Six Questions When Choosing an IT Vendor – from CIO Magazine

Selecting a new IT vendor is about more than just checking off boxes for product features and functions. Functionality is important of course, but it’s table stakes.

When you’ll be relying on a software application to help fundamentally improve your business operations and the working lives of employees, it’s imperative to get to know the vendor behind the product.

six key questions to ask IT vendorsIs the company reliable? Are they the kind of people you’ll enjoy working with on an ongoing basis? Are they committed to helping you achieve your professional objectives—or just out to make a sale?

In a recent CIO magazine article, Rob Enderle provides an outline for such an evaluation. Continue reading “Six Questions When Choosing an IT Vendor – from CIO Magazine”

Systems of Engagement: How to Get Revolutionary Business Results from an Evolutionary IT Approach

The increasing demand from business users for mobile and web-based access to core enterprise applications has created consequential new challenges for corporate IT groups. Many of those core business and department applications—particularly ERP, finance and control systems—may still run on early proprietary flavors of Unix, or even on mainframes. They weren’t designed to support lightweight, mobile, wireless access.

Certainly, a “rip and replace” approach is one option: tear out legacy applications and replace them with newer Linux- or Windows-based, or even cloud delivered suites. But both business users and their IT counterparts cringe at the thought of the time, expense, and business disruption of this approach, not to mention the loss of substantial intellectual and financial capital invested in existing core enterprise systems.

Systems of Engagement - 2020 Tools Report from Forrester ResearchA better approach, according to Forrester Research, is to retain those core business applications (systems of record), while providing the simplified, flexible, web-based access required by business users through interface-layer systems of engagement (built on new and open technologies).

In the report, Prepare Your Infrastructure And Operations For 2020 With Tools And Technologies, Forrester Research vice president and principal analyst Jean-Pierre Garbani notes that the “vast majority” of core business management and control applications are still on legacy hardware and software platforms. The challenge, he contends, is to integrate these legacy “systems of record” with newer, cloud / mobile / web-based “systems of engagement.”

The report’s author calls resistance to cloud computing and the consumerization of IT a “losing battle.” This evolution is, he says, inevitable. Providing mobile and web access to core enterprise applications and data improves business competitiveness, helps retain the best and brightest employees, and, implemented properly, reduce support costs. However, it is up to IT to shape and guide these changes, and the Forrester report offers invaluable guidance in this regard. It looks at the integration of systems of record with systems of engagement and the best way to improve customer and employee experience while reducing help desk costs.

Embracing the new cloud-based, mobile-enabled, consumerized BYOD environment need not cause risky business or IT disruption, and certainly doesn’t require the massive time and cost of a rip-and-replace project. The key is to separate what you have from what you need, without throwing away what you have. IT and business leaders need not forsake their organizations’ pasts in order to seize the opportunities presented by the untethering of devices from networks (and workers from their desks).

The Forrester report notes that the IT function has been continually evolving since the 1960s. In most large enterprises, applications were created, modified and expanded over time, “piling up layers upon layers of code running on the technology du jour.” Management and control systems were connected and combined, creating dependencies between applications built on different generations of technology. Therefore, “the transformation from a centralized IT to a decentralized and empowered BT (business technology model) has to be carefully planned: IT has to offer a continuity of services while transforming its legacy into an abstracted environment suitable for decentralization.”

In Forrester’s model, illustrated below, “systems of record are a mix of in-house enterprise-specific management solutions…often complemented by another layer of acquired legacy solutions such as core enterprise resource planning (ERP) and finance and control systems…These systems of record focus on corporate processes and departmental transactions…Systems of engagement, on the other hand, focus on interactions with customers, partners, or employees, first through websites, portals, and eCommerce, and increasingly through mobile device apps.”

Systems on Engagement on Systems of Record: Forrester Research

While integrating systems of engagement with systems of record is far less costly and disruptive than replacing core enterprise software, the costs may still be higher than business users perceive. Forrester notes that cloud-based services and apps which appear to provide business management and control capabilities in a cheaper and easier way than corporate IT are neither as cheap or easy as they seem. Hidden costs, in the form of integration with legacy systems and disparate enterprise data sources. lurk behind these seemingly simple apps.  Systems of engagement need to be “coordinated with existing enterprise systems.”

