Sense Making, Customer Success

Balance customer success at scale with high touch when new demand spikes

I’m extremely lucky to work in a space that supports remote working, where demand is booming. COVID-19 has driven demand in the opposite direction for many, effecting their very existing. For the lucky few, it can also be something of a double edged sword. Supporting your customers the right way regardless, is crucial.

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Dharma Hacker, Future of Work, Sense Making

How to respond to global challenges mindfully and the 3 stakeholders in success

The title of this post is hopefully not too oblique and its clear I’m referring in part, to the challenge of our time – COVID-19. And when I say mindfully, my principle context is the practice of meditation, where paying attention is key. By paying attention you become more aware. You become more concentrated and achieve states of natural clarity. All the better to manage responses (or non responses) to circumstances effectively. By stakeholders I mean the individual and groups, like organisations and broader societies.

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As a Service, Dharma Hacker, Sense Making

Zen and the right view of cloud technologies

On the path to the cloud, just as in life (as the Buddha would have us understand), one must submit our most cherished assumptions to rigorous questioning. We would make better decisions if we were clearer about the foundations of our own thinking. Cloud technology is a vast subject and this post tackles just a few assumptions, in the spirit of the DharmaHacker.

I am not presuming to have all the right views by any means and this post is also not going to tackle all aspects of this vast subject. Just the right few based on some recent conversations 😁

Firstly there are three clouds to speak of and I will focus mainly on the one that is normally atop a pyramid or stack: Software as a Service. The other two are Platform as a Service and Infrastructure as a Service.

Do a search for more on this because there are many good views but I like this one from Giva because of its simplicity and my sympathy with their philosophy, notwithstanding the fact they accredit Rackspace with the original definition. For the sake of easy reference I’ve pasted it below:

SaaS is on the top of the stack because users interact primarily with software hosted on the cloud, and not the platform or infrastructure on which it runs. PaaS allows users to create and deploy applications. IaaS is simply the infrastructure and hardware that powers the cloud.

It also serves to make an important point I often emphasis with colleagues at the moment.

Where I work (Microsoft) there is a huge transformation underway on our journey to the cloud. There is much emphasis on our ever expanding set of cloud services that form part of Azure at Microsoft. Microsoft 365, the productivity cloud that fits into the top SaaS tier where I focus, sometimes gets short shrift because of the drive to expand usage of the underlying tiers.

I often emphasise the point made in the Rackspace definition about users.

It’s the users, stupid

Not only that, it’s the business. I don’t mean to underplay the importance of getting the foundational tiers up and running and operational for customers. This has to be properly in place.

But it is in the top tier where users are active and driving business outcomes that matter most. Whether on a pre-existing SaaS platform or on applications developed on top of the foundational tiers, you have to be focusing on what users are using, why and to what end. Everything else is secondary. Most importantly, this use in the top tier also drives use in the others.

And even when use is by a thing, as in IoT, it is still about who is using the output of all data generated in the IoT activity and to what business end is it being put that matters.

How SaaS works

A separate view I have to address is based on another conversation I had. It was in relation to digital transformation and the role parts of the business need to take in making it successful, like HR. It was also about using SaaS platforms to support the transformation and the role they played. A quote from an article was used to kickstart the conversation with someone from HR – article here, quote below: Digital Transformation is a Workforce Transformation and HR Must Assume a Leadership Role.

For digital transformation to succeed, internal processes need to follow the customer experience, not the other way around. This often results in radical changes such as the dismantling of processes and functional roles, as well as the demand for new skills and capabilities to meet evolving customer demands.

Based on the persons recent experience, their view was that:

HR processes have to squeeze into the new software configuration that due to high configuration costs can’t be modified to fit the desired process. Through implementation it becomes the tail wagging dog”.

My response, verbatim:

Firstly, in terms of the customer experience and internal processes referred to in the article, I see it as a cyclical process – captured in a doodle below.

