources and the plan to bridge this gap. This might include the use of existing resources or acquisition of new resources.

More often than not, the recommendations are a mix of the above two scenarios. The consultant must keep in mind the Feasibility of the recommendations with respect to scope and budget and the Compatibility of the recommendations with respect to the organizational goals and objectives.

Presentation:

An important (if not the most important) part of a consulting exercise is the presentation of findings and the recommendations. Besides other sections, the recommendations report must consist of the following:

Key Findings:
Present the Key Findings which need the attention of the client. These findings should be the ones tackling which will play an important part in achieving the desired results. It is best to identify a few areas of concern and give the rating of their health status. If possible, back these key findings with data, it gives more credibility to the claims.

Current State and Future State:
Explicitly state the current and the future state of the concern areas. Also state the “delta” in the two states. This will help the client understand the need for the resources required to fill the gap.

Recommendations:
The most important part of the report is the recommendations section. Club the recommendations into logical groups and maintain the flow so that it is easy for the audience to understand.
Segregate the recommendations for Strategic, Operational and Tactical levels of management. If, possible, identify the audience/ resources for each section of the recommendations. This will help in ease of implementation of the recommendations.

Execution Guidelines:
The recommendations section give the “What to do?” part where as the Execution guidelines should give the “How to do?” part of the recommendations. The execution section should give the steps required to implement the recommendations as well as their tentative timelines or durations.

Conclusion:
In the conclusion section give a brief snapshot of the current pain points, the reasons for those pain points and the resolution of these pain areas with the recommendations provided. Also, specify the results or benefits achieved at the end of the implementation of the recommendations. The results should align with the goals and objectives set at the beginning of the exercise.

Proposing a new EA Strategy:SaaS as the Testing Ground

February 1, 2010 1 comment

The years 2008 and 2009 were very turbulent for businesses in almost every industry. Many companies fell prey to the brutal shake up that happened in last two years. Others survived.

As the saying goes, circumstances which are not able to kill you only make you stronger. The businesses which have survived the tough times are taking a very cautious approach to future endeavours. As I wrote in an earlier post, organizations want bang for their buck. Every penny spent is expected to earn dollars for the business.

The year 2010 brings with it hope that the recovery is on its way and the business world will ride the high waves again. The spending is increasing. For my vested interests, I am more interested in tracking the pattern of spending in the Enterprise Solutions space.

Small businesses have realized the importance of implementing EA for their businesses. But the biggest problem for them is spending on these solutions. According to a CVS survey (also pointed out in one of my earlier posts), it takes on an average $0.19 million for implementing an Enterprise Solution for an S/MB. The same solution can be implemented through SaaS delivery model at as low as $1000 a year. This comes with the added advantage that the enterprise does not need to maintain an in house IT team to manage and maintain the system.

Using SaaS as the first step:

Many big organizations also want to implement ES, but are sceptical about the results. The failure stories of ES are still abounding. I propose the SaaS as a first step of ES implementation for bigger companies as well.

These companies can go for a single tenant SaaS solution where the application and the hardware are used by a single tenant only. Although it is slightly costly than a multi-tenant solution, but is still much cheaper than the on-premise solutions.

Once the organization realizes the benefits of the system, it has the option to “own” the system or continue in the SaaS mode. As the organization is the only tenant on the system, the ownership and the location of the system resources can be easily shifted to the enterprise premise.

Thus, vendors and SIs (System Integrators) can gain access to a large market of SMEs and even large organizations through this model. The model addresses the requirements of both the SMEs and the large organizations but also keeps in mind their budget constraints.

Two things that customers want. And, Salesforce.com delivers.

January 20, 2010 4 comments

Last night I got a mail from one of the followers of this blog asking me to give the reasons of salesforce.com’s success. I chose to put it in a very simple way: Salesforce.com is delivering what the customers want!

When salesforce.com won four of the ten awards at 2009 CRM Market Awards by the CRM Magazine, many were surprised. But not me! I had expected it to happen and it did happen.

Now the question is why and how did it happen? And the bigger question is what is it that the customers want?

Most of the success that SFDC has achieved has been in the SMB segment. The small businesses have two main concerns when it comes to IT systems implementation:

One: Affordability.

Two: Robustness.

Small businesses look for affordable solutions as they are not in a position to spare and spend multimillion dollar budgets for IT implementations. Also they look for a robust solution as they cannot spend on maintaining an in-house IT team.

It’s a fact that all the businesses need to optimize the use of their resources and have a seamless flow of information across the organization units and also with the partners and customers. All the EA products available before the arrival of SFD were either very costly to implement or maintain, or were suitable for only large enterprises. Small businesses had requirements but there was no product in the market to meet them. SFDC stepped in at the right moment to plug in the gaps that the giants like SAP and Oracle left.

