Life in the Cloud – George Watt
People who live in glass houses should throw dashboards
In Part I of this series I discussed some of the challenges and value (or lack thereof) perceptions facing private cloud providers ending with the question “what can be done” to address those. As is likely apparent, there are many things that might be done to address this, and selection of the most appropriate of those is certainly dependent upon your situation. In this post I will focus on some simple strategies that are likely broadly applicable.
Live in a Glass House – Transparency, SLAs Critical
To address the perceptions discussed in Part I and stakeholder anxiety, measurement and communication is key. A diligent, aggressive approach to stakeholder engagement is required. To remain relevant and viable the stakeholders must be engaged before they have become convinced your service has no value; and that does not take long at a senior level, especially when budgets are at stake. Here are a few strategies that should to help avoid that:
#1 Measure value delivered
It is important to measure the value your service brings to the business not only in the context of communicating with key stakeholders but also in order to make wise choices about your service and investment priorities. A close relationship with your Finance team can be immensely helpful in this respect.
#2 Measure the service delivered
It is also important to measure the service delivered by your team. This means committing to and measuring against service levels through service level agreements (SLAs). This can be challenging. Intelligent and skilled technical people often resist this, because they know they are doing a great job and do not like to be “watched” in this way. It makes them feel untrusted and unvalued. In those cases ask them to consider the alternative. Someone states that your service is not good, that “it stinks” (that’s a detailed technical term). Without measurement they are correct, since you have no way of knowing otherwise. You are locked into management by perception. (Incidentally, perception is always important.)
With good measurement there are three possible responses to a complaint about service. Each is, in essence, a step forward in service maturity:
All three will result in better service to your customer, and increased confidence in your team.
#3 Set realistic, achievable, sustainable customer expectations
Early on in the life of a service it may be possible to provide an extremely high level of service, much higher than is necessary. That level of service may not be possible as the service matures, and that can cause friction with the stakeholders – or worse. I recall one incident where someone escalated a request to their most senior executive and to mine because an instant message, not sent to a service team but to an individual, had not been answered within five minutes. We had set a completely unachievable level of expectation during our growth phase. Either setting an appropriate level of expectation or communicating that the level of service was unusual initially would have helped a lot. It can be very difficult to reset an expectation.
It is also important to help consumers to understand the levels of service they truly require, and that each comes with a cost. This is something that everyone is accustomed to when dealing with external sources. It is not always addressed by internal groups. Everyone will always demand the highest level of service possible, whether or not they require it, when cost is not an issue. Helping consumers to understand the cost associated with each tier of service and offering cost alternatives not only addresses this, but it also helps build a partnership between the provider and the consumer. Tiered pricing for public clouds is a parallel to this.
Individual customer groups may also need to be reminded that not everyone requires the same level of service. For example, our Customer Support team requires rapid response, seven days a week, every day of the year. It is the nature of their business. In contrast, someone using the systems for self-education might do with business hours support, five days a week. Presenting the consumer with an analysis of the costs and letting them make the choice (and supply the requisite funding, or help you acquire it) can also help your team avoid perceptions of an unwillingness to serve or to “do the work”.
(There is a lot to be discussed with regard to service level agreements, so perhaps more on this later.)
#4 Be proactive and transparent
Good news should travel fast. Bad news should travel faster. In his book “Behind the Cloud“, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff recounts a story of a series of outages that might have destroyed their company and how eventually transparency helped them retain their customers. Customers should not be left in the dark. The more proactive you are with your communication, even if the news is bad, the more satisfied your customers will be. I have found that even simple things such as an RSS feed can go a long way toward addressing this. We had two: One for “good news” (upgrades, new resources…) and one for “bad news” (performance issues, scheduled outages…).
Proactive communication will also result in less exhaustion for your team. Mark Thiele recently wrote about the down side of IT heroics. His points are equally applicable to report creation and communication. I cannot think of too many things that are a greater drain on productivity than scrambling for a piece of data for a report. I have seen these requests take several person days. Have the information available for your stakeholders all of the time, and give them a simple method for submitting suggestions and responses to you.
#5 Interested stakeholders are often very senior
As I mentioned earlier, it is often the sum total of your service that attracts the attention of senior executives, especially at budget time. Proactive communication with these people is critical, as is being prepared to present your case to very senior people at a moment’s notice. (A previous post regarding executive communication discussed that in more detail.)
Those are just a few of the things that helped us. What successful strategies have you employed?