Wednesday, July 27, 2016

I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

I love it when a plan comes together.
                    - John "Hannibal" Smith

So I had a really cool conversation with a long-time friend over the weekend.  The friend is CFO at a Fortune 2000 company…I won’t call him out here for privacy’s sake, but you would recognize the company name.

Anyway, friend was telling me their story in going to SaaS.  It’s worked out very, very well based on some decisions made early in the process.  We burnt the midnight oil together working through some of those decisions, so it’s always gratifying to hear that they worked out.  I thought I’d share a few here in the hopes it might help somebody reading this…
  1. They knew what they wanted going in…much more specifically than simply “transforming the business”.  The desired end states were: a) an improvement in the speed of responding to market-driven changes, and b) a substantial reduction in IT operating expenses.  That’s it.
  2. Their approach throughout the project was a strict application of Occam’s Razor:  the solution requiring the fewest assumptions was the right one.  They were passionate about keeping things simple.
  3. Another thing this company was very passionate about:  letting go.  Very little data was converted to the new SaaS system.  They started with opening financial balances and historical queryable flat files from their legacy system.  They took a similar approach with their HR records.  Saved huge amounts of money and time in switching to SaaS.
  4. More on the letting go thing:  they let go of all their old business processes, opting to use those baked into their SaaS applications suite.  At their first Conference Room Pilot, they came out with an 80 percent fit.  With careful planning and tailoring, they increased that fit to 90 percent by CRP 2.  The last ten percent?  Some of it they decided they didn’t need and some of it wound up on a small, on-prem server integrated with their SaaS apps…mostly at the reporting/BI level.
So the end results?  

First, I should mention that it took this particular company four months to implement and cut over; it could have been quicker, but they invested about one-third of the project effort in “kicking the tires” before going live.  Brilliant...and definitely not my idea.  The testing effort turn out to be a huge help with user adoption within the company.  

Second, they have reduced their IT operating costs.  According to the CFO, IT operating expenses dropped by over 60 percent, mostly due to eliminating the need to maintain their in-house applications suite.  Although my friend also cynically notes that most of the savings from software licensing and support fees was consumed by SaaS subscription fees: “all the SaaS vendors had already worked the numbers on that part of the deal.  Even so, the savings realized through reductions in infrastructure and in-house support were a little more than we expected.”  

Third, are they responding to market changes more quickly?  “The jury is still out.  We just don’t have enough data over a significant period of time to know for sure.  But we have made a few changes based on reactions from our customers and we’re responding in days and weeks rather than months.  We hope that continues."

Are there speed bumps in this story?  Of course.  There's always a little manure involved with the prettiest flowers.  But overall, it's a pretty gratifying story.  By understanding their desired end states before starting the project, by treating simplicity as a discipline, and by letting go of the past to embrace new things, they have some pretty solid early returns.

So, real life.  Somebody got it right.  I love it when a plan comes together.  Don't you?


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

An Old Trick From An Old Dog

Old dogs look you in the eye, they hold your heart, they never lie,
They bark at planes up in the sky and wish that they were fliers.
Old dogs dream about the past when they frolicked fields of golden grass,
And chased the icy winter's blast, to lie by home fires burning.
Old dogs wander off alone but old dogs know the way back home,
The slightest scent, the buried bone, the hunter home returning.
                                                   - From "Old Dogs" by Bill Staines

I was recently asked how I evaluate different enterprise applications systems.  In all honesty, it's pretty simple:  I use a conceptual chart.  Yeah, really, a single chart.  This is it:


So I look at three different layers of components:  business value, development and deployment.  And I consider the components listed above in each of those three layers.  

I may dig a little deeper in some areas.  And I may even get into some classic system engineering analysis, with figures of merit and all that, but this is the upshot of it.  No sales hooey, no trendy buzz terminology, no nothing.  This is it.  I also use it for solution evaluation:  it's a great little framework for peeling back the layers of the onion and exposing solution risks.

