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Sunday, 31 October 2010

Personalization & Standardization - a Contradiction

Enterprise and Consumer customers alike are increasingly looking for personalized products and services. The Businesses providing these services though are now looking at how they can standardize their offerings to address increasing costs and market expectations for greater profitability.

The on-going transition of products and services from Hardware to Software along with accelerated technology developments, have driven the demand for personalization of products and services phenomenally fast and in so doing created a whole new buzz on tailored solutions. The providers of these services are indeed finding more creative ways to provide greater flexibility. Additionally in a Glocal (Globally Local) Market as we find ourselves in today, businesses are sacrificing profit for market share and customer retention, knowing full well the extensive alternatives available to their customers from around the world today. These Providers however, are increasingly struggling with “tailored” products with the justification being a hope that other customers will be interested in a similar offering and provide an opportunity for reuse.

The market IS demanding ever greater personalization and businesses are under increasing pressure to respond whilst managing costs through a desperate need for standardization. These are contradicting requirements which would suggest they cannot exist in parallel – however I would suggest it’s time to go back to basics and look at products and services in a new way.

Consider Lego for a moment – different block sizes, shapes and colours, yet they all can be seamlessly integrated into any overall shape that I want. To that effect businesses should be looking at the future of their own products and services in a similar way.

I am sure some of you are looking at this thinking well “We” already do that with our service offerings and that may be true for offering a basic triple play offering – Phone, Internet and TV or even Network, Voice and Security. However I am sure if you consider the complexity behind the facade of the customer offering where everything rapidly becomes manual and bespoke you will realize we are only scratching the surface of what needs to be done.

It’s time to consider a system, one which underpins the platform of tools, systems and their associated products and services with a common architecture. With the majority of services increasingly being IP enabled this should be progressively more viable, consider for example how we can provide a person with various communication services remotely today. Imagine therefore for a moment, scripts that would automatically create a communication pack for a new employee or consumer based on all services being underpinned by a single foundation. If businesses don’t start to consider this change now either the cost of customization or the declining demand for their services will begin to undermine their own business plan.

Businesses need to look at establishing a single Architecture and identify how and which products and services should be migrated onto that platform. Next consider the personalization variables you need for your products and services, how can you encourage the take up of additional products and services through suggestions and feedback on what other users are ordering leveraging common profiles. Identify which services should be sunset based on a waning demand and your own life-cycle management. In many cases you may find changes will be required to your products to be able to execute a “Lego” or modular type model however once executed, the door is increasingly open for automation, improved visibility of customer behavior and evolving services based on customer trends.

This does not mean the death of customization, far from it, what it allows businesses to do is once again place a value on customization. When customers are educated on the options and integration choices available from a business’s products and services, and are still demanding further personalization they will quickly seek to adjust based on your existing services which will either come at a premium OR form the basis for the next evolution of your own portfolio.

The growing demand for Personalized solutions ARE going to place increasing pressure on businesses both those targeting B2B and likewise consumer markets. It is crucial that Businesses start planning a refresh of the architecture underpinning their products and services to ensure a robust Go To Market model which will be able to address the growing Personalization need from the market, yet also provide a cost effective deployment and service management model for the future.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Cloud Computing - Just an Illusion?

Cloud Computing, Cloud Services, and Cloud Technology - .Seems everyone is talking about the Cloud these days. Cloud Computing, Virtualization and On-Demand Services are increasingly common terms being used to describe the framework from which next generation services are being offered. Many organizations are claiming market leadership in these areas, yet the technology they represent has existed for some time so what is all of the fuss about?
To challenge the concept of “Cloud” we first need to establish what we define as Cloud Computing. Wikipedia refers to Cloud Computing as “Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices on-demand like electricity.” A Technology vendor highlights Cloud Computing as “ … the Internet and the use of Web browser-based or rich client applications. In these applications, the software comes from the Web Servers, and the data may be saved on the servers as well”. Now I can see you sitting there reading this thinking yes, that makes sense, my software and information is stored in the network of the Internet or at my work intranet ... right? Now think back to your first Hotmail/Yahoo account or the first time you posted information onto a newsfeed for others to “Share” weather that be images, data or sharing ideas, so what date are you at? 1995? 1993? Earlier … so does this mean we are talking about a “New” technology which has actually already existed in some form for close to 20 years?
I would challenge that Cloud Computing is actually a combination of a fabulous Marketing campaign for the industry to revive the hosting business - which had started to slow down - combined with the acceleration of the spectrum of services that can be hosted in a network, There is no arguing that the services available to us in the Internet and our corporate intranets are broader than anything we have ever seen, however this is merely an evolution of technology and our smart software. However we have had access to applications in the “Cloud” for a long time already.
OK, yes, I can hear those Cloud Computing evangelists shouting “What we have now is nothing like what was available before!” There is the argument of Virtualization, Applications on Demand, storage to shape with your needs of now and not just yesterday or tomorrow. However I would challenge what were we doing with those online email accounts, did you really know where yours was stored? Honestly? Virtualization is a great step forward and is providing businesses with significant benefits in looking at more scalable IT Models to support the needs of their business at any given point in time anywhere around the world. But do we really need to wrap it all up in Cloud Computing as if someone sitting in their Garage simply shouted “Eureka! I’ve done it … world meet Cloud Computing” If this was so amazingly unique how did more than 8 providers able to launch Cloud Computing Solutions in the space of a year?
What I am trying to get to is we need to acknowledge these developments, but ensure we keep our feet on the ground and realize they are just that, developments of technology which has evolved over many years. So let’s get back to basics, Businesses should consider how they can create agile working environments from the software communications, processes and database systems through to the rapid deployment of IT infrastructure in line with their business needs anywhere around the world. The Integration of Network, IT and Hosting Infrastructure through tools such as Virtualization, Agile working policies and processes hosted in the data centre can offer exciting opportunities for Businesses. However those opportunities can only be realized when we acknowledge the illusion of Cloud Computing being merely a marketing term and not a specific technology solution. Virtualization, Hosting and Business Outsourcing can be the foundation elements to the business integration moving forward, but must be treated with respect, we are past traditional outsourcing and businesses should not consider that a “Cloud” solution will be provided to them simply because they have over their network and IT responsibilities to a Systems Integrator or a Service Provider. To end let me send a message to all business out there … Wake Up! Make sure you know what you are getting behind the veil of cloud computing, how will it impact the way your employees work, the efficiency of your processes and finally and most importantly the success of your business?