transformationMany marketers talk “transformation” but fewer can deliver it – or even define it. Look beneath the covers, and what sounds so impressive turns out to be only incremental cost-cutting.

But one recent case study I wrote for a global professional services company got me thinking of the “T” word. The reason: The “transformation” we described delivered substantial, ongoing improvements as well as permanent changes in how their customer operated.

Angle One: Beyond Cost-Cutting

That customer was a major telecommunications provider with hundreds of applications and tens of thousands of servers and databases. It was looking for a new outsourcer to take over and improve its operations, cut its operating costs by at least 30% and reduce the number of service outages and the delays in fixing them.

What makes this “transformation: The goals went beyond just reducing the costs of normal IT operations. The customer wanted fundamental change and improvement in the quality of service the business providers its customers.  

Angle Two: Working Differently

The customer’s goals included overhauling many of its internal processes. This included improving communications among its internal and external support staff, increased consistency among their support processes and establishing and enforcing service level agreements (SLAs). The customer also wanted its support group to be able to scale up the amount and type of services it provides. On the measurement side, the customer needed to assess the outsourcer’s work by its impact on the business, not just IT. One example: The ability to easily ramp up infrastructure to meet the traffic needs of big revenue-generating events such as major league games or concerts.

What makes it “transformation?” Making permanent, significant changes in internal work processes, not just doing the same old things a bit more quickly or inexpensively.

Angle Three: Ongoing Benefits

The customer wanted the service provider to do 15 percent more work while reducing costs by 15 percent each year. The service provider is achieving this through, among other things, increased automation of IT processes and shifting from a traditional time and material model to managed services linked to business needs.  The service provider also has a road map for taking on the support of additional systems, is broadening its SLAs to cover additional metrics, and training first-level service teams to handle more problems.

What makes it “transformation?” Improvements that keep giving over time, not just a one-time cost or performance boost.

Uncovering the “Transformative” Angles

In working with clients or your internal subject matter experts, try these questions to better uncover how you’re doing “transformation” for your white papers, case studies and other collateral.

  • How are we permanently changing our customer’s systems or processes for the better?
  • How will our product and services deliver ongoing (not just one-time) benefits for the customer?
  •  What is fundamentally new and different for the customer after the implementation of our product or service?
  •  Draw “before” and “after” pictures of the customer’s systems, processes or business structure to show what you’ve changed. If you don’t see much difference between the two, make sure you’ve captured all the real changes by re-asking the questions above.

And finally, if it ain’t transformation, don’t pretend it is. As Gartner noted several years ago, transformation can sour outsourcing deals by leading customers to expect more than they’re really getting.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Avoid These Three Deadly Case Study Sins

killpressreleaseI’m in the middle of a lot of intensive case study work for several clients. Much of it involves reviewing and punching up the “first draft” project descriptions written by their internal experts.

These folks are far more expert than I will ever be in everything from Big Data analytics to system administration to banking and retail trends. But perhaps because they’re so close to the nitty-gritty of what they do, they have a very hard time pulling back and explaining how they did it, why they did it and how it helped the customer.

(Note this post focuses on services such as IT or business processing outsourcing or consulting, rather than product case studies. With products, my clients usually already have descriptions of the value their product delivers, and my work lies in uncovering where a well-defined product delivered value to each customer. With services, each engagement has more variables, and my client’s value lay in long, detailed   fine-tuning of highly technical work flows. Their on-site experts have to dive so deep into details and process it’s that much harder for them to come back up for air and remember the business problems they’re solving.)

That said, let’s dive into the three things I often find missing from my clients” “first draft” case studies you should be on the lookout for:

How you did it

The folks who make big professional services engagements success have to be extremely process-focused. Their work revolves around completing checklists, implementing frameworks and meeting deployment schedules. Not surprisingly, when I ask them to describe their achievements they’ll answer “completed upgrade to Oracle 8  on time” or “completed transition to off-site resources” (shifted work from the client to themselves.)