Been using this framework for around seven or eight years now, so I guess that it qualifies as an old trick from an old dog.  But it still works.

An Old Trick From An Old Dog

Old dogs look you in the eye, they hold your heart, they never lie,
They bark at planes up in the sky and wish that they were fliers.
Old dogs dream about the past when they frolicked fields of golden grass,
And chased the icy winter's blast, to lie by home fires burning.
Old dogs wander off alone but old dogs know the way back home,
The slightest scent, the buried bone, the hunter home returning.
                                                   - From "Old Dogs" by Bill Staines

I was recently asked how I evaluate different enterprise applications systems.  In all honesty, it's pretty simple:  I use a conceptual chart.  Yeah, really, a single chart.  This is it:


So I look at three different layers of components:  business value, development and deployment.  And I consider the components listed above in each of those three layers.  

I may dig a little deeper in some areas.  And I may even get into some classic system engineering analysis, with figures of merit and all that, but this is the upshot of it.  No sales hooey, no trendy buzz terminology, no nothing.  This is it.  I also use it for solution evaluation:  it's a great little framework for peeling back the layers of the onion and exposing solution risks.

Been using this framework for around seven or eight years now, so I guess that it qualifies as an old trick from an old dog.  But it still works.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

You Can't Do This Backwards

Having returned from a stay-cation invigorated with new thoughts...

There was a time in the world of enterprise software when one could snap up some cool, interesting technology and figure out a way to leverage the new, shiny stuff in a way that benefited the enterprise.  Those days are long gone, if for no other reason than the enterprise software vendors are cranking out new applications, tools and technology far too quickly for a technology-centric user to keep up.  My own employer, Oracle, releases Cloud products at a rate of several per month.  Think about that for a minute:  we're not talking patches or releases, but entirely new products.  That's mind boggling.

In the age of fast and furious enterprise software development, you have to think the business results out ahead to time - what are your desired results or end states?  Then acquire the tech you need to make those desires reality (keeping in mind that you can often use what you already have).  

You can't do this backwards anymore, because it's so easy to get lost in a sea awash in products.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

SaaS - Some Food For Thought

Had an interesting conversation with a new SaaS customer this week.  Big enterprise customer, along with an implementation partner, is making the move from on-premise systems for all of their Sales applications and HCM applications to SaaS applications. And they're leaving their financial systems on-premise, hoping to integrate between the SaaS apps and the on-premise apps.  To make the mix spicier,  they've picked different platforms for the Sales apps and HCM apps...same vendor, but obviously different platforms for HCM and Financials.  The approach they're taking is "lift and shift" - we want all our existing processes and reporting to survive the transition.  And they want to go live with Sales and HCM simultaneously...aka "big bang."  Fortunately, it's all in the planning stages...no purchases of SaaS yet.  I got called in to provide some advice.

I'm sure you can imagine my muffled screaming while drowning my frustration in Dr. Pepper over the approach this particular customer has planned out.  No need to hash that out here.  But my advice actually turned into a set of questions...good questions actually, which is why I thought I'd share them here.  Here we go:

1.  Can you describe the desired outcomes you hope to achieve by moving from on-premise to SaaS for Sales and HCM?
2.  What synergies do you hope to achieve by transitioning Sales and HCM simultaneously versus taking a staging approach?
3.  Do you have an inventory of your current assets?  Especially the state of your data?  How much historical data to you plan to convert to the new system?  How about a list of current data model customizations and the reasons behind each customization?
4.  Have you considered and examined the business processes baked into the SaaS apps you're considering?  Could the baked in business processes work for you?  And, if not, why not?  Could the gaps be addressed within the functionality of the SaaS apps?
5.  Have you measured how often each of your current reports is used?
6.  What are the metrics that will help you know that you've achieved or fallen short of each of your desired outcomes?
7.  What do your stakeholders - especially your administrative specialists and first-line supervisors - think of this project?
8.  Has anyone attended any training for any of the SaaS apps you're planning to implement?  If so, what feedback do they have from the training?
9.  Who are the C-Level sponsors for this project?  What is the plan for keeping those sponsors engaged?
10.  On a scale of 1 to 10, how willingly and quickly is your enterprise willing to change?  Just gut feel, right now...what's the number?