“Then I think with cloud software (as a service) where you don’t run the software yourself, configuration (strictly speaking, its customisation) is not possible because all customers use the same version. This is opposed to when you ran an own version of the software on premise and could customise it to your hearts content to meet desired processes. That was costly and not just due to customisation effort.

The value in the cloud SaaS model is that you benefit from the feedback of many customers in frequently released versions of the software, with new features that meet the needs of most customers. Innovation can be focused on by applying technology to meet the majority of evolving business needs, instead of focusing on highly specialised solutions that take a long time to build and are costly to maintain and upgrade.

Not all clouds are viewed equally it seems. Let’s hope all generally end up with a silver lining though, whatever your view.

Customer Success, Future of Work

Corona as a catalyst for teamwork customer success and AI

I wouldn’t be the first to jump on the Corona Virus bandwagon, if that’s what I was trying to. No, I’m simply observing the ways I see others doing so, with varying degrees of success, and for good and bad reasons. Mostly it’s a way to conflate the unintended impact it is having, or where it is catalysing efforts and could impact several areas I personally have an interest in.

Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.

Mike Tyson

Corona has provided the punch. The world has stood up and taken notice and its plans are being put to the test. Reactions vary from the predictable to the bizzare.

Not to make light of a serious situation but who would have been able to predict that toilet paper would have been one of the highest items on the stockpiling list. My local grocery store shelf this morning > 🧻 ⛔ I wonder how public and commercial toilet facilities are coping.

I’m sure someone, somewhere in the pandemic planning world probably foresaw this. I cannot find evidence of it but it makes good sense for predictive planning systems to anticipate precisely these kinds of things. Especially with the help of AI these days but more on that later.

Or, to come back to the Mike Tyson quote and a real story based on it, after being punched in the face, you react with an effective riposte. Small aside, Buster Douglas did precisely that after a Mike Tyson uppercut in the 8th downed him. He recovered and came back to win in the 10th. He is one of the few opponents ever to beat Tyson, let alone recover from one of his fearsome punches – watch the incredible fight here.

The makers of Corona beer have had mostly bad fortune but their reactions have been questionable at a time when sensitivity is heightened. Good account of it here: Corona hits back at ‘misinformation’ about brand damage from coronavirus.

So what has this to do with the three related topics. Lets dig in.

Teamwork

Matt Mullenweg heads up Automattic which is the company behind the development of WordPress and he is a founding developer of the platform. He has long been a proponent of remote work, he calls it distributed work.

Automattic is a fully distributed company, not a single employee works from an office. They ceased renting office space some time ago although they still focus on regular physical meetups. A key element of distributed work is how to enable remote teams to be productive – to work together as a team.

WordPress is also one of the most successful open source platforms ever built. A large element of this depends on synchronising the efforts of remote and distributed contributors that don’t formally belong to the core organisation or team.

Technology and organising systems play a large role but no amount of technology is going to help teams that don’t want to or are not naturally inclined to work together as a team. Good outcomes management is also critical which I wrote about here: Workplace collaboration has an outcomes challenge – get intentional to overcome it.

Matt writes a fantastic summary of how Corona is catalysing a trend that he foresaw a long time ago and has been working on perfecting a strategy for: Coronavirus and the Remote Work Experiment No One Asked For.

The main point is that remote teamwork is going to become a really important aspect of the future of work. We would all do well to learn from the likes of Matt and his distributed company 👏

Customer Success

Nick Mehta who heads up Gainsight, one of the leading vendors of software that customer success professional like myself use, gets it too: 5 Positive Things SaaS CEOs And Leaders Should Do To Get Through COVID-19.

Number 4 of his 5 points is: “Success for All” means customer success has NEVER been more important.

They are all good points but point 4, alongside effective remote teamwork coalescing around the customer, plus add a splash of AI (see next point), are going to be the things that sets not only leaders, but companies apart.

