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My Way of Consulting- Part 1

September 23, 2010 2 comments

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I am writing this article for the Enterprise Consulting Blog after a long time. This is because I have been quiet busy on my new job (Five months ago I took a job with HCL Technologies). It’s been five months now into this job and I have my hands full with a few consulting assignments, setting up a new Practice and managing a few ongoing projects. At a recent interaction with students at Great Lakes Institute of Management, I was asked to share some of my consulting experiences. Due to shortage of time, I could not go into the details at that time and promised to share the same sometime later. Here I am with the methodology I follow on these engagements. Among the consulting engagements that I have recently done, two were for Fortune 100 Companies. In this article, I would share my overall strategy of conducting a business consulting engagement. (Please note, due to job/professional ethics constraints, I cannot share the names of the clients and the exact details of the engagement. Also, these are purely my own views and my current organization or previous organizations I have worked for are not responsible for these views.)

When a consultant starts his/her career, he/she is advised to follow a set of rules/ frameworks or the footsteps of established consultants. After a few engagements, each consultant tends to develop his/her unique way of handling engagements. Having started in 2005, I too gradually developed my own style of handling consulting engagements. Every engagement is different in its own right and brings in new challenges. The following sections give a broad overview of the overall strategy I use in handling these assignments. The finer details may differ from one engagement to another.

I always divide the whole exercise into broadly 4 phases: Pre-Engagement, Discover, Analyze and Recommend. The last three phases do not have distinct boundaries as such. The Analyze Phase can overlap with the last part of the Discover Phase and the Recommend Phase overlaps with the last part of the Analyze Phase.

{I have divided this article into two parts: Part 1 covers the Pre-Engagement and the Discover Phase and Part 2 covers the Analyze and Recommend Phase.}

Pre-Engagement Phase:

This phase is generally used to prepare the ground before starting the actual engagement. Always start with the publically available material on the client as well as the industry. Go through the website of the client, public announcements, press releases, Industry news, user groups etc. Once you know enough about the client, his business and industry he operates in; start with the material available on the engagement you are starting. Before signing the SoW (Statement of Work), the client would have shared some information on the engagement. Diligently go through that information. This gives you fair idea on the kind of information and documents that you may need from the client.

Before starting the engagement, I always request the client if he can share the available documents related to the engagement. This helps me in identifying the areas I need to explore and the set of people I would want to interview.

After this phase, you are ready to kick start the actual engagement on the ground.

Discover Phase:

The actual engagement starts with the Discover Phase. This is the phase where you identify the areas to investigate and the POCs (Points of Contact) who have to be interviewed in the first wave (I have discussed about the interview waves in a later section). The recommendations submitted at the end of a consulting exercise have to be backed with facts and data. This data or facts have to be collected in the Discover Phase.  Also, the Discover Phase forms a basis for Analyze Phase which in turn is the basis for Recommendations.

Before starting the actual process of Discovery, have the objectives of the exercise very clear in your mind. This will not only help in keeping you and the team on the track, but also help in moderating the discussions and interviews.

I divide the interaction for gathering information into the following:

Interviews: I generally divide the interviews into two phases, Wave 1 and Wave 2. The Wave 1 interviews are with the key stakeholders of the engagement. It is always best to start with the Sponsor or the Champion selected for the engagement. This is to understand his/her expectations and align it to the objective of the engagement. The other key stakeholders should be spread evenly across the key areas that the engagement intends to cover. From the Wave 1 interactions, try to come up with a list of SMEs that can give more granular information.

In the Wave 2, get to specifics of the information you want. By this time you would have indentified the SMEs you want to interact with. These SMEs will be able to share much more information than the stakeholders and they have been closer to the ground.

What, How and Why?

The interview process should be an interrogation disguised as interview. This is because the first answer the client/SME gives not the exact answer that we want. It will never lead us to the root cause. A lot goes into getting to the depth of issues being faced by the client. Always prepare an interview guide. Structure the questions well making sure that all areas are covered well and there are no repetitions.

Start with What…. Always start with asking the interviewee with what he/she does? What process he/she follows? What are the SLAs etc. This will gives a complete understanding on the As-Is situation. Please note that the answer to WHAT? might not give an understanding on the problem being faced by the client and nor will it help in identifying a solution for the problem. This will only help in giving an overview on the current situation.

