Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Phone Notworks

No it's not a spelling mistake or typo - sadly I really do mean "Phone NOTworks"...

Those of you that know me well or personally are aware that I've spent a large part of my career being a customer of global network providers, and as just a long period of time working for & within one of the largest communications providers.

But, this blog entry is not about plugging or bashing any single company, but rather a number of points I think all the companies have missed.

So just what do I care about?

Well that in it's own right is an interesting question, not least of which, despite me spending over $2000 per year on mobile devices my supplier has never once in 25 years bothered to actually ask me what I want from them or what my priorities are!

Yes bizarre isn't it, for all the money being spent on 'big data' and 'analytics' to "get to know the customer better" nobody has ever addressed the elephant in the the corner of the room and actually asked me the simple question of "What are the top 3 things you're looking for?"

It seems many companies would be happier spending hundreds of millions on technology, rather than actually having a personal relationship with the customer.

So despite being a technologist, and an early adopter I believe my needs are fairly basic considering we're in the 21st century....

1. Coverage

I live in the south-east of the UK, I travel throughout the UK and Europe. Sadly, and despite the various maps people will point to and quote, phone coverage is generally poor unless I'm in a major city or within the centre of an urban town.

Get in a car or train, where there's time to use devices and make calls, and this is often & regularly a disappointing experience - dropped calls and not-spots being the norm for 30-40% of the journey time.

Entire commuting routes lack coverage, for parts of the south-east I've been able to drive 10+ miles for the last 20 years without being able to make or sustain a call - let alone high-speed data usage. So this isn't a new problem, or caused by a specific incident.

All I'm looking for right now is basic verbal phone call coverage, high speed data would be nice but get voice working first - please?

2. Updates

Phones nowadays are high powered portable computing devices, running complex software from many sources. We use these for our daily tasks, often sharing our closest details and most intimate data with the device and applications.

Like any modern device, and complex software solution it requires updates - for bug fixes, compatibility & interoperability management, to address the ever increasing cycle of security vulnerabilities. This particularly applies to the operating system and firmware running the device - as this underpins all applications and is shared by everything on the device.

So then why does it take communication companies 18 months plus to allow the software updates for phones to be rolled out and deployed onto devices on their networks?

It's bad enough that the phone networks still insist with polluting the device with their own software application spam and cruft 'customising' the software, but to leave millions of devices with publicly known and documented critical security flaws for months on end appears to be somewhat negligent does it not?

Whilst it will be unpleasant and painful, I'm genuinely looking forward to the first major widespread security issue caused by devices from a network supplier not being able to be updated against long known flaws; specifically the position of accountability taken by the network supplier in the subsequent (and justified IMHO) formal actions taken by customers.


Now, of course network companies will say that both of the above points cost money - and yes I know & agree with that but here's my response...

It's no point pushing lifestyle services, more bandwidth and entertainment services if half of the time the customer isn't even able to use the basics. New investments should be made on solid foundations, piling shiny baubles on-top of sand doesn't made for a sustainable long term business!

Security validation does cost money, but you're not doing that! You're simply verifying that the updated software from the OS/Device supplier still works on your network - that's basic hygiene functionality... The less junk 'customisation' you put on the device the less work to do each time! If it works for & with Apple then why not for the other devices? spending resources addressing the ongoing support of the devices and the safety of your customers is surely a priority, and is a tiny cost compared to the billions you spend on spectrum and core network equipment!

And surely it's better to invest to secure (in every sense) your customers and keep them close, rather than have them source devices direct from the manufacture (hello Google Nexus / Pixel etc) and source their comms from a bulk MNVO and fully distancing and commoditising the network company?

So I'll save the communication companies the cost of a call - fix the above and I've be both loyal and happy, ignore the above and I'll find solutions that work for me not you....

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Tenders or Tenderisers?

As you may have noticed by the infrequent nature of updates on here, yes I've been doing lots of new work.

However in my past I've had the pleasure of performing many number of global IT infrastructure tenders, and really the impact on my professional & personal life these have.

Unlike Duncan Fitzsimons not all of us like reinventing the wheel, but for some things in order to make something tender you have to hit it repeatedly...

