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Thursday, 8 May 2014

Lost in Translation

I love technology, but if there is one thing I have learned over the years, it is that it is really irrelevant how much you know about the functionality of a particular widget.   The decision to buy a service is no longer about how “shiny” or “rich” a service is, but how it can be relevant. We have reached a tipping point where the traditional buyers of procurement and IT are no longer front and centre in the buying decisions.  These individuals are being replaced by the Business Unit owners and customer facing functions, a shift which requires a fundamentally different type of conversation and one which is causing many challenges for numerous ICT related industries.

“Big bets”, or big changes, are increasingly a thing of the past, especially as ICT services become more on-demand. This change gives customers the ability to transform much easier than in years past. Therefore, businesses need to evolve their thinking toward a new approach of differentiation…one towards relevance as it pertains to the business and the new decision makers.  We need to shift our language from the bits and bytes to understanding the challenges and opportunities that exist and what it can mean for the business. As businesses start to become more granular and focused, on tracking outcomes from individual initiatives, their expectations from suppliers equally change.

One of the things I love about my job is the opportunity to listen to business owners regarding their ambitions for their business, their key challenges and where they would like help.  In speaking with them, I begin thinking about the role I can play for that person in translation and/or understanding of what he/she is trying to achieve and the solutions out there that could help to solve their business challenges. If you are going to be meeting new business people there are three key tips I would suggest you do ahead of time. First, learn about who you are meeting with, what are their priorities and key goals? Secondly, how do they actually measure success for their business and industry? Finally, how can you help them to bridge from your understanding of feature and functionality with the insights of the above?

Let me be more specific, I am not talking about simply writing a script to accomplish what I’ve suggested above. You need to truly embrace and understand these questions and make them part of your approach to doing business. If you are able to do this and can then change the way you have a conversation, this will leave you feeling like you have had a positive impact on someone’s life and or business. Now this is not to say I will stop talking about technology. I simply love technology, but I love it for the same reason I write these blogs. I want to know the impact technology can have on people and to understand how we as individuals can influence and shape the evolution of technology. Technology plays a growing integral part of our daily lives, from the watch on your wrist to the self driving car; our lives will continue to be impacted hence the need to understand how we want technology to add value versus trying to make the functionality of a new widget work for us.

 I am reminded by a great Simpsons episode (stay with me now) where a techie is attracted by Homer Simpsons offer of fast internet but when the techie asks: “I'm interested in upgrading my twenty eight point eight kilobit internet connection to a one point five megabit fibre-optic T-1 line. Will you be able to provide an IP router that's compatible with my token ring ethernet LAN configuration?” – Now you could be forgiven for thinking and those things are what? - but in basic terms he is looking for an internet upgrade and one that will not require him to change any hardware at his home thus keeping his costs low so as he can visit the comic book store and buy more magazines (seriously!). Now of course the obvious question is, “well then why not say that?” I often find myself having to remind people that functionality is great but unless it has relevance to the person you are trying to sell to (or in the case of this Simpson episode – buy from) then there is not much point in starting a conversation.

In the case of Homer Simpson and similar for many businesses, there is a need for a new type of translator – one which can help people and businesses translate features and functionality to demonstrable business benefits, in the language of the customer or partner. This is something that I love to do and moreover enjoy seeing that “light go on” when the translation has been successful and everyone around the room gets excited about the outcome they are then working towards. Without these translators of the future, it is going to be akin to a meeting of two foreign countries, where gestures and pictures is all that is able to be used to explain anything which will ultimately result in a loss of translation moment and leave many people with that Homer Simpson expression as their only answer … “Can I have some money now?” 

1 comment:

Michael Lagunowitsch said...

Excellent article and spot on.

A point though to help with the translation; ethernet and token ring are competing layer 1 OSI LAN technologies :)