This also takes an understanding that there is no single owner of the customer. Success has to be a “all in” thing. We are not yet there but I relish the day software facilitates this better as Gainsight are trying to do. More importantly, that warring factions within organisations over who owns the customer and customer activities cease.

Advance notice to old school Account Managers out there and if you are of the same mind, Tweet about it:

To old school account managers: the customer is not your sales target but our collective livelihood. You do not “manage the customer” and we can all take responsibility to lead them to successful outcomes, dependent on the right moment, skill and activity.

AI

If ever there was a moment for AI to shine, this would be it.

When we need to work better as a team, how can it help us do that? At Microsoft where I work, its no secret that AI is infusing everything and especially the platforms we offer to support Teamwork: The future of meetings – using AI to improve team collaboration.

Coming back to more effective teamwork around the customer and their success with your technologies and their business. Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Customer Insights helps teams have a single view of the customer and work better together on customer activities and their needs. It is infused with AI throughout.

Last but certainly not least. In fact this could be the most important use of AI to support our efforts around combating the virus. When we need to use AI to understand, predict and respond there are probably lots of things going on but I found this great account. Its mostly in a video although I cannot embed it here. Head on over to the ABC news site to find out more: Coronavirus research: Menlo Park lab using robots, AI to find COVID-19 medication.

Customer Success, Future of Work, Startup Innovation

For citizen development to work address innovation culture first

I’m seeing more and more signals driving this trend which has only been around a short while. Gartner describes citizen development thus.

Its precursor was the consumerisation of IT. One of the key aspects of this trend was that decision making on the use of software in organisations was increasingly being taken by business users, not IT.

Once the floodgates are open you can imagine a logical next step would be to open up not just the purchase of applications by the business, but development of them.

The signals I’m seeing are two-fold. One is vendors’ increasing emphasis of it. The other is customers adoption of programs in their organisation. But for all these efforts, the crucial first element of success that needs addressing is a culture of innovation.

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Future of Work, Sense Making

Half life of information and necessary rate of learning

I’ve just recently completed a series of certifications and learning modules for work. This is in addition to the training we have to do every year. It’s a lot of learning and pretty challenging alongside your day job.

That’s the point. It’s part of Microsoft’s (where I work) emphasis on a growth mindset since it focuses on the way you relate your sense of self to a challenge. My sense of self has risen immeasurably since taking on the challenge I can tell you and I am relishing it even more as I move forward.

The growth mindset theory popularised by Carol Dweck encompasses many aspects in addition to how you tackle challenges. One of them is the belief that your abilities can be developed, through learning for example (as long as you have a growth mindset).

Continuous learning is especially critical in an age of tech intensity which Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also believes we are in, as I wrote about here: Tech Intensity and the Adaptive Organisation.

Learning refresh cycles

So coming full circle to my doodle. If continuous learning is the order of the day, how long before your past learning becomes redundant?

I caught myself in self congratulatory mode after finishing my recent certification thinking I couldn’t get too comfortable in the knowledge my learning was done for that subject.

A great piece on the theory of the half life of information ponders what the current rate of decay of knowledge is.

With my recent certification which was on Azure Fundamentals, I was pretty sure that things were changing so fast, I’d have to relearn things in less than a year.

My doodle posits that a year is the average time it takes for knowledge to be made redundant and then new learning needs to kick in. Of course this will vary by subject and industry.

What do you think?

As a Service, Future of Work

Ways auto industry can transform with As a Service and employee experience

The automotive industry is scrambling to transform itself in various areas: green (move to electric); smart (move to connected), etc. Much is being driven by nimble startups like Tesla, unencumbered by legacy concerns. This post focuses on two two areas that could further drive the turnaround and may be even more important because they are in white space.

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Future of Work, Sense Making, Startup Innovation

Workplace collaboration on fire but distribution uneven

Some interesting articles and research have just been published about this exploding market. This is where it started for me: Mapping Workplace Collaboration Startups.