And finally Philip Clark got it perfectly here where he replied with :-
"Do you find the Tender process to be misnamed? <= No, it's named for how your lower extremities feel afterwards!"
It really shouldn't be this hard or painful for all parties!!!

Now, despite having been involved in global tenders for 10+ years I still get surprised each time, sometimes for better sometimes for worse but always raising an eyebrow - so here's some previous examples - I've personally experienced every on listed - with smatterings of free (and that's rare from me being both Scottish and now a Consultant) advice for suppliers :-

No matter what the customer provides for response formats & template, it appears the vendors will always ignore this and use whatever random & complicated format they feel like. The supplier then complains or is surprised when the customer can't easily locate the information and they get scored low.

Embedding 100+ PDFs into an MS-Excel sheet just isn't fun to read - honest! Nor is providing your submission as 98 individual zip files with 2 files in each... Similarly please ensure that any PDF submission that has further embedded documents includes the full print of the sub-embedded documents not just a picture of an icon.

How many vendors simply somehow miss entire sections of a tender and don't respond to them at all? If this is the level of attention and detail during the romance phase, just what will it be like once we're committed together??

The irony of a vendor signing a full mutual NDA, and marking 'fully comply' to a requirement of providing a documented "18-36 month roadmap", but then refusing to discuss products to be launched in 2 weeks time or leave copies of the roadmap. But the irony isn't lost on the customer - only thing they're never sure of is, is the stupidity, ignorance, bravado or naivety by the suppliers...

Oh and the use of imperial units rather than metric & SI - that gets tends you to the very bottom of the 18th century Luddite pile, either as a customer or as a supplier... We're in the 21st century, please keep up...

How little appreciation from suppliers that providing opaque / oblique / random / monosyllabic answers to requirements really doesn't help them or the customer in any way at all

One word answers to questions are rarely valid - it often feels that a tender response has been written by a begrudging 17yr old teenager at 8am on a Sunday morning, rather than a Fortune500 global corporate. As a hint, if you answer a question 'partially' or 'no' some kind of details explanation as to what & why would be of use. Equally answering simply 'yes' or 'compliant' to every question without giving any further information to provide confidence doesn't help either. I certainly haven't got the time or inclination to get a crystal ball out to establish your thinking behind your cryptic clue of an answer!

If the customer provides a Q&A period of time for the supplier to raise clarification points or questions, then the supplier should - if not then there's no ability to say "oh we weren't sure" or "we didn't understand" later.... You'd be staggered how many suppliers appear to lose the ability to raise clarification questions until after the deadline...

Similarly, during the presentations it also helps if the supplier has a list of questions for the customer, so when the customer asks you "Mr Supplier, is there anything you want to know?" they're not left looking either like a clueless goldfish or overtly smug / distant...

Pay attention to your own staff & presentation - if the vendor looks bored and ignores the presentation then the customer is likely to as well...

Whilst stating to the customer "we're not giving your our best offer now, we're saving that for later rounds & negotiations" may be very candid & truthful, it also shows a certain gaming strategy technique that is less relevant in the world of eAuctions...

Oh and vendor staff arguing between yourselves during the customer presentation - whilst it makes for amusing customer bar stories, but that's not good either!

Nor is having 4 different presenters for different sections but no single 'neck on the block' accountable owner - it should always be clear to the customer who the lead is and that they are fully invested in the response and process.

Requesting an extension for the tender the day before it's submission date? Yup that's the equivalent of "my dog ate my homework" and will just be looked on as amateurs...

Lobbying & making proposals to try and subvert, change or prevent a tender? Have a guess?? You'll certainly not be at the top podium for customer happiness...

The supplier also needs to remember the customer will regard that this is you at your best, and it'll only go downhill from here - so if you're not at 150% of your game and totally switched on expect the customer to look depressed...

How poor some responses are, with many supplier mngt teams resembling a goldfish when asked questions about parts of their response. Frankly I'd swear half of the teams haven't written or read their own responses, in fact sometimes I'd swear they've never met the other members of their response team before.

And just what is the point of the customer providing strategy guidance, requirements documents & templates, specific materials or meeting & presentation agendas if nobody on the supplier's team appears to read them?

