Thursday, February 26, 2009

Self-service, crowd-sourcing what are the impacts?

We live in the era of self-service. It all began with supermarkets, but then followed the internet-banks, self-service gasoline stations and so on and so on. IKEA ... and all the other furniture shops! Can you even buy a piece of furniture nowadays without having to spend half a day gathering it?

So one of the main ways of reducing price is letting the customers self-serve.

Today's successful enterprises and business-models have gone much further and have given a big part of their product development, quality control, advertising and sales to their customers. Don't believe this? Well, have you ever been a beta tester... or used Google-s Beta products (like Gmail)? These are all good examples of letting the customers do the product testing and quality control for the company itself. If the product is good and cheap you probably suggest it to your friends and social network and therefore doing the advertising and sales for the service provider.

And we like it, because we get the products cheap and we get them fast.

But I see some possible problems with the whole model:
Firstly, buying and getting things and services and being a client gets to be a lot of work:
- You spend your time being a product developer - design an Adidas shoe for example.
- You spend your time being a beta tester and giving feedback.
- You spend your time writing to Wikipedia.
- You spend your time writing and promoting things you like on your blog, social-network, Twitter.... (Hmmm... what am I doing now?)
- You buy the stuff from a super-market with a self-service cash desk.
- Then you configure the SaaS service yourself.

Secondly the services, especially the IT services and electronics, might lose in quality. As quality control is given out to customers the products have to be constantly in Beta and they are never formally quality controlled. If a quality controlled version gets out then the next two versions (in Beta) are already being used and tested by the customers.

The takeaways:
- Be aware that your work is sometimes used in making some products cheaper.
- And vice versa - if you work in development and if possible use your customers in product you don't develop useless products and have to spend less on the development - meaning cheaper products.
- Sometimes it is OK to pay for being served. :-)

And to take it to extreme. If a service-provider (Google or Skype for example) and its users voluntarily become a community - one giving its service away (almost) for free and the others doing product development, sales, and quality control (almost) for free.....then isn't this in a way a really positive kind of socialistic co-existance? How far can and will we go with such an economic model? :-) (As far as we can I hope!)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Jaan Männik - a bit wrong about innovation

Estonian Television did an interview with Jaan Männik, the Head of Council of the Bank of Estonia. Mr Männik stated that the only way out of the economic crisis is innovation. He was right. He also stated that innovation is something you cannot just start doing as it is more like a state of mind or something like writing a book or composing a song. I disagree with that.

Innovation, open-innovation and organizational dynamic capabilities are systematic procedures. There are numerous books and methodologies written on the subject. For example by David J. Teece or Henry Chesbrough. To start innovation a company has to learn these subjects, invest time and money into them and just start doing. It is the same thing as implementing ISO standards or ITIL IT management procedures. Like ISO and ITIL innovation takes time is difficult and expensive.... and perhaps boring :-). But still it is not art or something magical.

Nokia did not just happen in Finland it happened thanks to good Finnish education system.

Monday, February 23, 2009

My favourite SaaS solutions web.

I am a great fan of SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) solutions. I think they are the future of IT. In a few years tha amount of computing done on SaaS environments and cloud-computing will exceed the amount of computing done "on-premises".

I created a web page to list some of my favourite SaaS solutions and good examples on how they are used. I also want to promote SaaS solutions "Made in Estonia". :-)

If you know a good SaaS solution for internet forums can you comment on it? I looked for one some time ago, but unfortunately didn't find any good ones, but there must be for sure!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Anti-depress tool for managers

Working as a manager can be difficult and depressing sometimes. Why? Well mostly because a big part of a managers day is filled of dealing with problems. Sometimes a customer is not satisfied with your teams work, the technical systems fail, a member of your group forgets something and so on. We have all seen the phrase "I am not satisfied with this - I want to talk to your supervisor" on a movie. Then the poor supervisor, who knows nothing of the issue and has nothing to do with the problem has to deal with this nervous customer. Have you seen a movie where a satisfied customer wants to praise your work and talk to your supervisor.?

So if you, as a manager, deal with problematic customers, problematic services and incidents.... you actually start to see things in a wrong perspective. Actually, in a worst case you might even start to wonder why anybody even buys your services.... Due to the nature of manager's work this might even happen in a situation where 99% of your customers are really happy and 99% of the services are working great. You just don't know about it because you work with the 1% of problems.

Now, there is a great solution to solve this problem! We in MicroLink have been using it for almost a year now and are really happy with the results. Actually, the results of this methodology surprised us in a really positive way!
The solution is to ask "The ultimate question" from your customers. Ask them "How likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague?". I bet you will be surprised on how many of your customers answer "Yes" to that question. And even more you get loads of suggestions from your customers. So from the feedback you can make an action plan and make your team work better. You can change your work from constant "firefighting", "surprise problems" and "dealing with unhappy customers" to an objective plan and action. You also get an objective measurement on how happy your customers are and can share that with your managers, salespeople and your team. You get an objective, measured argument against the "there are always problems with your team" claim. :-)

Now, why am I writing this? Well, to help you solve the problem also! We are launching a really easy-to-use IT solution for implementing the methodology. If you want to use it (currently for free of charge) then e-mail me. The system works so:
- You have a sales case or a service call with your customer.
- After the case is closed you send your customer an e-mail, stating it was nice doing business with you. You also put the e-mail address of our service to the blind-copy field.
- Our system gets the e-mail. Checks if this customer has been surveyd recently. If not, then it sends the customer an e-mail with the 3 question survey. The questions are: On 0...10 scale do you recommend our company in the view of this case? On 0...10 scale do you recommend our company overall? Why?
- The customers answers the questions on a web-page.
- You get the feedback and graphics via a web-page.

The beauty of the solution is that your team members don't have to learn a new system and you don't have to integrate any IT systems. All they have to do is put the system's e-mail on the blind-copy field.

Feel free to contact me and give the system a go!

Monday, February 2, 2009

More SaaS in the future

Last week IDC published results of its recent survey stating that despite to economic slowdown (or maybe thanks to it) SaaS revenues are going to grow faster than they predicted previously. 40,5% instead of 36%.

The key driver for this is probably the will to save. Less earnings means that businesses are more flexible. So they are ready to fit their working procedures to the standard way of doing things if they can benefit from the "$1 per month per user" software pricing.

At the moment the only thing that sells is "saving money". High availability, pretty design, convinient, fast and powerful is out. Cheap is in.

But if we talk about the SaaS market then it is not going to fall after the economy has started to go up again. It is an irreversible change that is going to happen. In 10 years time developing your own CRM or sales software will sound as stupid as developing your own e-mail or office software sounds now. But this means a lot of integrating and customization.

...and most probably there will be a time when you will have to consider all the data anywhere to be public. :-)