What a prospective client wants to know is how you did the work that is different or better than your competitors. Try: “Completed upgrade to Oracle 8 33% more quickly than industry benchmarks through the use of our proprietary data cleansing tool,” or “Completed transition to off-site resources three weeks ahead of schedule” due to our best practices in project management and knowledge transfer.

Why you did it

This is the problem statement that is central to every case study. I usually find this under a heading such as “Challenges.” Examples include “Need to improve system availability,” “Excess support costs” and “Lack of agility.” To the folks in the trenches, again, these are high-level goals they take for granted and thus don’t see a need to expand on. What’s missing here are the specifics and the impact on the bottom line that bring drama to the case study, and help prospects see you solved problems they have also.

Push back on the implementers until you get descriptions such as “Unacceptable 93% uptime in critical systems cost $4 million in revenue during peak shopping seasons” “$6 million annual support costs for legacy payroll system starved mobile app effort of funds” or “Inflexible older systems delayed cost-savings from merger, costing client $50 million per year.” Again, you’re looking for specific problems, and their effect on the top or bottom line.

How you helped the bottom line

This is the flip side of the “why you did it” question, and requires pushing for quantitative answers to how close the service provider came to fixing the “why you did it problems.” These may be financial (dollars saved per year) or percentages (17% improvement in storage utilization, 33% improvement in customer support) or time (40% shorter time to market for new products.)

Tip: the implementers in the trenches often won’t need to ask, or to know, these specific improvements, as they’re judged on how well they did their part of the overall project. You might need an account exec or a client-side manager charged with tracking the return on investment to get that higher level view.

However you do it, it’s your job as a content provider to get out of the implementation weeds and explain how what you did helped the client’s business more than a competitor could have.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Steal This Idea: An App to End Sweatshops

Needed: An app to end sweatshops.

Aftermath of Bangladesh factory collapse.

While top retailers hang back over liability fears, the Bangladesh government lacks cars to even get inspectors to garment factories like the ones whose recent collapse killed 1,127 workers. Meanwhile, we consumers keep the system going because we like to save money. And, hey, how do we know where that shirt or jeans were made?

Meanwhile, social app developers let us share with an eager waiting world how far we jogged today. Webcams let us monitor our houses or nannies from work. RFID (radio frequency identification) tags let owners track the location of plastic shipping pallets lest they be chopped up by thieving recyclers.

If We Can Put a Man on the Moon…

If we can do all that, why can’t we use information technology, the Web and portable sensors to show customers, while they’re in the store, whether the shirt, jeans or whatever they’re looking at were made in a decent factory or a sweatshop?

Some studies have estimated that it would add as little as ten cents to the price of a piece of clothing to prevent disasters like building collapses. Would you pay that? Would you go further and spring for an extra dollar or Euro to add air conditioning and clean air?

Let’s say we’re real sports and make it the equivalent of $2US (about the price of the average Starbucks) to a piece of clothing or smartphone. Set aside $1 to improve factory conditions, and split the other $1 as additional profit between the factory and the retailer, just to keep everyone motivated.

Workers get better conditions, factories and retailers make more money, and we consumers get to brag about our generosity. The whole system is voluntary. It could also be a monumental PR and branding coup for the consulting, technology, retail and social media outfits that teamed up to make it work.

Oh, Yeah, the Details  

Some really smart people could come up with a more elegant way to do this. But here are some building blocks:

  • Embed a hard-to-remove RFID (radio frequency identification) tag or other unique identifier for the factory at which each piece of clothing was produced.
  • Create a mobile app that lets the customer scan the bar code or Google the factory ID and see real-time worker feedback about conditions. Services such as LaborVoices  and Labor Link already gather such feedback for retailers. Why not share it with consumers?
  • Create a “fair trade” certification process factories can voluntarily join, adding a fair-trade logo to their products if they choose. Vendors that want to go premium (and charge even more for their products) could set up Webcams in their factories showing consumers how well they’re treating their workers.
  • The customer decides how much to spend based on a reasonable level of information about the conditions under which the product was produced.

One small clothing company, Indigenous Designs, is already doing this on a small scale with QR codes.  Next, we need a large retailer, or clothing manufacturer, with the guts to do it on a large enough scale to make this a competitive necessity.