…go through How.… After we are clear on the business area/ process the interviewee is in, try to gain further information on how exactly does he/she carries out his/her business? This gives me a ground to think on whether this is the best way to do it? Can it be improved further? How will I do it if given the responsibilities? Some of these questions might get answered by the next question: WHY? And the rest should (must) be a part of your recommendations.

…and end with Why…. This is the most important part of the interview and might make many an interviewee uncomfortable. By the time you come to this question, you already know what the interviewee does and how he/she does it. As mentioned above, I also have a few questions in my mind on the current state of his functioning. Asking him why he does so what he does, gives me a new dimension to think on. A single “WHY” might not lead to the exact reason. I ask a string on “WHYs” to lead to the core issue or the problem area. Believe me; it is very tough to ask so many whys without making the interviewee uncomfortable.

Questionnaires/ Templates: A consultant mush have (and develop over a period of time) a set of questionnaires and templates to gather information in a structured way. This does not mean that in every interview use the same template or questionnaire. Modify the template according to the client’s industry or even the area of work or the designation/role of the interviewee in the same organization. Structured information produces the best results in the analysis phase.

Caution: Do not try to force your framework/ templates on to the client. Adjust according to the needs of the client.

Documents/ Data dumps: Ask every interviewee if he/she can share the documents related to the discussion. Also ask for data on the transactions (preferably for a few years). The documents as well as the interview alone will not give the complete picture, but complement each other so as to cover the area in entirety.

I collect as much data and documents as possible. Then keep discarding whatever I do not need. Never say No to inflow of information. You may find the answers in an unsuspecting corner. 

Follow-Up Clarifications: Once you have collected all the required information, gone through the responses to the questionnaires and templates and started connecting the dots, you will always find some gaps. It may require a few follow up sessions with the same (or new) set of interviewees or e-mail exchanges to fill these gaps and seek clarifications. The follow up session can also be useful to cross check that all the information I have is complete and correct.

Never hesitate for seeking a clarification. Whenever in doubt, it is better to clarify than to carry wrong information into the analysis phase.

{To be continued in Part 2}

The latest Buzz: Location based mobile Ads.

February 24, 2010 4 comments

Mobile phones have been used for long by the companies to promote their products and services. The most used methodology till now has been sending text messages to the customers. There have been attempts to use recorded voice messages, but with very limited success. The marketers have been using the mobile channels based on the customer profile or on the history of previous purchases by the customer.

The latest advance in mobile/text ads is to send location based ads to mobile users. Placecast, the pioneer in this technology uses the phone’s GPS signal and the location data provided by carriers. The company plans to send the messages to users tailored for their interests and preferences.  It uses a practice called geo-fencing, which draws a virtual perimeter around a particular location. When someone steps into the geo-fenced area, a text message is sent (only if consumers have opted for the service). The application works in a similar fashion to text broadcasting where one can make use of various parameters to filter out the audience lists. Using this application, the marketers have another parameter – location, to single out the customers. When a customer passes through a new town, he can get the information on nearby stores, pubs, restaurants etc.

The application has a promising use in the recreation business. The tourists can subscribe the service whenever they visit a destination. Wherever they pass through, they will get the messages on the nearby places of interest. The service can also be great help to bargain hunters. They can get to know about the discount sales and bargain offers and that to in the same area where they are at present.

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.

Why Alliances have gained prominence?

December 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Over last few years, Alliances have gained more prominence than the regular route ot mergers and acquisitions. Monetary considerations have played an important role but, are not the sole reason for organizations going in favour of alliance formation. I have listed below a few important points that have driven forces for organizations going the “Alliance Way” :

1. Core Competence:

Companies tend to build on their core competence and this very fact can give a differentiating  edge on other competitors. Thus, leaving one’s core competence and getting into a new field can be a disaster unless handled very carefully. Aligning to one’s core competence and creating an ecosystem around the core competence is the right way for expansion. The creation of ecosystem can be done through acquisitions, mergers or alliances. Mergers and Acquisitions may lead to diversifying into new territories and may dilute the core competence of the company. Thus, unless handled carefully, alliances should be the first choice for expansion.

2. Affordability:

Not every company can afford an acquisition or a merger. The costs of M&A are both in terms of tangible and intangible resources. Some companies might not have money or scale for M&A and other might not have scope for M&A.

3. Government regulations:

Sometimes government regulations prevent mergers and acquisitions. For example antitrust laws in the US or anti-Monopoly laws in other countries may hinder the M&A process. Thus, forming an alliance is the most favoured way out.