That article as the title suggests, focuses on startups. I haven’t even heard of many of the companies/tools. It got me thinking they are either very early stage or niche products. I tried to make some sense and created this doodle.

I’m not saying this is the way to define the market, for the moment it was just a way to make sense of where the batch of startups in that first article fell. As you can see, I’m suggesting they are for early adopters and small companies, startups themselves probably.

The post rightfully points out the dominance of the big players like Microsoft and Google with their suites. Which led me to think about another big factor on which one could slice the market: best of breed versus suites or bundled solutions like Office 365.

These are clearly dominant players but here too its debateable where these would fit. I would say O365 predominantly with large customers and with over 200 million active users is probably in the upper right quadrant. Google’s G Suite perhaps lower down in that quadrant.

Playing a positioning game in this fast moving market is pretty ambiguous. Having said that I have played it before: Thought rocket: state of enterprise collaboration.

The first article linked to has done a pretty good job of slicing the market up into categories. Admittedly the focus is “private companies that rely on network-driven growth rather than enterprise sales.”

Positioning games aside, that article also mentioned a “report from Zapier on remote work which found that 74% of American knowledge workers would quit their jobs to work remotely. Since only 3% of American workers in 2017 worked from home, there’s a huge, aspirational gap between today and the future of work.” That, if it is to be believed as a driver of workplace collaboration and extrapolated to the rest of the world, says there is still huge amounts of growth to go.

Another interesting report just out is from Okta: Businesses @ Work 2020: New Decade, New Apps, and New Ways to Work.

This article touches on the best of breed versus suite debate and also gives a nod to startups and incumbents. But the real point of this article is it’s focus on Apps and not just the ready made ones provided by startups and incumbents alike.

This year, the number of apps per customer is up 6% from last year — 10% of our customers now use 200 apps or more to power productive, secure collaboration.

I’m pretty sure a lot of those Apps are custom built. What this points to is the increasing number of companies that are providing App development platforms. Like Microsoft’s Power Apps but more broadly Azure, AWS, Google Cloud Platform, etc. Another interesting point from the Okta report:

App FOMO is real: More so than ever before, customers are “double-dipping” by purchasing best-of-breed apps in addition to bundles. 78% of Okta’s Office 365 customers have adopted one or more best-of-breed apps with the same functionality as the Office 365 suite, up from 76% last year. When it comes to the trade-off between a centralized provider and individual solutions, functionality, ease of use, and employee needs come first.

All of which leads to an even greater explosion. I don’t believe any of this is actually helping productivity, possibly even hindering, if improved productivity is even something you should target. I doubt that as I’ve written about here: Why selling productivity is hard and what to focus on instead.

Future of Work

Microsoft Teams Live Events and the new channels of work

I’ve just come off a week of successfully helping a customer run a Microsoft Teams Live Event for an annual event they run. The nature of the event they ran last week was to showcase innovation by the IT department to the rest of the organisation. This was the 5th such event being run in as many years.

This specific event was actually part of a broader effort. It was a test of the Microsoft Teams Live Events function ahead of further potential use. The context was an executive sponsorship program with the CIO as a lead executive from the customer.

We had started this executive program a few months previously. This included senior executive involvement from Microsoft to match the customer executive and provide mentorship based on Microsoft’s success with related activities.

The Executive Sponsorship program was itself a subset of the customers Digital Workplace program. The purpose of the Executive Sponsorship program is to connect executives with employees and to help drive the culture change needed for the new Digital Workplace program to succeed.

Supporting the innovation event by live streaming key elements of it was seen as a good test case for use of new technologies. It could also broadly be seen to be a test of the following:

In most ways I would say the customer nailed it and these broad objectives. There were some exceptions. Not because they were tried and failed but because they were omitted on this occassion.

For instance, the event was successfully live streamed but there was no discussion or interaction during the live stream. This was consciously left out only because it would have added an element of complexity which would be better handled at a later stage of proficiency. Once again, at Microsoft this is a key component of our Live Events and broader efforts at culture change (see part way down this article): How Microsoft Builds a Sense of Community Among 144,000 Employees.

