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Friday, December 30, 2011

There’s Rain in Them-There Clouds

“We’re running in the cloud.”  “Cloud is the answer.”  “Wow.  It’s cloud computing.”  It’s been a long time coming.  But it may vanish pretty quickly.

I can hear the grumbling.

Where am I coming from on this?  After all, what could be better than foisting off all of the technical infrastructure on someone else.  Let them worry about the apps.  Let ‘em worry about the storage.  And the clincher:  Let ‘em worry about the security.

Now call me crazy – Hey! I heard that! – but turning over data to “the cloud” is a lot like moving all your chickens onto another farmer’s land…one that’s even more attractive to foxes than your own.

“They’ll never get hit,” you say, “They know security…better than we do.”  Wanna bet?   Fact is, you’re putting your valuable data in the hands of someone outside your organization who has access only to the same security information and guidelines that you do.  That YOU do.

Apple escaped malware and virus attack for years because the penetration was small; that changed as penetration grew and the Mac universe became attractive to hackers.  The cloud is the same way. 

And your operation is going in the opposite direction.  By that, I mean that if they’re getting bigger at a faster rate than you are, “they” are a bigger target.  So, unless you’re really big, you’re a smaller target than those cloud offerers.  And, of course, if you are “really big”, well, shouldn’t you be looking at an in-house cloud.  Of course, that’s tantamount to putting a diffuser in front of a snoot on a Fresnel luminaire then spotting it down.

You may argue that if they have access to the same security options, you expect them to use them and thereby keep you secure without you having to spend any time on it.  Welllll.  Remember one other thing.  Your data has to get to them and back.  A very vulnerable step in the process.  It eliminates the Internet as an option.  VPN’s?  Not much better.  That leaves truly private lines.  I won’t call them networks because they shouldn’t be.  They shouldn’t do anything but connect you and them.

Are you getting that – and paying for that – now?  If not, wow!  You’re laying it all out there for anyone who wants to watch your payroll figures, development ideas, emails, and patent applications parade past them in true TCP/IP style.  Worse, in FTP, delivering your data in neat, fully functional files.

Yet we continue.  Clients insist on the cloud, seeing it as a major cost saving – fixed costs and variable.  Cut jobs, cut office space, cut electrical. Get a monthly bill that’s service rather than cap-ex.  Couldn’t ask for more.  Then, one day, you can’t get into your “system.”  It’s “over there,” somewhere.  But it’s gone.  Or, a delivery of 100,000 rolls of paper towels you ostensibly ordered shows up, actually set up by a hacker, along with the invoice.

One company is bragging of their 99% uptime.  Anyone do the math on that?  It’s more than 85 hours of DOWN time a year.  And if that comes in 10 minute increments, well, the old saying, “glued, screwed and tattooed” comes to mind as workers have to reconnect with the app or data.

There are a lot of ideas that are terrific on the surface.  Then you look a little deeper…c’mon, it’s called due diligence and it’s what you’re expected to do…and find the pitfalls.  If you know the risks – and your CEO knows them, too, what’s the Daniel Boone quote “…be sure you’re right, then go ahead….”   But when you have 20 seats all vying for the same connection to get data they need to give to the CEO – your CEO, make sure you’re within reach of the phone because if the path or server fails, that phone’s gonna ring…and it won’t be a radio station cash call.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thumbing Your Nose at Brand Contacts

I was in a meeting last week – one of those consulting, “come sit and listen then tell me what you think” kind of meetings. Because much our work is confidential, these folks’ll remain anonymous.

The company offers a service, both online and via the phone.  Their meeting was one of those infamous “rally” sessions about growing the business.  Eye-opening is an understatement.

Let’s start with the top of the list.  If you don’t mind, just read it and then ask yourself if you see anything wrong.  You may have to think about it awhile.  Here goes:
One of the folks in the session projected a path – or paths – for a prospect to follow to acquire the service.  In typical PowerPoint™ style, the slide built different options.  As path three “flew in” from the right in bright green type with a jagged accent cloud surrounding it, the presenter boasted, “…and now we have a way of offering [the service] and a prospect will never have to talk to any of our representatives.”