4. Entry Barriers:

Some markets and sectors have entry barriers due to favours by the home governments, access to raw materials, access to distribution channels etc. In such a case also forming an alliance with an existing player in the market or sector  is the most favoured way out. 

5. Competitive Landscape:

Companies do not operate in isolation. The company takes actions in response to the changing market dynamics and for any action that a company takes, the market forces respond to it. In a competitive environment, sometimes companies bleed to death fighting each other. Over time companies have realized that cooperation gives better results than competition. 

For example when Air Tel entered Sri Lanka, it signed a pact with the biggest telecom player in the market to use its towers and some other infrastructure.

6. Role Play in Value Chain:

All companies have been playing a particular role in the extended value chain. Sometimes the strategic role that the company plays in the value chain prohibits it to go for M&A, hence the Alliance route.

Another big factor in avoiding the M&A option is that only 43% or M&A are successful. The failure rate in IT-ITES is a staggering 80%. This can be because of many reasons. Most important out of which is that companies do not have compatible cultures and even compensation issues.  In an Alliance the companies work together to achieve the desired results, but as separate entities tied by the common goal. The cultural issues and compensation do not hinder the process.

Oracle Social CRM: A short review

December 16, 2009 Leave a comment

Oracle Social CRM is proving itself as the next generation collaborative CRM which incorporates some very advanced features required in today’s business environment. The below video gives an overview of the functionality of the product.

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. 

Possibility, Feasibility and Compatibility

December 8, 2009 Leave a comment

Those who have been around me have heard me using these words very often. For a re-engineering exercise and for any implementation, I use these three words to convey very simple, yet very important message to the people involved in the exercise.

Possibility:

The end users and even the process owners might get carried away with the implementation exercise and list down requirements (read wish list) which might be outrageous and impossible to do. As an example, on one of my assignments, the user asked me if he can get an SMS is someone tries to log-in into his system. No doubt this can be done, but it’s an “outrageous” requirement for an organization unless the organization deals with data pertaining to the nuclear missiles and the like.

At the time of gathering requirements during interviews, and later at the time of analyzing the requirements, it’s the responsibility of the Consultant to segregate there “impossible” requirements and remove them for the list.

After checking for “impossibility” one is left with only “possible” requirements.

Feasibility:

Feasibility can only be checked for the “possible” requirements. Thus, this logically forms the second step in the implementation.

The requirements which can be done with the available resources and/ or can be achieved with the resources the project can afford and are within the scope of the project are feasible requirements.

Compatibility:

After one is left with the feasible requirements, it’s again the job of the Consultant to make sure the requirements are in line with the Business Case for the implementation and the strategy execution which the steering committee aims to achieve with the implementation. The consultant always has to ask the question “Is this compatible with the strategy?” If the answer is No, he has to think over it again and talk to the process owner as well for the value addition that this requirement will to the overall success of the project.

Thus, the answers to questions for checking possibility, feasibility and compatibility are very important during the execution of implementing a project.

The CRM implementation: Selecting the EA Product

December 4, 2009 2 comments

The selection of the product for implementation plays a major part in the success or the failure of the implementation. The success or the failure of the implementation is measured in terms of the extent to which the set targets/ goals have been achieved by the implementation. The product selection again depends on a number of factors or constraints that the organization may be facing. I have listed a few of these factors below. The list is an indicative list and does not contain all the factors that might affect the product selection:

  1. Budget: The CRM implementation can cost an enterprise from a few thousand dollars to a few hundred million dollars. The budget allocated for the product alone can be from a 5% to 70% of this cost. There are some open source CRMs available for free downloads (Sugar CRM) where one does not have to pay a single penny for the product. Then there are products by SAP and Oracle which may cost a bomb for the vanilla product alone. Midway the two are some mid range CRMs. Though most of the CRMs claim to address most of the industry requirements, not many (read “none”) are able to meet all the requirements of the organization.
  2. Scale: The Scale also plays an equally important part in the product selection. Some company may just require managing the contacts or the interaction with the contacts form the MS Outlook. There are some small packages available which can be downloaded and easily laid on the existing MS Outlook framework. They help manage the schedules, inquiries etc. Then there may be some organizations which require just managing the sales team or the marketing team or the Call Centre operations. Most of the modern day CRMs have 20-25 modules. The Organization may require a few or all of these modules. The cost and the selection of the product depend on the need for the modules required by the organization from this list.
  3. Complexity: The processes of two industries can be vastly different from each other. Though no industry processes can be called easy to manage, but my experience says that telecom industry processes are most complex and difficult to manage. Add to this the dynamic nature of the telecom industry where new products are launched daily and new functionalities are added daily. Thus the products for telecom industry contain more functionalities than for any other industry. These products, no doubt, are costlier than their peers form other industries.
  4. Deviation from the Industry Practices: Even in the same industry, one organization may have processes very different from other organization. Every organization tries to follow the “differentiation” path to move ahead of the competition. In this quest of differentiation, these organizations have processes which are vastly different from other similar organizations in the same industry. If your organization is different from the others, the CRM product to be chosen will depend upon the extent to which you are willing to sacrifice the uniqueness of your processes and the money you are willing to pay for the customizations required in the generic product for maintaining the existing processes.
  5. Model of implementation: The CRM products differ in genre which is dictated by the mode of implementation.  For example, if the implementation on-premise, the costs may be different, than when it is a SaaS. Similarly comparing it with PaaS implementation may give different commercials. The products for SaaS, On Premise, PaaS may also be different in costs based on the vendor selected.
  6. Existing Systems: If one is looking for compatibility of the CRM to be implemented with the existing legacy systems (such as Inventory, Billing, Financials etc.), one has to be very careful while choosing the product. If proper precautions are not taken care of, the new product may pose difficulties in the integration of existing systems. The cost of the selected product again depends on the vendor who offer the most compatible product.
  7. Human Factor: The human factor comes into play at a number of instances in the selection of the product. The team or the person authorized to make the final say on the purchase may have some pre notions for some product. The employees or the implementation team also may count in the ease of use for the product. Some CRMs are more user friendly than the others and hence are favoured by the implementation teams or the advisors for product selection.

All the above factors and some more influence the selection of the EA product to be implemented by the organization. Nonetheless, the product selection is a very important and a crucial aspect for the implementation to deliver the desired results.

The CRM implementation: Is CRM really required?

November 30, 2009 Leave a comment

Every day there are stories and advertisements in business magazines and newspapers about the organizations benefitting from the implementation of ERP and CRM. The vendors (Oracle, Sales force etc.) leave no stone unturned to make sure their success stories reach the audience. Many organizations do get influenced by these messages coming from the industry as well as the vendors. No organization wants to lag behind its competition and is willing to invest a few million dollars if the implementation gives it an edge over the competition.

But, the question is: Is the CRM really required?

The legendary Harvard Professor and noted economist, Theodore Levitt once said that a customer does not want a quarter inch drill; all he wants is a quarter inch hole. The same rule applies to organizations thinking for implementing the CRM package. The question they should ask is: Do we want to implement CRM or do we want a solution for a problem? More often than not, the answer will be that the organization is looking for a solution to its problem. There can be many solutions to this problem. The organization can improve by just improving the competency of the human component or by just re-engineering its processes. Some other problems might be solved with just adding enhancements to the existing IT systems.

Build vs. Buy: When the organization is convinced that it has to improve or replace the existing IT systems, the next decision is to decide between whether the organization should build its own system or buy an EA product?

When the patchwork on the IT system stops working, the option of building the system has been ruled out its time to justify the implementation of CRM. The implementation of CRM is justified if the organization has the following requirements:

  1. The organization is a customer centric organization or wants to transform into a customer centric organization.
  2. It has multiple teams working on a single process and the process ownership changes from one stage to another.
  3. The coordination between teams and flow of data from one team to another is the key to success of a process/ transaction.
  4. It feels that customer service has to be personalized for each segment or each customer.
  5. It wants to integrates all the three functions of the customer interaction: Identification, Acquisition and Maintenance of customers.
  6. It has the money and resources to implement and maintain a CRM System.

The CRM Implementation- Introduction

November 30, 2009 Leave a comment

    Many organizations have a need and a desire of implementing CRM and the related systems. Implementing these systems if a big decision for the companies and costs a bomb in terms of money and human resource spending. Even after meticulous planning and careful implementation, the companies are not sure if they will be able to achieve the desired results.

    I have started writing a series of articles on the planning and implementation methodology that may serve as broad guidelines for companies to implement these systems. The series will take the readers from the planning through the implementation and optimizing and fine tuning the system.