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, Sense Making

The role of innovation in customer success

Customer Success activities are maturing. I have been doing the job since at least 2012 and have seen the profession go through fundamental changes to the point where, to succeed now, you need to be innovating.

I started writing about the role of customer success in relation to customer experience and the subscription economy almost 18 months ago in this post: Customer experience, the subscription economy and 10 ways success teams will make you win.

Just in the time since that post things have changed. There is a constant need to update thinking and refocus. Innovation is be the tip of the iceberg in many ways.

Icebergs

Click to enlarge

The iceberg is not just a turn of phrase. It plays a prominent role in my thinking. I’ve captured other elements using the analogy of an iceberg in the past: The customer success and experience iceberg. These focus on the relationship between customer success and customer experience. They also focus more on the input and output of the two activities.

The iceberg is a useful metaphor and you will see me using it constantly. Customer success as a practice and overarching philosophy should be built and grown to a point where you are mature enough that constant innovation becomes the standard. In the featured image of this post you should see how innovation forms part of the tip of these three elements: build, grow, innovate.

Innovation

Innovation has always been a part of the equation for me and you should see that from the post I wrote 18 months ago and linked above – here is the section covering it. The three subsections below also still also hold true.

  • Automation and AI
  • As a Service
  • SaaS 2.0

Innovation is also at the apex of the maturity model I developed so its fitting to be doubling down on it: The Customer Success Team Maturity Model. The growing and building aspects remain important as they also form the basis for my mentoring.

Outside of the maturity model which relates to activities within the organisation, the profession has reached a point of maturity that means doing customer success well is not enough to differentiate you.

And as all industries face the growing power of the customer and all companies focus on meeting customer demands better, so innovation that drives better customer experiences becomes key.

As a Service Trend Report

The As a Service part which is listed as a subsection of innovation in customer success above will actually be the focus of a new trend report. It will incorporate customer success practices and innovation in this as well as many other practices.

It will also cover innovation as a whole, insofar as practices that are successful in one industry can be adopted by other industries to innovate. Find out more about the report by hitting the button below.

Other considerations

Innovation is a key focus area but as part of this, other considerations need to be borne in mind, within customer success as well as the broader As a Service trend. I’ll cover them in the trend report as well.

  1. Employee Experience. Addressing this leads to good customer experience – there is a powerful connection, see my daneldoodle below. I see the impact of the connection in the work I do and mentor on every day.
  2. Role of Leadership. This is critical in setting the tone in terms of mindset and culture which is so necessary for success with customers and creating great experiences. I will also cover trends in the creation of the Chief Customer Officer or other senior roles like it that indicate the growing importance of and focus on the customer.
Sense Making

Playing your part in the machine of business is hard. Start with mindset.

Business transformations or change management efforts are a dime a dozen. We are bombarded by the constant need for change in the face of accelerating change. We get we need to build an ability to master change.

The problem is in the face of cynical change or transformation programs
where many have gone wrong, we have become inure to them.

Business is hard even without these constant demands and efforts. Competition is stiffer as the world becomes open to more entrants and barriers are lowered.

As individuals we are also constantly bombarded with admonishments to be better, more productive, keep up.

Mental health has never been more in focus and yet more pernicious in the face of all this. It imperils us as individuals and the businesses we work in – it comes at a cost to both. It can bring both to a grinding halt if left unchecked.

Mental health is a serious matter which often needs serious treatment that can come from expert help and with medication.

We also know instinctively that many afflictions arise in the mind by our own doing and can be solved there.

I am a huge believer in the power of the mind. As a keen follower of Buddhist philosophy over many years (a DharmaHacker really) I am convinced of the role the mind plays in guiding our reality. As the saying goes:

Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought.

Acharya Buddharakkhita’s translation of the Dhammapada

But just as much as vacuous mission statements and change or transformation initiatives cannot really change an organisation if the behaviours of leaders do not reflect them, so too with thought alone we cannot change anything.

The Buddha’s view on positive thinking was that if it violates reality, it’s worthless. Just as you can’t make a boulder rise into the air by means of wishful thinking, so you can’t experience happiness unless you actually do the things that lead to happiness, such as living ethically.

Speech and action determine our reality as much as our thoughts do. Yet thought and mindset is a factor and so on that front, let us mind what we think.

We can do that through stories. And metaphors. And the minds of others.

I am as inspired as the next by great stories, metaphors, quotes and the great minds who have shared their thoughts with the world, like the Buddha.

Coming back to the world of business, there is none more inspirational than Buckminster Fuller (July 12, 1895–July 1, 1983).

In the light of all of the challenges we face as individuals in companies big and small and faced with the daunting proposition that we cannot make a difference, Buckminster Fuller presents the ultimate metaphor to help us – the trim tab.

There is such a great account of his trim tab metaphor here on BrainPickings: Buckminster Fuller’s Brilliant Metaphor for the Greatest Key to Transformation and Growth.

In essence, the trim tab is part of a large ship’s navigation and contained within the rudder. It is like a little rudder that is easy to shift but this effects the big rudder, the one harder to move, and this one moves the ship.

It speaks to the power of individual action and the effect of habit on transforming our lives. You can see how this translates to the businesses we work in every day and how to overcome the feeling that we are powerless.

There are so many more and here below are just a few of my favourites.

Stainslaw Jerzy Lec who was a Polish poet said “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.” Actually, this metaphor is a great compliment to Fuller’s in my view.

At first it may not seem to be the case because it speaks to herd thinking, mob rule and the danger of conformity and going along with the crowd which have lead to some of the worlds worst atrocities.

Yet I love it because it points to accountability and the need for you to avoid the above and make sure you can stand alone, against the winds of change sometimes.

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” Mother Teresa said that and I love it too because it says look to yourself for inspiration and just do it.

At Google X, the company’s “moonshot factory,” they supposedly use the mantra of MonkeyFirst.

“The idea is that if you want to get a monkey to recite Shakespeare on a pedestal, you start by training the monkey, not building the pedestal, because training the monkey is the hard part. Anyone can build a pedestal.”

“The problem is that most people start with the pedestal, because it’s what they know and by building it, they can show early progress against a timeline. Unfortunately, building a pedestal gets you nowhere. Unless you can actually train the monkey, working on the pedestal is wasted effort.”

The analogy with my line of work is striking. I deal with how organisations adopt technology and often it is the first port of call for most but technology alone is not enough. One has to look at the outcomes, the motivations and inspiration, the people, etc.

And finally…

“Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one”. Stella Adler said that which is why I am so inspired by art and design and so I doodle which brings me to a recent one 😁

What are your favourites and how do they work for you?