Not There Yet

 This system wouldn’t, of course, track suppliers further down the production line, like the farms that supply raw cotton, the mills that process it or those who make subassemblies (like shirt fronts and backs) for the factories.

 Then there’s the low-end of the consumer market, where customers may not want or be able to pay a premium for “ethical” products. And, yes, everyone from factory owner to global retailer to disgruntled factory workers will try to game the system. But the same social media sites that track complaints can also help uncover attempts to trick the system, just like with product reviews on the Web.

The more workers, factories and retailers participate, the more likely it is that most factories will, over time, get the reputations they deserve and most consumers will vote with their wallets. Best of all, this makes good working conditions an area where factories and retailers want to excel. (Free-market advocates may now applaud.)

All we need now are some smart, connected people in the technology, consulting, social media and retail industries to step up and get it done. Volunteers?

 Please feel free to pass this on to any clients or partners you think could help, and to claim it’s your idea.

 

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

(One reason I’ve been off-line lately is a busy travel schedule, including to Guadalajara, Mexico, in my role as editor of the Global Delivery Report. Thought you’d be interested in some of the sights and sounds…)

From the 22nd floor of the Presidente Guadalajara hotel, I heard the loud popping of explosions. Not to worry; it was only early celebrants of the country’s Independence Day. And, maybe the popping of a few more of my preconceptions about Mexico’s self-proclaimed “Silicon Valley of Mexico.”

Downtown area

The description is not exactly accurate: Guadalajara has robust manufacturing and fashion industries along with the IT manufacturers and service providers who have been in town for close to 40 years. And Guadalajara, its own backers admit, lacks the rich web of venture capitalists and angel investors who keep Bay Area geeks in Jolt cola and office space.

But if sheer drive and vision and talent are the ingredients for a start-up haven, Guadalajara is a cake that’s ready to bake. Some anecdotal proof points from a jam-packed 24 hours in the city:

  • Seeing rows of students – equipped with not only desktop PCs, but Bloomberg financial data terminals – studying stock valuations on the immaculate Tec de Monterrey college.
  • Finding even more multimedia and animation startups hatching at the Centro Del Software tech incubator than I did six months ago, with yet more crowded rooms of 20-somethings feverishly creating digital creatures on drawing tablets.
  • Good outdoor charging stations? These Tec de Monterrey students do.

    Trying to find a place to sit in the hotel lobby among a swarm of local anesthesiologists checking their smartphones and iPads for appointments.

  • Hearing two stories in as many hours about owners of traditional Guadalajara-area manufacturing businesses investing in tech start-ups or moving into professional services to boost their margins while reducing their risk.
  • Running into an engineering student at a Starbucks who, in his spare time, opened a seafood restaurant in the historic downtown. In his other spare time, he got a close to $1 million investment for a start-up trading in, of all things, avocados.

Locals are increasingly talking of how, in the last five or six years, the amount and quality of arts and culture in Guadalajara has exploded, largely focused in the Tlaquepaque sector near downtown. Some of it is definitely not my style (one half of our film crew is working on an ambitious multimedia project involving zombies, as an analogy for the unthinking masses on social networks.)

On the eve of Mexico's Indepence Day, still hard at work in a software incubator.

But the point is that such edgy entertainment and ideas are what draw a young, skilled workforce to an area, and also help them think outside of the box for the next big idea.

And that “is Mexico safe” question, which everyone asked me, again, before this trip? Still a non-issue, at least in Guadalajara and at least right now. The engineering student says he regularly works till the wee hours at his restaurant, with little fear. I tried walking across the street for dinner, but ducked back in terror – not from crazed drug lords in gun-laden SUVs, but the ubiquitous Nissan taxicabs zooming past at lethal speeds.

Look for deeper coverage of all these trends in the Global Delivery Report in the coming weeks and months. But the first day of my second visit to Guadalajara hit me like a hammer: The talent, drive, education, leadership and amenities required to create a creative and technical hot spot are crystallizing faster than ever.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.