According to the CVS survey for SMBs, on an average of $0.19 million is required for implementing an ERP system for a medium size business. The same capabilities can be delivered through SaaS at a cost of as low as $1000 per year. This makes a very strong case for SFDC. Also, post implementation, the maintenance and upkeep of the system is to be done by the provider. This eliminates the need for an in-house IT team for maintaining the system.

It’s as simple as that: SFDC provides what (it’s) customers want. That makes it successful.

What’s in store for EA-Strategy space in 2010?


We ended the year 2009 on a positive note where almost every analyst and industry watcher was expecting the economy to look up and once again ride up the crest. Things do look better, businessmen do look confident. The economic crumble had given rise to distrust but as the things are improving, the distrust is being replaced by caution.

Yes, the year of 2010 will be one of cautious approach to every major decision. The fact is that the recession has changed many things around us. The time when anyone and everyone would jump on to the band-wagon is no longer reality. Today, and the year to come, people will be pussy-footing around the platform before making up their mind to jump onto it.

I have compiled a list of top ten things around which the business decisions will be interwoven when it comes to using IT as an enabler for strategy execution.

  1. Focus on ROI: Businesses across the globe will be focusing on RoI in any type of implementation. The companies have tightened their belts and cut on budgets and money supply is low and every manager is trying to get the bang for every buck spent. Any major implementation which does not provide substantial improvements in operations will be dinged at first go.
  2. Focus on Operations: In the recession times, the companies have come to face the reality that the most important thing to survive in a business is the cash flow from operations. If the operations are not generating enough positive cash flows, it is very difficult to survive. Companies will be stressing more on the efficiency and effectiveness of the operations and reducing the wastes (the seven types of wastes). To achieve the same, companies will take the help of IT as an integration mechanism for different operations units. At a time when all the job-shops employ the best machines and cutting edge technologies, it’s the flow of information across units and partners that holds the key to efficiency in operations.
  3. Collaboration: The decade just passed has already shown that how important it is to collaborate with all the stakeholders in the business. As the flow of information across units in the organization is important, similarly, the flow of information across partners and stakeholders is very important. When everyone is working hard to lower down costs, holding inventories, wastes, it becomes very important to share information with each other so that the other party can plan their activities accordingly.
  4. The rise of SaaS: SaaS as a delivery model for EA will be in demand. The SaaS market (though has a low base) is growing at 40% percent per annum. According to the CVS Survey, it takes about $ 0.2 million to implement an ERP solution for a SME whereas if the same application is offered through SaaS delivery model, it can be done at as low as $1000 per year. That makes a big case in favour of the SaaS model. I do not say that SaaS will completely overshadow the traditional implementation models, but, SaaS will be a force to reckon with!
  5. A renewed focus on SMBs: The rise of SaaS as a delivery model will go hand in hand with the renewed focus on Small and Medium Businesses. Most small businesses have recognized the need of an EA package to manage their operations, but, cannot afford the same. System Integrators and vendors will focus on these businesses and offer them robust and affordable solutions.
  6. Risk Management: There will be an increased push towards risk management and data security. As I have already pointed above that the flow of information will be the basic requirement for the smooth and efficient run of systems, in the same breath, the security of data and the risks posed by the unauthorized access to data will be of importance.  
  7. Business Analytics: BABI (the term coined by Dr. Bala V. Balachandran, distinguished professor at Kellogs Business School and Dean of Great Lakes Institute of Management) or Business Analytics and Business Intelligence will take to the centre-stage. The companies are making use of the data available for making informed and intelligent decisions. Analytics will play a major role in helping organizations to make the best use of already scare resources and in turn help in improving the RoI of the initiatives.
  8. Organizational alignment to the Systems: Rather than implementing new systems, organizations will make efforts to align their workforce to the systems in place.  Most of the systems fail because the human component in the implementation does not give its best to make the system a success. Falling in line, the management will give a push to the workforce for embracing change and give their best.
  9. Pay for performance or pay for used capacity: At a time when every business is concentrating on RoI, performance is being attached to investments. Organizations are taking the route of attaching payments to performance. Also, paying for used capacity rather than installed capacity (Air-Tel Bharti’s contract with vendors and IBM) will gain prominence.
  10. ERP space will remain a buyer’s market: With companies taking a cautious approach to big ticket IT spending, the ERP space will remain a buyer’s market. Vendors will have to offer very competitive prices to make buyers loosen their purse strings. Companies looking for EA implementations will bargain hard for “exciting” offers.

2010: The year of exploring new avenues.

December 23, 2009 Leave a comment

Every one knows what happened in the year 2008 and 2009. The analysts have made thread bare discussions and post-mortem on the economic downturn. Now, when the economy is looking up, the businesses are again gaining their senses and gathering their strengths back to climb up the crest.