We had superb feedback from many of the employees and participants. The next stage is to consider doing an all company live event with the CEO engaging with employees.

Lessons learned

1. Professional broadcasting equipment and capability. We used a Microsoft partner, Comworks, who brought their own equipment and they most definitely brought some hard core capability. The capability was both from a Microsoft Live Event point of view (the actual running of the event using the tool) as well as filming. These are both important especially the latter when you consider quality of the footage (video and audio) and wanting to use the recorded footage for other purposes as we did. You can run a Live Event with just a PC and its limited video and audio capability – it just depends on the purpose of the event.

2. The core streaming interface: Microsoft Teams Live Events. There is a lot of documentation on this so I’ll just point you to a good starting place. This page shows how Live Events can be started from multiple applications (Microsoft Teams, Yammer or Stream). For this article and indeed the test case I am writing about we focused on Microsoft Teams as the Live Events interface. In terms of core streaming technology, the underlying platform is Azure.

Important to note: include a test event before the first real live event as we did. We ran into some administrative/permission issues which were quickly resolved. And in terms of availability to users who may not have access to Microsoft Teams or any of the other tool interfaces, you can run a public event as we did to overcome that (more here).

3. Important supporting technology: Hive Streaming. The customer partnered and integrated Hive Streaming technology to scale and offer frictionless video delivery and end-user experience.

Hive Streaming offers a unified SaaS solution for Live, VoD, testing with advanced reporting and analytics such as Hive Insights and Hive VI engagement index capabilities with network offload up to 99%. Some generic screenshots from them below

4. A good agenda for the live streaming part of an event. A pretty obvious point for any event. Here I make it specifically in relation to events that are happening in a physical location and only part of that is being live streamed as we did. There is a limit to the duration of Microsoft’s Live Events to be aware of (4 hours) when there is an all day event.

But I am speaking more about what part will be of interest to viewers and how live streaming will make that come alive for them. For instance, in my event last week there was an opening ceremony with short speeches from the CIO and other executives and then immediately a dive into interviews and demo’s of the main innovations being showcased. At the end there was a wrap up session. This was live streamed and included brief interviews of the main innovators in terms of the feedback they received from visitors and executives.

5. Cost saving

By this I mean can you establish whether something like Live Events from Microsoft can save you money. This applies to the software part especially. If you are paying for O365 already, of which Live Events is a part, then you can avoid costly expenses from using third party software that non Microsoft partners may be using to help run your live events. Check out licensing requirements here if interested. This was the case in my customer example.

Hoping this was of value. I may add to this over time as I plan more such activities with customers. Hit me up with a comment if you have any queries.

Future of Work, Sense Making

Effective Meetings and Collaboration at work and Microsoft Teams

I’m often frustrated with how meetings are misused and ineffective at work. I know I’m not alone 😬

I think a whole lot more thought needs to go into things before a meeting is held and included in that is whether virtual collaboration could do the job in place of a meeting.

At some point a meeting may very well be necessary and even a face to face one at that, which is best for driving certain outcomes at times.

By virtual collaboration by the way, I am also thinking of effective working out loud.

I read a really good article on Harvard Business Review: Do You Really Need to Hold That Meeting? It had a great decision flowchart which you will see in the article.

I decided to take that a little further and extend that into how Microsoft Teams which I am currently using heavily at work (in my work and in supporting customers to use it successfully) can be used. Here is the result below:

Click to view larger image

Not sure I’ve quite nailed it yet. So in the working out loud spirit, if you have any feedback that you think would make this better, please let me have it 🙏 😆

PS: the definition of Hell in the featured image is mine and I’ve created an entry on Urban Dictionary for a laugh – vote for it if you agree (but mostly for some irreverent fun😜 ). Find the entry from here.