Fortunately, model orchestration engines or workflow automation software tools can reduce the effort and complexity of building the required “restrictive and sequential transaction” links between systems of engagement and systems of record, as well as among and between core enterprise applications themselves. Such tools should be able to adapt to whatever is “under the hood” in terms of enterprise applications and federated data sources, making the integrations and connections transparent to the business user.

Beyond avoiding the nightmare of implementing an entirely new core enterprise platform, the system of engagement approach provides a number of additional benefits, including:

  • Avoiding the cost and complexity of modifying core code in legacy applications.
  • Providing users with simplified interfaces. With an app or web front end, there’s no need to duplicate the original UI of legacy systems; users can get a simple interface showing only the information and fields needed for a specific business purpose.
  • Requiring no training. A simple UI presenting only the necessary fields (with user-friendly field labels and context-sensitive help) eliminates the need to train users.
  • Empowering business users to create their own processes workflows. Because there is no need to modify core legacy code, business managers can create their own interfaces and underlying, automated workflows, then test, modify and optimize them—all with minimal IT assistance.
  • Enabling active self service, which, as the report notes, is what users prefer and have come to expect. This is self service 2.0: employees can not simply find information, but actually get things done (e.g., a broken printer repaired) using a simple interface tied to an orchestration engine which automates as much of the process (approvals, scheduling, chargebacks, etc.) as possible.

The concept is simple:  Systems designed to “engage customers” are supposed to be flexible, scalable and all about user experience.  By design they should leverage data in other systems so it is re-useable.  Systems of record (ERP, HRMS, ITSM, CRM tools etc..), on the other hand, are designed to store data and transactions, not to provide the capabilities enabled by systems of engagement.

This approach is also at the core of enterprise request management (ERM), a service fulfillment strategy that combines an intuitive web portal interface with an advanced task workflow engine which communicates with and between in-place legacy business applications to automate service request and delivery processes.

ERM expands the concept of IT service catalogs across the enterprise, allowing users to order any type of service (e.g., from HR, facilities, finance, or other groups—as well as IT) from a single web portal. Business function managers can create their own service items and process workflows, increasing their sense of ownership in the system. This is vital, because as the Forrester report states when discussing budgets for BT empowerment, business units will have to share the expenses with IT, which they “will be reluctant to do unless they can improve their productivity by receiving better business services.”

In support of this approach, the Forrester paper says that the final objective is a business service catalog integrating systems of record with systems of engagement to minimize administration and maintenance costs, along with tools to monitor service quality and manage billing and department chargebacks. These “tools of the new” IT function are also foundational elements of an ERM strategy.

Utilizing systems of engagement atop systems of record enables enterprises to embrace the new technology needs and expectation of a mobile workforce without discarding years of experience and investment in core legacy business applications—and opens up a broad new array of possibilities.

To learn more:

How to Drop Notes without Missing a Beat

Lotus Notes is a venerable product with more than two decades of development behind it. But for many of our current and prospective customers, the product has run its course.

Several large enterprises, with dozens of Domino servers, hundreds of Notes databases, and thousands of Notes applications between them have directives in place to move off of Lotus Notes, but are looking for alternatives to spending thousands of person-hours on large porting projects.

Lotus Notes migrationFor many companies seeking to move away from Notes, Kinetic Request is a promising alternative. Though Request doesn’t duplicate all of the functionality of Notes, it can be used to rebuild business applications—often in much less time than with alternative approaches. For example, as noted in a previous post here last summer (Lotus Notes Apps Find a New Home in Kinetic Request), one large financial services company moving off of Notes rebuilt two critical business applications in less than 400 hours using Kinetic Request, versus the 2,000 hours it had estimated for custom development.

Compared to Lotus Notes, Kinetic Request is:

  • Built for the web;
  • Built to incorporate federated data (data from virtually any enterprise data source); and
  • Built with APIs in mind.

What’s more, Kinetic Request coupled with Kinetic Task provide the front-end and the backbone for an enterprise request management (ERM) strategy, in which virtually any type of service request (whether from human resources, IT, facilities, marketing, accounting or another function) can be entered in a consistent, user-friendly web portal with all subsequent approval, scheduling, and fulfillment tasks fully automated and tracked.