The climb, though exciting, will not be easy. The large organizations have already started making strategic alliances and partnerships to be prepared for the upturn. The smaller players are also pulling up their socks. Over the last few months, I have made a list of recommendations (mostly for small players) that will help them to gear up and make the most of the upturn:

1. Look for options: This is to make sure you don’t just jump on to the bandwagon in anticipation of success. Make sure that the bus is going in the right direction and at right speed before you decide to ride it.

2. Know yourselves well: The downturn has given companies a lot of time to retrospect, but still make sure you know waht you are good at and also know very weel what you are not good at. This will help in increasing the number of successes and decreasing the number of failures.

3. Alliances: Enter into a strategic alliance. Try to make an ecosystem around the customer so that when the customer identifies a requirement, he does not have to wander far and wide for a solution. Step forward and tell the customer that you can deliver it, if not, one of your alliance partners can deliver it.

4. Have a look at emerging markets: By emerging markets I do not mean the emerging markets like India, Brazil etc. , what I mean is look for a market of requirements. There will be lots of unment requirements and if you are an innovator, target the latent requirements of the customers.

5. Keep a track of your dollars: By this recommendation I mean, keep a track of the in-flow as well as the out-flow of cash. Cash in-flow (that too only from operations) is the real wort of the company. The economic downturn has put a lot of pressure on the fluidity and liquidity of finance options. So, make the best use of the money at hand!

These are just a few of the important observations that I came across in last few months. There are many other things organizations should take care of in the oncoming upturn, but, I thought of sharing just a few important out of them. 

Customer Centricity wins: App Store Redesigned

December 16, 2009 1 comment

Apple has redesigned the App Store for the iPhone and iPod touch, bringing the online store in line with the rest of the iTunes shopping experience. This is mainly to standardize the customer experience across all Apple portals.

User-Centered Design

Analysts say that the design has been re-done keeping in mind the user centricity. Though there have been complaints from developers that it’s not developer friendly. In my point of view, the design of any “service” portal should be customer centric and not vendor/partner centric. Thus, Apple has done a good job by keeping in mind the user requirements before the developer requirements.

The complete analysis can be read here

Competing on Analytics: Part 3

December 14, 2009 Leave a comment

In parts 1 and 2 we have seen the power of analytics and how companies have made use of analytics to achieve substantial gains. The last part of  in the series gives the details of some other important aspects of data.

Where to capture this data?

The modern enterprise has numerous channels from which the data flows. The data can converge into a single destination or may be stored at different locations in the integrated system. The various channels of data flow may be: call centre, direct sales, partner operations, IVR, Self Service-Internet etc. It is again the decision of the management team to identify which sources of data to tap. The Six Cs (Correct, Complete, Current, Consistent, Context, Controlled) of data play an important part in the identification of places where the data can be found. For Example in a telecom enterprise, the data may be available at a number of places such as the CRM database, the Billing Database, IVR Database, the Interaction Centre, the networks etc.

How much data is needed?

The amount of data plays an important part in the ability of the enterprise to leverage the ability of the system to convert the data into knowledge and insights. Any enterprise looking for reliable results should have data at least for two years. The organizations operations in an industry sector which faces cyclicity need even more data for making sure there is no cyclicity in the cycles.

The base line is “The more (without compromising the quality) the better”. The knowledge depositories using analytics solutions build over time. The irregularities are smoothened over time and with the refinement in analysing techniques. Companies should not expect instantaneous results from implementation of analytics. The results take some time to show up and the managers also take some time to pick the fine lines in leveraging the results.

Analytical tools and Analysis

Once the data is ready, the next important aspect is the data analyzing tools. The market is abuzz with tools ranging from very simple tools like XL- Spread Sheets to very complex and powerful tools such as SAS, SPSS, Minitab etc. The organization needs to again take a subjective decision on which tool to use. Some tools offer marginal improvements at a very high additional cost. Also, the analytical tool just provides the results of analysis and is a DSS (Decision Support System). The interpretation and implementation of results is again a function of the “human factor”.

Knowledge and Insights

I always tell fellow consultants and clients that the implementation of Analytics does not “give” knowledge and insights. It has to be “achieved”. The IT component is only a small part of the whole exercise. All the stakeholders have to play their part to achieve the two. Once the trends and patterns are identified, the managers have to play their part. Many companies implement these solutions but not many can leverage the results. The analytics (or any other DSS) can increase the accuracy in identifying more factors that influence the decisions. In the end it’s the manager who makes the decision. 

Competing on Analytics: Part 2

December 13, 2009 1 comment

We have seen in my earlier post on Analytics that how and which companies are competing on the basis of analytics. The next questions that a person is bound to ask is that what type of companies or companies in which industry sector make the best use of Analytics?

