When I left the services world few years ago, the truth is – it was rather boring. Whether it was ERP or analytics or mobility, there were very few projects that were fun to sell and deliver. Yes – I did say fun , and with a straight face !. Don’t get me wrong – between then and now, it is no less difficult to sell and deliver consulting projects. The big difference is that the problems we get to tackle, the buying behavior of clients, and the technology options available to solve those problems all make it a lot of fun to work in.
A lot of credit goes to customers – they are pushing the vendors harder today and rightfully so. Many more leaders want to differentiate their companies to an extreme in a short time, and not in small increments. More than technology capabilities per se (that is a given – you don’t get a seat at the table without the tech chops) – they are looking for partners who can help them think through their roadmap and identify new opportunities. They are happy to take risks – as long as vendors are open to risks and rewards being shared . I am even seeing signs of procurement function getting modernized too in their approach to software and services purchases.
Sophisticated business solutions are complex by nature – except the customer has little to no reason to deal with the complex technology directly. Last week, I met with a large sports CIO and his IT staff is essentially 3 people. He had very little interest in what happens behind the scenes – he just needs some very sophisticated requirements to be satisfied. Conceptually what he wants is “cloud ” – except he never said the word, and even when I asked him point blank, his response was “I don’t really care Vijay – you can deliver any way you like as long as my parameters are met, for the money I have available to spend”. The CMO who was sitting next to him added “And if you show me how my firm makes more $$ by using your solution – I am happy to keep paying you more”. Not to be out done – the CFO got into his ask “And if these guys are happy with your solution – I want to sit with you and see your models on different capex and opex combinations on how we pay you”.
This conversation repeated more or less exactly the next day in Manhattan – where I met with another CTO/CMO/CFO combo team. The one difference here was that the CTO staff wanted full visibility into how underlying technology worked. Just visibility – like a car’s dashboard where you get to see if there is a check engine light, but need to schedule a mechanic to fix it. We also had a passionate debate on NoSQL vs Hadoop – and then they said “we know we don’t need to worry about that in a cloud model, but want to make sure you have thought through our workloads correctly”. Thankfully we had .
And to round off the week was a senior exec at a Telco – and all he wanted was to check is if his roadmap for digital transformation for his business can be executed in half the time, without changing any of the underlying technology. Next week we will do a series of design thinking sessions to figure it out.
There is never a dull moment. No two deals or projects look cookie cutter like the ERP projects I grew up with. Boredom is the farthest from my mind when I spend a morning explaining to a VP of BI why her expectations of a data lake needs to be different from the data warehouse she is used to, and then spend the afternoon with a COO showing how Watson can reduce subscriber churn. Tiring – yes. Boring – hell no !
Whether it is story telling, crafting the right financial model, figuring out the right tech solution or even assembling the right team – fun is back in the business. All the things we needed in the past – like deep relationships, trust etc continue to be as important as ever, just that the entire approach is different now on both sales and delivery. We spend a lot more time discussing the effectiveness of solutions – efficiency is a given and we don’t need to spend time and energy reinventing the wheel.
Sales always had elements of fun where new and interesting ways to pitch to a client was always an in-thing. What has really started to change now is actual delivery. Everyone is now pitching in – PMs, devs, ops folks, analysts, interns – to creating a storyline that makes sense of the bigger picture and how their piece parts fit in. It is such a great feeling to see how much less work it is technically when we make micro-corrections daily. The lines between discrete products and services that put them together is still very much there – but it is starting to blur to a large extent. Tactically – a new generation of product managers (probably better called solutions managers) are arising , and they bring together the world of products and services.
The one thing that is NOT FUN that can and should change is the need to travel to deliver solutions. Even with cutting edge video conferencing and other collaboration tools, customers still expect all consultants to show their faces weekly onsite. There are parts of our business where this is less of a problem – like our designers working out of studios and only visiting customer offices periodically. I am hopeful that services business will largely move into a model where there is less travel involved. The sheer amount of time and money spent in air travel is an absolute waste and that is the next thing that needs to transform in large scale.