Many organizations using Notes may be comfortable staying with the platform indefinitely. But for those committed to making a move, Kinetic Request may provide a rapid and cost-effective method for rebuilding key business applications.

Service Providers—Configure Your Service Processes for Superior Business Value

By Brett Norgaard

Over the past year, my blogging has centered on how service providers (internal, shared service, or outsourcers/managed service providers) can save money, reduce risk, innovate, accelerate time to value, enhance customer satisfaction and increase productivity in their operations. How can this be accomplished, you ask?

Once you have a configurable, secure, multi-tenant service platform in place, you can swiftly and confidently transition new clients onto the platform with standard, optional and customized services. If you have a “master library” with portfolio management functionality, each client can operate as “an experiment in productivity.” The opportunity is to identify, capture, replicate and roll-out productive innovations. Here’s a short blog entry exploring this: Service Providers Accrue Enterprise Value Benefits From all Clients.

One client/department/division/program’s invention can be another’s innovation…if the service items are portable to other instances or versions of the service platform. And, the branding and theming needs to adapt to the new client/user as well. See the blog series on “Service Item Portability“:

Innovation does not have to be daunting. Consider that it can simply be a matter of cloning one service item and registering it for another client/user. Or, you can clone a service item and link it to another process like a specific approval process, integration to an enterprise application like HR or Procurement, access to a Cloud-Based service for provisioning IT resources like computing power or storage, or access to an enterprise service like Active Directory – captured in a reusable handler.

Also, tying back to a configuration-driven approach, you can employ “sense and respond” style innovation with no fear of disrupting the underlying service platform since no programming changes are occurring. Here’s a link to a short blog entry on that topic: Service Provider Innovation, Three Easy Pieces.

In summary, here’s a “formula” to consider: CSMtP(ML/CPM) + ST + CSI = DML

Configurable, Secure, Multi-tenant Platform w/Master Library/Curator Portfolio Management + Streamlined Transitioning + Continual Service Innovation = Differentiated, Market Leadership.

Service Providers—Do the Math on Visible and Hidden Benefits

By Brett Norgaard

The other day, we got some feedback from a large service provider who’s been struggling with their service request management tool for the usual reasons—it is inflexible, dependent upon programming, risky to make changes to the database structure, cumbersome to move from development to production without rework, hard to survive upgrades to the underlying service platform and constantly reinventing the wheel. After experiencing a demonstration of Kinetic Request and Kinetic Task’s configuration driven approach, reusable and cloneable service items and handlers as a starting point for creating new service items, visual work flow, and portability between environments, versions and instances they said something powerful, “This will save us two to three years of development time and will put us that much ahead of schedule.”

Here then is a list of the “visible” business benefits that they saw:

  • Cost savings
  • Time-to-market
  • Using a more readily available and less costly resource (business analyst vs. programmer)

While this is very interesting, think about something else—this represents one client. This service provider has many clients. While each is unique, our experience tells us that there are similar standard service items that could be deployed across the entire client base. Working from a master library, this service provider could also construct an automated method to generate not only a standard service catalog, but specialized service catalogs that command premium pricing based upon their business value to the client. They would also have the money, time, and a satisfied client willing to look at doing more with them.

For simplicity sake, if this service provider had ten clients in the same boat as described above, the cost savings they could point to collectively would be 20-30 years of development time. Now we are talking some serious money as well as some seriously happy clients that can consume the service provider’s offers now vs. two to three years down the road. As author Michael Lewis pointed out in the book, “The New, New Thing” when referring to Jim Jordan (silicon valley guru) and his sales pitch to investors, “Do the math.”

Service providers who have the right knowledge, architecture, tools, and skills in place are poised to accrue “hidden” business benefits as well as the “visible” ones sooner vs. later.

Forrester Research Outsourcing Trends—How Service Providers Can Capitalize

By Brett Norgaard

The other day, I had the chance to listen in on Forrester Research Service Provider Analyst Pascal Matzke’s observations on the outsourcing market. He outlined trends that are leading service providers to change their business models.