Applause followed and then a couple of questions after which the kudos fell upon the presenter.
Now that said – what’s the operative word in that scenario?  “Flew in?”  Maybe you think that those sorts of builds are distracting.  How about “green?”  Green type is seldom easy to read, especially over white.  Or maybe it’s the distracting accent cloud that surrounded the fly-on.
Well, you may disagree, but the operative word to me is “have,” as in, “…never HAVE to talk to any of our representatives.”

These guys were proud of the fact that they had eliminated contact.  Hearing them talk about eliminating mistakes, ensuring consistency, and, of course, one more time, “growing the database,” you’d think they were on to something.  I prefer to think they were ON something.
Sales managers/DOS’s:  are your line folks so bad that you’d rather have a javascript applet get your business for you?   GM’s and CEO’s: What’s wrong with your sales department?

And the same for all other departments who think the panacea for them is removal of people from the process.  Even internally – for example, some IT folks pride themselves in an automated help desk.  Between an FAQ feature on their intranet and an automated phone tree that “guides” the caller to some semblance of the right answer, your time saving is their time wasted. 
This is usually discovered when the CEO is under a crunch, with an assistant who is out ill.  The CEO has a problem with his laptop so he calls the number that’s displayed prominently above the screen.  I can promise you – he’ll press 2 buttons on the phone pad then the switch hook and, after he receives a dial tone, your number.  Trust me.  You really don’t want that.

Besides, isn’t it better for you, all the way around, to have contact with folks directly?  People get mad at machines.  People they don’t know are machines.  “That jerk in IT” becomes Bill after Bill takes the call and offers help.  And the next time there’s a contact, it’s on a person-to-person basis.

Now, back to the outside world.  Let me give you the best worst example I can recall.  A major airline lost a bag of mine.  After the expected time in line I was given a receipt with both a phone number and web URL to track my bag.  “Pretty cool,” I thought.   Not so fast, Lennie boy.

I logged onto the website and was greeted to a parsing error.  Couldn’t open the page in IE, Firefox or even Chrome.  So I decided to call the number.  On the telco dial pad I went through a number of keystrokes to tell them what I wanted to do (didn’t want to check my mileage balance, didn’t want to book a new flight, didn’t want to enter a flight number for a previous flight that didn’t credit me my miles and so on.)  Now before you interrupt me, yes, I regularly pressed “0” in search of a human. 
Finally it asked me if I wanted to check on a “misplaced” (they’ll never say “lost”) bag.  I had to enter the flight number and press # then the bag claim number and press # after which (including a couple more presses of “0”) it agreed to transfer me to an agent.  A real live agent.  A couple of clicks in the earpiece.  A little music.  And then the busy signal.  That’s it.  That’s the customer service I was looking for.

According to Integrated Marketing 101, they missed a big chance to solidify their relationship with me rather than whittling it to nothing.

Then the opposite happened.  It was a tech company.  I was traveling and a station was having an STL problem.  I had no manuals with me.  The station’s local technician was away, and the box just quit.  I got as much info from the operator on duty as I could then called the manufacturer.  Got a live person.  Hello?  Live person.  I was shocked, especially since, my index finger was already positioned over the 0 on the dial pad.  And that live person, after they asked my name, referred to me by name as they asked what my problem was. 

She told me who the contact person would be and said that he was on the phone.  Could I hold.  Yep.  About 30 seconds later, the manufacturer’s tech worked through the problem with me and we arrived at the most logical source of the problem…and he asked if I wanted to conference with the station operator to get it done.
Now these guys make good stuff.  And they charge for it.  And maybe that’s why they can afford to give that kind of service.  But I think it’s the other way around.  They provide the service and, therefore, they can charge more for their product because they deliver this kind of what I thought was terrific support.

So as you move forward, ask yourself, “Do I really want to eliminate those contacts – those opportunities to make a prospect a customer and a customer a better one?  Do I want to build a wall between my department and others instead of co-opting the relationship and building their reliance on my folks?”

If you answered yes to either of those, welcome to the year 2002.  Otherwise, get in the Delorean, fire up the flux capacitors and get yourself into the 2012 world.