I had a few more questions that are unique to this situation, but I started with these.  Any guesses on how the conversation went?  Bottom line is the customer is taking a step back to reconsider their approach and the partner is grateful for that (the partner execs had that look on their face that you see when they realized that loss hemorrhaging on a fixed-price contract is about to begin).

Now nothing special came from me here.  Just a few simple questions, most of which we've been kicking around for at least a decade now.  So save your project early...feed your stakeholders some food for thought.

If you've got more good food for thought questions relating to SaaS implementation, feel free to share in the comments.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Thoughts On Social Media

With the recent announcement that LinkedIn will be acquired by Microsoft, we're seeing quite a bit of chatter on the future of social media.  So I thought I'd share my thoughts on the matter.

When thinking about social media, I see two distinct categories:  public social media and media behind the enterprise firewall.  And I have distinct thoughts on both.

When I think of public social media, I think of the popular platforms out there:  LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, G+, and similar platforms (sorry, no Slack…I still haven’t figured out how to categorize Slack).  My point of view is that public social media has “jumped the shark”.  When it first came on the scene, public social media was about initiating conversations and exchanges of ideas.  Somewhere along the way, it turned into a set of platforms for people to simply shout out their messages on various subjects; the discussion aspect is shriveling on the vine.  And, again strictly from my point of view, the discussion is the big value of public social media.  Less discussion, less value.  And yes, I'm aware of the irony of using a public social media platform in sharing these thoughts...

Behind the enterprise firewall, we’ve barely scratched the service in realizing the benefits of social media.  The concept of value from the exchange of ideas also applies here.  But the big value add, from my perspective, is in mining that social media data to connect people in ways that would never occur if we simply relied on organization structures.  Who would know that Alice in Accounting had an interest and skill in color design theory if she didn’t mention it in a chat?  Or that Bob in marketing knows can read electrical schematics if we didn’t have a social network for team member hobbies?  As we break down organizational stovepipes, finding special skills within our enterprise teams and connecting those skills in new ways for important projects becomes a critical part…maybe the most critical part…of the HR mission.  And social media in the enterprise is just one way of doing that…especially when you add suppliers and customers (especially customer advocates) into the mix.

So you’re thinking “Floyd, does this mean you see a change afoot in the shape of social media?  Maybe a decline in the popularity and use of public social media at the same time  enterprise-based social media use grows and evolves?”  Answer:  yup.

Bet you have thoughts on this too.  Share them.  Take advantage of the Comments functionality on this particular public social media platform.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Stick To Your Knitting

In the States, "stick to your knitting" is an idiom for focusing on an already-familiar activity.  For SaaS vendors, better advice was never given.

The SaaS market space is young and still evolving.  As SaaS companies evolve and develop, there is a huge temptation to be all things to all customers.  After all, with 40 percent growth rates across the board, isn't it tempting for a SaaS HCM vendor to grab more revenue with a new financials suite?  Yeah, unless you're an Oracle or a Salesforce or an IBM...don't do it.

The most important key to success as a SaaS provider is staying in touch with your customers:  knowing their desired results and providing the best experience in achieving those results.  That requires serious knowledge of business processes in a specific area of expertise, such as supply chain or project management.  It's tough to build that expertise in-house.  Without naming names, we've all seen recent examples of successful SaaS vendors branching into new product areas only to get their heads handed to them on a platter.

The alternative?  Partner with other SaaS providers offering complimentary expertise.  Don't build up that new HCM Suite if your strength is in Sales software...team up with somebody already dominant in that market space.  If you focus on project management, find a partner with a solid financials offering.  Build win-win relationships that benefit you, your partner and your customers.  Doing so keeps you nimble, responsive, and best-in-class.

Stick to your knitting.  Your customers will love you for it.