Here are the key trends:

  • The traditional outsourcing market has slowed, is not efficient and is very competitive – outsourcers often “build a new factory for every new client.”
  • Consumerization is affecting enterprise IT.
  • Business units are more involved and focused on business results.
  • Cloud computing is driving new dynamics toward re-use and on-demand offerings.

The traditional outsourcing model aimed toward IT operations with a “Plan, Build, Run” model was focused on lowering costs.

There are new models with embedded portfolio management practices emerging:

  • A focus on recurring client needs and scalability
  • Streamlined solutions built with modules—repeatability and re-use
  • Venture Capital mindset to manage the portfolio

The New Model focuses on Executive Management and Lines of Business in the Assessment and Solution phases. IT Operations works closely with Lines of Business in Service Integration. Everything is offered “as a Service” – Infrastructure, Security, Platform, Software, Analytics, and Business Process. IT Operations and Lines of Business work together to orchestrate service delivery. New model is Assess, Compose, and Orchestrate – a more fluid model than the traditional Plan, Build, and Run model.

Business benefits of new model:

  • 25-30% Improvement in Implementation Time
  • Better Project Predictability
  • Cost Savings of up to 15%

Matzke offered up a Portfolio Opportunity Scorecard—a Boston Consulting style two dimensional analysis using Portfolio Maturity and Market Readiness to gauge where to invest in service offerings.

He wrapped up with some advice for service providers to get busy exploring cloud offerings, review existing client relationships, conduct vision planning, get better at competitive intelligence, work on improved leadership, build portfolio management and get good at partnering.

How Kinetic Data enables capitalizing on these trends:

Kinetic Data’s configurable, multi-tenant, secure, web accessible, experience shaping, integration ready applications are particularly well-suited for the move beyond IT into the Lines of Business areas of your clients. Cloning and service item portability make re-use a great option at the design and delivery phases, too. Re-use is a great way to innovate not only within a single client’s portfolio, but across the service provider’s portfolio. Constructing a well thought Master Library of service catalogs and service items, along with a sound methodology for roll-out can dramatically decrease the time to transition to a new service platform. Sense and respond style innovation can let you experiment without risk and then see which innovations clients select. You can also leverage investments in the BMC Remedy ITSM tool set to extend directly to end users via web accessible service catalogs, self service portals and go beyond IT to realize true business value—anytime, anywhere, and on the client’s terms.

Are We Living in a One Horse Town?

A Vision from Down Under
By Michael Poole

Now, living as I do in Australia and being of a certain age, I can recall spending my holidays on a sheep and wheat farm in, what we Australians call, “the bush.” For those not acquainted with that expression, “the bush” is anywhere outside of a major city and typified by a lack of lights on the road and the possibility of a surprise meeting with a kangaroo on the same unlit road around dusk – which has a similar effect as our northern cousins meeting an elk.

So, in those days, there was a always a “country town” within one to six hours of most farms. The town near my uncle’s farm was pretty close, a one and a half hour drive along dirt roads, and consisted of one “pub,” Police Station (we are descended from convicts), Church and combination Petrol (Gas) Station/General Store/Post Office.

The next town was four hours away and about the same size except that it had an additional pub.

Now, going to town was an event. Usually undertaken on Saturday morning, we all dressed up in our nearly best clothes – not Sunday best, as it was a Saturday. The kids piled into the back of the “ute” (pick-up) and ate dust for an hour and a half. Brushing ourselves off after arriving in the town, the family split up to carry out each one’s appointed task.

Uncle, of course, had to fulfill his civic duties and always attended a meeting of the local farmer’s committee. Strangely these meeting were always held in the pub. They were thirsty work!

Aunt and the rest of us went to the General Store. There was an amazing range confectionery displayed on the counter-top, but surprisingly, other categories of items like food, hardware, etc. had little variety or choice. If you wanted flour, the choice was easy – there was just one brand and two types: plain and self-raising.

As there was only one General Store, of course whatever we needed had to chosen from what it supplied. There was little chance of getting a better deal by comparison shopping, and even if we knew that there was an alternative product that was better, if the store didn’t sell it, it was just too bad.

