Data Silos ? – Call an Expert

Walls_Separating_Systems

Recognise this ? Data silos everywhere. Disparate systems, and, seemingly, brick walls between them all. As our reliance on systems has grown, we have more of them to satisfy our business functions, and the integration problem becomes exponentially worse.

Consequences (1 – Internal)

The internal consequences of having data silos are serious, including overly costly processes, inaccurate information, duplicated records, and stifled collaboration.

Internal_Consequences_Of_SILOS

Consequences (2 – External)

By far the worst consequence, however, is external. It’s about having no clear view of your customer. No “Single Customer View”. This is bad enough when you are trying to internally assess a given customer, but in a web and mobile enabled world, it often translates into the customer having partial data held in several different systems, and a completely disjointed and frustrating set of interactions.

 

NO_SCV

Why it Happens

These silo’s propagate due to a number of factors, Mergers and Acquisitions, Departmental “Turf Wars”, lack of Strategic Vision, and more recently Cloud and Software-as-a-Service systems have become more ubiquitous, and have allowed departments to make their own purchase decisions, without enterprise oversight.

Solution

Many organisations rightly conclude that, rather than contemplate an impossibly risky “big bang” , where all systems are replaced, they need to migrate data into a place where it is more complete and coherent. Typically into an ERP, or CRM system, or data warehouse.

Having done this several times over the years, I’ve tended to call this process “Data Harmonisation”.

Harmonisation_Technology_And_Expertise

There are two fundamental aspects to this endeavour. The first (perhaps obviously) is some sort of technology platform to do the various data transformations/re-formats/matches etc. The second is expertise, and it’s this area which is often overlooked.

It is simply impossible to get good results by throwing technology at the problem. What’s needed is solid expertise around all-things-data. The whole nature of this endeavour is about bringing together data from differently structured databases, and performing complex things with that data.

It’s not just about re-formatting data, but also much more sophisticated processes, for example: identifying where there is a “match” (e.g. fuzzy matching of records from different systems where these might actually apply to the same customer).

As mere mortals, we understandably focus on the tangible stuff, so , the “system” is something we associate with the things we see on the screen, however, in a Data Harmonisation process, it’s actually the data and it’s structure which is vital. This is where data expertise is needed.

Data_Expertise

In my experience, this expertise is actually the primary determinant of whether a data harmonisation project will succeed, and NOT the technology platform which is chosen.

So I guess the message here is .. if you are looking down the barrel of a data harmonisation project .. then getting an expert is vital.

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“Just DO it” – BIG mistake in technology projects

I’m a professional technology “enabler”. Picture Walt-Disney tie, tank-top, open sandals, science fiction novel, pizza boxes … But seriously, in that privileged role, I can observe “Business People” (clients, joint venture partners etc.), and see how their sentiment changes over the life of a technology project. There are two typical profiles, one for well-architected projects, and the other for “the rest”. Lets start with the baddies:

Badly Architected Technology Project – Typical sentiment

Initial enthusiasm, then confusion and regretEnthusiasm – You have a vision of a bright future, and hope the technology guys will “Just DO it” Confusion – Early stages go well, and some demo’s and mock-ups looked great, but after a while the tech team go quiet, and start saying things like “it’s 90% there”. Tangible results get less frequent, and silence starts to reign. You start to wonder why they haven’t asked more questions ? Regret – When you ask about a seemingly small change, and they say “we’ll need to start again”. You realise that the whole thing is shaky and feels like it’s built on sand.  (You probably know the rest).

Well Architected Technology Project – Typical sentiment

Positive Sentiment following some initial frustration Enthusiasm – You have a vision of a bright future, and hope the technology guys will “Just DO it” Frustration – All you seem to get is question after question . Why is there nothing to actually see yet? Why do they keep asking about how the system could grow? They keep talking about Architecture and  Scalability and they focus on seemingly rare use-case scenarios.. they tell you there is loads happening “below the surface”, and to be patient. They make Sheldon and the guys from Big-Bang theory look impulsive. Revelation – You eventually start to see something tangible (whew). It looks great, and not only that, but they have built some stuff in which you hadn’t thought about (!). You hesitantly mention requirements which your colleagues/investors are asking for, and they say “sure .. we’ll configure that in”. You suddenly realise, the system needs to be multi-lingual .. “We’ve thought of that, it’s there already” they say. Fast-forward 12 months. You’ve got a great piece of technology people are raving about, the market has stretched it in ways you couldn’t predict, and the tech guys have remained relaxed. You’re exceeding your commercial goals, and the vision is being realised, and you’ve won awards for innovation. MORAL: If you are a business person, and your technology enablers are asking LOADS of questions. It’s probably a really good sign. (If you have a great vision, and want to ensure it commercialises, ping me here)

“Oi, Oi” … R.O.I. (Because you’re worth it)

Working in professional services (in my case – Software), I’ve sometimes heard the dreaded words “Sorry Mark – we’ve found a cheaper option“.

If you hear this too, don’t immediately retreat. Pause and consider whether the client really understands the expected benefits that your offering will yield for them.

Remember, whilst your costs might be larger than the competition, your offering might deliver much greater benefit:

ROI

Do NOT assume that your client has a clear view of the benefits

I used to assume that clients would care about and know how to calculate their own ROI (Return on Investment). This is often NOT the case. I was once sat with a client in a pre-sale situation, and he admitted that he wanted the project to happen, but didn’t know whether the budget would be forthcoming from his HQ. I suggested we do an ROI spread sheet there and then. Not rocket science, just asking him “how many hours do people spend doing xyz”, “what percentage could we save” “What if we multiplied that across Europe” , etc.., and a rock solid financial case appeared before our eyes. I got the work.. and thankfully, he got the expected benefits.