How poorly people prepare for presentations - arriving late, arriving without materials, appearing that the presentation team have never met before - all not great sales methods...

How poorly people manage their presentation time and/or content - clearly having not rehearsed their presentation timings, or presentation roles. Spending lots of time on non-valuable content. Having written it on a Mac but never tested it on a Windows PC - that's a disturbingly common one...

How tangential some people try and stretch the scope of their responses into areas utterly unrelated, remember you're there to address the customer's issues & opportunities, not you're monthly sales quota. Waste the customer's time and they won't give you a second chance...

That a supplier actually being honest about their strengths and capabilities and declining an invite to tender can build a stronger and more trusting relationship with the customer, that ultimately will lead to greater revenue for the supplier. Thankfully - that there are still some suppliers that are very candid & honest and decline to respond if they believe their technology & services would not be a productive and positive relationship for all. Every time I've seen this the supplier has within 12 months won more business that the original tender was worth.

When - despite being clearly told by the customer 1.5hrs into a 2.5hr time-slot that 'your presentation has no relevance to our requirements' - it astounds that suppliers plough on regardless, as if somehow a war of attrition through powerpoint will convince the customer that up is now down...

How some suppliers simply fail to follow basic process logistics and expect / demand the right to be 'special', the very purpose of a tender is to normalise the engagement and actions of both suppliers and customers. But still some suppliers prefer to play the management escalation & relationship game rather than deliver on value and quality.

That with the customer having created and given 100+ pages of specific guidance and response templates, just how varied the responses are and in just how complex fashion, I'll not even mention those suppliers that edit or customise the templates...

Each supplier whines & moans about their work for a tender, but they appear to forget how complex & difficult the task is on the customer side and that the customer invests many times more effort in the tender process. From managing many different supplier responses, to creating the structure & process, to evaluating the responses in a clear objective fashion.

The basic quality control & integrity checks on responses - suppliers leaving working notes within documents, leaving markup versions in documents (showing both the response and the document's history), leaving previous customer details / logos etc within materials...

Some very honest and candid responses - "this is too complicated" & "we don't know" being classic responses to specific but common customer questions.

That how few suppliers don't appear to know "why does this product / variant / solution / service exist?", "what is the 3 minute elevator pitch used to justify this product / variant / solution / service development?", "how does this relate & differentiate from your other products / services / solutions?". If the supplier doesn't proactively address these basic questions then customers get nervous. If they can't, or won't, answer them when directly raised then it raises serious material concerns with the customer.

It's also dismaying just how many Forture500 suppliers appear to have account staff that have been ex car / double glazing salesmen in their past, adopting the "I need to phone my boss about that" to simple questions. If the supplier's staff are not able to make accountable account decisions then the wrong staff are in the room and on the account...

I do find it assuming that suppliers seam to be able to count to 14 decimal places when margins are concerned, but can't count to 7 when the maximum number of meeting attendees is concerned - 11 being the record attempted in the few years (naturally the surplus 4 got told to 'go away')

How many 'polite' excuses / explanations suppliers use to avoid being honest in sessions - sometime just saying "we ballsed up" is worth much more than "the dog ate it" kind of excuses

That the podium space for the #1/2/3 spot in any technology domain must be incredibly crowded given just how many companies claim to be 'the best', 'the leading', 'unique' or 'the number 1' - I've certainly never seen any such rankings independently managed,,,

How few suppliers are fully honest, and don't seem to think or believe that the customer will both cross reference the various elements of their multi-part responses but also validate responses via independent means.

Naturally Pinocchio could never be involved in a vendor's tender proposal - as the avalanche of unjustified / unsubstantiated subjective claims would cause his nose growth to drain the blood from his entire body.

So if from the above, you've reached the impression that managing tenders with multiple suppliers is very much like being a school teacher setting homework, then welcome to my world...

But do the basics, do them well and honestly and spend some time thinking about sitting in the customer's seat and good things will happen.

All of the above said, thankfully some companies come very prepared, with clear documents listing all contact details of the attendees and involved parties, even to the point of bringing their own name badges / name plates for desks - all of which makes it much better for the customer who's going through dozens of such sessions and meeting 100+ people within 5 days.