The answer is ANY. Yes, any company in any sector can compete on the basis of analytics. Analytics does not mean that one has to have hoards of data and numbers. Analytics can also be use on transactions that involve verbatim details. Companies even make use of the analytics in analyzing words, phrases, the sentiments etc.

So now we know that any company can implement analytics. But, to make use of the analytics framework and to derive the desired results, the human component is as important as the mathematical model and IT component driving it.

There are a few more questions that arise in the implementation of analytics:

What data to capture?

This question has no straightforward answer. The executives driving the implementation should decide on what data will enable them to achieve the insights required. Some executives try capturing every bit of data that they can lay their hands on. It is good to capture as much data as one can because you never know what will be required at what point in time. But al J.L. Distinguished Prof. of Kellogg University puts it “It may lead to data obesity and knowledge starvation”. There no measure to determine the “optimum” amount of data or the “optimum” parameters on which to collect data. Thus, it is a pure Human component of the implementation that decides what to capture (unless one is implementing a package which requires mandatory fields to be captured). The capture of data also depends upon the requirements of the “downstream” systems and channels. For example in the CRM system may not require all the data for itself, but has to mandatorily capture it for the downstream systems such as Billing and Finance.

Correct: The data captured should be correct in all respects. Incorrect data will spoil the quality of results and may even lead one to wrong results.

Complete: The data to be captured should complete. There should be no missing fields. The missing fields may be considered as “zero” or “null” by the analytical tool. This may again lead to incorrect results.

Current: The data should be consistent with the time line. The data being captured at this moment should be current. Any data that is not current should specify the timeline when it was captured.

Consistent: The data should be consistent along the time line. There should not be huge deviations and fluctuations in the quantity and quality of data. This discounts the cyclicity of the data.

Context: The data being captured should be in line with the context. The context is again defined by the parameters which define the scope and scale of the framework.

Controlled: The data should be controlled and manageable. The control on the data makes sure that the data under analysis is the sample that one wants to analyse. The control on the data also ensures the management of sudden spikes and troughs.

Competing on Analytics: Part 1

December 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Recently, while reading a book on Analytics (incidentally by the same name: Competing on Analytics, T.H Daven Port, J.G. Harris, Harvard Business School Press), I was astonished at the vast range of companies and industries making use of Analytics. The online movie rental company, Netflix uses analytics extensively to make use of data for ranking movies.  Based on the customer selection and ranking the movies are clustered into different segments, the delivery for various customers is prioritized and the demand for yet to be released movies is forecasted. The data generated is also used to the extent to forecast how many copies of a movie the company should order and what it should pay for a particular movie.

The use of analytics by Netflix is not a one off example. Analytics is being used in some areas where one would have never thought of using it a decade ago. Take the case of Boston Red Sox, who made use of analytics to end an eighty six year draught and won the World Series title in the year 2004. The team used analytics on piles of data that they had collected over decades. They analyzed the pitches, the role of weather, the abilities of different players to handle different situations etc. They also made use of data for various players to decide upon what fee to be paid for the player or how much money to be paid for a player in the event of an auction. This helped them to get the best team in the given constraints of money cap. The result was: the team went on to win the 2004 title of the World Series.

Similarly take the example of AC Milan, the team has a separate arm called Milan Labs which makes extensive use of Analytics for making sure the team puts best efforts for playing and winning matches.

The examples of competing on the basis of analytics are many. Pharma companies have made use of data for shortening the product development life cycles. The retail chains have used analytics for planning their supply chain and designing the store layouts and formats. Manufacturing companies have used analytics for planning procurement, scheduling production and saving on costs of carrying inventory. The list is almost endless.

But, the question is: Can every organization make use of analytics for competing? If yes, How?

Poor Customer Service Costs Billions

December 8, 2009 Leave a comment

A new study, “The Cost of Poor Customer Service: The Economic Impact of the Customer Experience and Engagement,” may finally put the damage bad service can create into a language executive boards understand : Dollars and Cents. According to the survey of 8,880 consumers across 16 countries, poor customer service cost an aggregate of $338.5 billion per year, the average value of each lost relationship across all countries surveyed costing $243.

According to study findings, companies in the financial services and telecommunications sectors should take special notice. Statistics reveal that financial services firms lost more than $44 billion, while cable and satellite television providers lost upwards of $37 billion. Wireless carriers and Internet service providers each lost $36 billion, with landline carriers posting $33 billion in lost revenues.

Financial services and otherwise, the most significant reasons for poor service according to the study are:

  • being trapped in automated self-service;
  • waiting too long for service;
  • callers having to repeat themselves; and
  • customer service representatives lacking the skills to answer inquiries.

Consequently, what then ended up at the top of many respondents’ wish lists for customer service improvements included better integration between self-service and assisted service, including voice and Web.