This is your Pilot speaking

Can you run some sort of Pilot project?. Is there a way to demonstrate the value your offering can deliver at a much reduced cost, hence proving the case ?

It’s a bit like the freebie cheese on sticks you might find a smiling supermarket person tempting you with. In my industry , and perhaps yours too, the initial taste might not exactly be “free”, but the experience is much less fraught with risk for the prospect. Small decisions can become “No Brainers”. (Large ones can feel like career decisions).

Slice of the Action

If you have confidence in your offering, but your client is hesitant, consider changing the pricing, so you get a share of the return. Remember to balance the risk (and if possible, cover your base costs), but if you are totally convinced in the value you can deliver, it might give you a larger gain in the long run.

Because your worth it

So when you hit price resistance, relax, and remember … you are worth it, and what’s more you can potentially help the client see that.

Motivational Sweet Spot

I’ve noticed a personal phenomenon recently. My level of motivation around a given task seems to have a sweet spot where my (perception) of how difficult it is plays a big role

Motivation and Performance Graph

Motivation versus Difficulty

At the left hand side of the scale, we have the tedious admin stuff, such as keying in expenses. This has no real ability to stretch my intellect, and is frankly boring. The level of motivation is low.

At the right hand side of the scale, there might be things which appear really difficult. For example, re-word all of our marketing collateral to flush out the value proposition(s).  [Note – you might find this easy ! – I don’t].

Anyone else got any views?

Tegefs Law : Six Face to Face Networking Tips

Ok I admit it, there is no Professor TEGEF, it is  just a little memory jogger. These six simple rules , picked up from others, have helped me feel comfortable when face-to-face networking (with the ultimate long-term goal of generating leads).  If you find yourself in a similar situation, I hope there might be something in here for you. 

Two Ears One MouthT – Two Ears One Mouth : Use them in that proportion. You’ll want to get your own message heard, however, by listening more than talking,  you understand the other persons, objectives, ideas and passions. Then you’ll get a feeling for which themes to pursue, and how to “frame” your words so they make maximum sense to the other person.

Elevator ButtonsE – Elevator Pitch : The elevator pitch is not where you try to explain everything you do. It’s an opening gambit to generate interest. A conversation starter. Keep it short, and if the other person says “oh – how do you do that?” – it lets you fill in the blanks naturally. Let the other person do theirs first. You can then flex yours to make it more relevant to them. Be prepared to change our elevator pitch. Even now I occasionally get people looking at me like a dog that’s been shown a card trick after I answer the question “what do you do ?” 

BusinessCardG – Get THEIR Business Card : I think it’s possible to be obsessed about business cards as in this great scene from the film American Psycho. The most important thing by far is NOT to hand out your card, it is to get the OTHER persons. You then have the ability to follow up. If they don’t have one, write their email address on the back of one of yours.

EXITE – Exit Gracefully : It’s  very easy to get involved in a chat which eats up a load of time, and so try to allow just enough to establish rapport and if the conversaton is lasting too long, you owe it to yourself AND the other person to create space for more interactions with others – “.. Lord Charles it’s been great chatting but I’m going to give us both the chance to mingle a bit more, rest assured I will drop you an email”

Follow UpF – Follow Up : What is the point in networking unless you follow-up appropriately. It might just be a “Great to meet you”, or maybe the suggestion of a mutual coffee. I often do this even if there is no obvious opportunity, as I’m a strong believer in the secondary network (see next) 

SecondaryNetworkS – Secondary Network – Even if you have no obvious shared agenda with the other person, always bear in mind that you may be able to hook each other up with OTHER members of your mutual network. I think karma will ultimately reign. See more about the secondary network here.

Quick Summary:

T wo Ears One Mouth
E levator Pitch
G et their Card
E xit Gracefully
F ollow Up
S econdary Network

Its not what you know OR who you know

It’s who THEY know.

I think it’s interesting to reflect on the power of the secondary network. We naturally focus on the people we know (our Level-1 contacts), but let’s not ignore the Level-2’s

Network Levels

Network Levels

Here is a real example, with names changed to protect the innocent. I identified Hugo (via Linked-In) , who I thought would be an ideal customer. It transpired that Hugo was a Level-2, and that he and I both knew Ted. I emailed Ted, and, cutting a long story short, Ted put me in touch with Hugo who eventually became a valued customer. Had I tried to contact Hugo directly, I would have had no chance, as he is already maxed out with un-solicited approaches.

Networking Numbers

Networking Numbers

The “numbers” are interesting. British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, thinks the limit to the number of people with whom we can maintain stable social relationships is roughly 150. Lets (conservatively) estimate that we have, on average, 100 Level-1 contacts. That puts the number of Level-2’s at ten thousand  (100 x 100). If you are looking for people who buy oak furniture, turbo-charge fork-lifts, or make decisions on IT spend, the chances are there are some in that Level-2 community.

A couple of observations:

1) Online : By ensuring that your on-line content has the ability to be shared you effectively allow the people who read it, to advocate it to their Level-1’s (your Level-2’s), which can potentially exponentially increase your exposure.

2) Face to Face : When you next find yourself at a networking event, relax, even if the none of the other people attending look like prospects, some of them could well connect you to prospects. 

One of earliest references to “Not what you know…” was actually said by a Film Director, Mike Cross: “In Hollywood, it’s not what you know but who you know,” adding that the awards ceremony was the perfect place to make connections.

I’m a simple northern lad, so my equivalent of an awards ceremony is probably a breakfast networking event. At the last one I attended I chatted to a nice lady next to the coffee and biscuits. I will probably never be her ideal client, but it’s quite possible that I know someone who could be.