We sometimes suggested to Aunt that we could go to the other town and buy the better product, but she never did – she didn’t want to upset the store-keeper – and anyway, if he wasn’t supplying it, there must be something wrong with it.

I think back to those days when I go to the supermarket and have such an array of products to choose from. I even have a vast array of supermarkets and on-line stores to choose from.

So, what has this got to do with our real focus in this blog?

Well, I also remember those days when I talk to CIOs and IT Managers who are grimly holding to a Single Vendor “strategy.”

There has been a continued debate, not just in the IT community, on the topic of Single vs Multiple vendor implementations.

So what are the things that should be considered when deciding between these strategies?

Flexible to Innovation: When solutions are built upon open standards, enterprises have the ability to adopt new solutions, as their businesses grow and need change, or as new and improved solutions become available. Since a multi-vendor strategy is inherently an open-standards strategy, vendors must continue to innovate in order to create competitive advantage, driving new advances that result in higher performance solutions.

A single vendor with a broad portfolio of products will by its very nature always have products that lag behind others due to resource allocation, disparate product lifecycles, and shifting areas of focus. Furthermore, a single vendor strategy results in a lockout strategy for any competing vendors, even when they offer a superior solution. A multi-vendor network strategy based on open standards doesn’t demand you to sacrifice innovation or flexibility. In fact, innovation and flexibility are its byproducts inherently.

Who has the Advantage: Many organizations justify a single-vendor strategy because they feel they have the advantage when dealing just with one vendor. However, this is not the case as the figure below shows. In fact, by giving preference to a single-vendor, the advantage is shifted to that vendor. Strangely, this is one of the objectives of any vendor – to lock the client into a solution set and making it difficult if not impossible to to change vendors or introduce new technology that is not supported or supplied by the vendor.

The vendor Influencer Curve
Gartner’s Vendor Influencer Curve advocates a multivendor approach to based on clear business/IT objects,vs the single vendor trusted adviser approach favored

 

Single Vendor Myths
Limits Complexity: Many vendors, who claim to provide everything an enterprise needs to meet its technology requirements, have actually built solutions through acquisition with products that weren’t necessarily designed to work together. Superior Support: With diverse and varied products, support is provided by generalists with broad experience vs specialists with deep knowledge. Lower Operational Cost: In addition to often requiring increased support costs for aging technology, selecting a single vendor to provide products for all areas may actually increase costs due to the limited ability to negotiate pricing as well as support aging technology. Acceleration of Innovation Adoption: With a single vendor, enterprises are actually limited to innovations. Increased Operational Efficiencies: A vendor wouldn’t source all its materials from a single vendor due to the increased risk of relying upon a single source. Why should an enterprise customer be any different?

Reducing Risks and Costs: While relying upon a single vendor poses a significant risk for enterprises, a multi-vendor strategy actually mitigates this risk by reducing exposure to a single vendor’s decisions, from arbitrary product rationalization and service discontinuation to pricing increases. But the risk reduction benefits of a multi-vendor network strategy don’t end there. A single vendor strategy puts the enterprise at the mercy of a sole source that can increase costs through mandatory upgrades, compulsory support programs, and equipment packages that include products that don’t necessarily meet your needs. But, a multi-vendor strategy actually promotes cost reduction.

Leveraging Expertise: No vendor understands your business and network requirements as well as your technical staff. To move forward with a single-vendor strategy is to abdicate control over the decisions your technical staff is trained to make, and place the control of your network destiny directly into the hands of a third party. By giving you the ability to select solutions based on your business drivers, not your vendor’s, a multi-vendor strategy ensures that you are at the helm of your network.

Specialized Support: Today’s complexity requires that technical support be delivered by experts with deep knowledge in specific areas. Since single vendor strategies are designed around broad product portfolios and supported by generalists who sacrifice depth for breadth of knowledge, finding the right person with the right answer can take time. Multi-vendor strategies ensure that you have access to specialists with a focused expertise necessary to effectively resolve issues, minimizing the impact of interruption to your organization. When you develop your network requirements to support your business strategy, and not to support a single vendor’s point of view, the enterprise is positioned not only for the future – it is positioned also to win.