Date: April 3, 2009

Author: JT

Tags: , ,

1 Comment »

Is Your Technology Working For You?

future-techSeems a simple enough question…though I suspect answering it creates a conflict for you.  Sure, we each have cases where technology works for us.  We can also point out innumerous cases where it worked against us.  And then, we can reflect on the question on either professional or personal levels as well.  This is one of those 5 second questions that takes a tad longer than that to answer.

Many of the things I choose to talk with you about (in this blog) can be easily framed in both personal and professional contexts.  As I write this, a friend of mine is toiling away rebuilding his laptop.  For me, rebuilding a computer is something rarely needed anymore.  But when I do, the drama is rarely more than a time-sucking annoyance.  The process with a current OS is downright simple….compared to, say, rebuilding an NT 3.51 box circa ’95. Wow. 14 years ago? I remember the pains clearly, but ’14’ years ago?  I digress.  For my friend, he’s been blessed; it’s turned into a 2 day nightmare that’s not over yet.  Clearly, on a personal level it’s not working for him.

For this post, I’d like to discuss a corporate example where I was directly involved turning a technology situation around.  It’s a story that illustrates the importance of having people in your organization able to see the ‘big picture,’ instinctually recognizing when there’s a bigger issue at hand…the ability to look beyond symptoms to treat the core problems.

At the time I was the global technical account manager for three of our larger, strategic accounts.  I was also one of three domain experts in North America for deploying, licensing, and networking our products in enterprise environments.

Over the course of a 2-3 week period, I had received a number of phone calls from the Product Support organization.  They were grappling with a large customer who had purchased 1,200 seats of product (something in the 7-figure range) having problems with deployment.  A few days later, someone else called about a customer (with ‘1,000’ seats) having security concerns.  Then again another day or two later yet another Product Support rep. called asking about serial number activation problems for a larger customer.

Finally, one of the more experienced Product Support reps called in a near-state of panic.  The 1,200 seat customer wanted to return the product.  Would I be willing to talk with the customer and/or the dealer?

All of a sudden, weeks of seemingly disparate calls, crystallized.  Not like I didn’t have a day job in another country (literally) mind you.  No one else had put it all together.  We had a single customer with deployment, activation, and security concerns, feeling very uncomfortable, and wanting their $$ back.

This is where having someone who can work across organizations, bridge technology and business concerns, as well as talk directly at the CXO level is important.  Taking charge of the situation, I arranged for a conference call between the customer, VAR (value add reseller), country sales manager, Product Support, and myself.

It has always amazed me how, even if you have 15-20 people on a conference call, how you can determine in 30 seconds, certainly less than 5 minutes, who the 1, 2, or 3 key people are that you need to focus on.  And, that was the case in this call.  It was incredibly clear who the customer focal point was.  I could picture him in my mind’s eye: Caucasian, male, 50-something, with at least 50% grey hair.  Leading into, and during, the call we heard his IT staff decry problems with our software regarding deployment problems, license activation issues, and security.  As an organization with national security concerns this would have been a big issue for them…even if it hadn’t been post-9/11 at this point.  His staff had downright scared him.

Individually, I had dealt with each of these problems myself in prior weeks.  We had just released the latest version of our flagship product.  At the same time, this product introduced a new product activation technology, and, implemented a completely new enterprise deployment solution.  To top it off, we also changed our licensing models.  Previously, if you had ‘1200’ serial numbers, we issued you ‘1200’ new serial numbers as part of the upgrade process.  A one for one exchange. Now, we consolidated.  We issued ‘1’ new serial number good for ‘1200’ installations.

During our call with the customer, I spoke straight to the Director of IT.  I assured him we could overcome each of these problems.  He started to thaw but wouldn’t take the hook.  Needing to push him over the top, get him to bite.  I volunteered to personally working with his staff to pilot the deployment and make it successful.  It was a watershed event.  You could palpably feel his relief.  While he was cc’d on email afterward, it was the last time I ever spoke with him.

The tactical answers were relatively simple.  Their IT staff needed to be trained on the new deployment methodology.  Security concerns were defused once they understood how it worked.  They simply wanted a single control point; they simply couldn’t stomach individual users having internet access.  The third, serial number consolidation was another issue.  It took some sleuthing to unveil the fact our back end databases were not working as designed.  Finally, I led a Product Support effort in designing a new process where reps could identify and address the serialization issues.

Save for having a person on hand that could work up, down, and across the organizations, internationally, and at all customer levels, we’d have had to process a return on 1,200 licenses of software worth well beyond $1M USD.

Technical Business Consulting:  It’s a mix of business consulting, technology consulting, process and people management, all rolled in to one.  And, when you need someone in this role, you need them.

The difference between technology working for or against you can come down to simply having the right person available, in the right place, at the right time.

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