Monday, February 23, 2009

The eBusiness Model

The three legs of the business relationship are shown in the above graphic. The three big roles are; the organization (business), the support (administration) and the stakeholder (customer). For hundreds of years these three roles have had a known and predictable inter-relationship.

If you wanted a product you engaged the organization either by store front or by phone. The traditional model has you engaging in a salesperson/client role. You discuss the product, features, benefits and costs. When the parties agree to proceed to the next step, that step is typically a sale. The salesperson will lead the customer to administrative support and make the initial introductions in some form. In a lot of cases, the sales cycle is over and then the support cycle begins. Now the customer will likely get exposed to the support functions of an organization. This is a tenuous situation. A good salesperson is trained in the craft of customer relations and has a positive (at least the successful ones) attitude. They are typically motivated by the commission of the sale and are eager to pass you on to the administrative group. This can problematic due to the fact the administrative layer is motivated by following the internal process and reducing their effort to complete the task. This can become the first strain on the customer relationship.

If you look at the triangle the cycle goes likes this; the customer (stakeholder) talks to the salesperson (business representative) that passes the sales info to support and the customer pays the support person to complete the transaction.

This model has worked for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

In the traditional model, a business had well trained sales groups and courteous support people. When all was in balance, the business flourished. If you had rude salespeople you tended to have reduced sales. If you had unprofessional support personnel you tended to have reduced repeat sales. You could make the first sale but would likely not be motivated to return for more.

Buying a car can be like this. The sales presentation is usually excellent and the buyer is convinced it is the right car. Then support steps in and potentially causes this large purchase deal to become strained by paperwork, cold calculated forms, delays, more forms and such. Then you need to get your car serviced and then the service department treats you like a herded heifer. Those car dealerships that focused on the complete sell and relationship model faired very well.

What changed?

The biggest change was the speed and transparency of the stakeholder to the business. The biggest catalyst was the Internet. Now the customer could research the product online. They became informed and when they went to speak to the salesperson the conversation was now on specifics and not just relationship. Moreover, the customer wanted to remove the salesperson from the transaction. They exchanged the salesperson to the Internet site. Some early web sites where disastrous in this regard. The biggest thing for any IT manager to know about the net is your site either has a presence (eBrochure, contact us, and company facts) or a purpose (online transactions). In either case, contrary to what you may have been told, the Internet is NOT a mass marketing tool but rather a personal information tool available to the masses. Customers may browse the net but it is typically in a purposeful way. They will click to learn or to be exposed to more. They are not expecting a rolling commercial for the masses but rather a multi-media experience based on their clickable requests. This is where the death by flash has to stop. The sheer quantity of sites I go to that are all flash and no substance drives me nuts. I will leave that rant for another post. Know your client and their needs. If this is a support site then have online manuals. If this is a retail store then your search engine should be based on how the customer knows your product and not your inventory control system. How many retail store sites have you been to that asked you for part numbers or catalog page number? You have to be kidding, how would a customer would know that?

Now the customer could engage the administrative layer directly with things like online payment, order inquiries, order taking, shipping etc. These offerings should be based on what the customer experience should be and not an extension of the support arm. Customer do not work for you, please remember that.

Some pitfalls and solutions

You’re a retail chain and your online site is negatively impacting the number of clients in the store. This is a good news for support people for you have lowered your cost of delivering the goods and you have likely reached a larger customer base. However, the in store experience is what gave you brand recognition and it cannot be under estimated. Then what if these stores are franchises, then what? One suggestion that Canadian Tire does is they compensate the retail store for every online purchase as if that customer would have been in the catchment area of their store. They do this by postal code. Other retail stores only offer some products online and encourage the in store experience. This can be problematic, for you are potentially giving up sales.

You are a service company that sells a complex service. The example I will use is transportation. The customer wants to order a pickup and goes online to get the pickup request. The customer fills in the form, the driver is dispatched and the product is picked up. The end customer (consignee) receives the product and the company sends the bill to the original customer (shipper). This is all good right? Wrong. The example was a good example of a service that was successful in that the customer had the service delivered as expected. However, there was no real business interaction. What if there were more products that could have been picked up or the customer paid a higher rate because they packaged it differently or that your firm also offers customs brokerage for border crossing or freight forwarding for international freight. So how does the customer know what they do not know? What I force, yes force, my sales group to do is to engage the customer through the online experience. The salesperson is expected to set the customer up in the website and train the end user on how it works. Some big firms think this is so wrong. Why would you have a salesperson setup an online customer? My answer, are you nuts?, you want an IT person setting this up? We went into the IT field because we do not like people, so why would you risk your customer relationship to a support person. My method o gives sales a great reason to talk to the customer outside of the golf course. Good for the organization and bad for the salesrep.

Support wants to go completely online for bill payment. This sounds good when your customers are small firms with low Accounts Payable volumes. The same is not true if your customers belong to large firms with large Accounts Payable volumes. The issue with using email for invoices is very dangerous. What if the recipient is not there, how do you confirm the invoice is there and processed? You need to offer different types of online invoicing. You might want to consider an email notification that a bill is ready for their review and then have online payment. Larger firms will want to engage Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). The basic tenements of “ask the customer and engage the customer” are important here and again allows for the customer relationship model to be balanced. Just because you have an electronic interface to the customer does not mean it has to be impersonal. The reverse is true, the more electronic you get the more personal it needs to be. The customer will need more functions, customization options and more importantly personalization options. You need to give them a reason to be there and it can’t be to fill out your forms to make it easier for support. Adhering to good user design will enhance the user experience in order to balance all the sides to the triangle.

Now what?
You need to build highly personalized, relevant electronic customer interactions to the support side of your business. You need to provide opportunities for your customer relationship elements of your organization to engage the customer outside of the support group. There will need to be a balance of what is considered clerical and what is considered relationship. The customer will need to be engaged at all levels and at all channels. Every interaction between the customer and the organization must be customer centric. Always put yourself in their seats.
Do not be afraid to change and to change often. Learn from others and focus on how you can engage the customer and how that engagement helps the overall organization.

Monday, February 16, 2009


The goal of a modern democratic society is to become more transparent and accessible to the masses. To achieve this governments have adopted the e-Governance model which is very similar to the e-Business model. Governments are pressured to run like a business and they continue to fail. The graphics explains the roles and interactions of the e-Government model.

In order to actually achieve the stated goals, a concerted effort has to be waged to address the potential imbalance of power and the new roles of the players.

Before I delve too deep into the dream of E-government, I will spend some time on the current traditional model.

The Traditional Model

In this ancient model the elected official is chosen from the people, for the people and interacts directly with the constituent (voter). The elected official will broker relationships to the administrator (public servant) to aid the constituent. In the beginning the elected official was in the position of control and power. Over time and due to the growth of democratic governments, the constituents started to deal directly with government administration. From simple licences, forms and taxation to more complex policy direction initiatives. The role of the elected official started to be altered as more and more requests were directed to the administrators. Before the Internet and open access the change was slow and to most unnoticeable. Many elected officials had no issues with transferring mundane policy and control issues to their administrations, sadly, much to their demise.

The explosion of the Internet in the late nineties and the push for e-Governance has caused a rapid imbalance of the power sharing arrangement. Left unfettered the power of government will shift to administration and away from elected officials. Some would argue that we have already achieved this undesired state.

The e-Governance Model

The diagram at the beginning of this post is for both traditional and e-Governance models. The graphic is meant to demonstrate the balance between the three roles. Once an imbalance occurs, actions need to be taken to re-establish the balance via other methods. Change of relationship and type of request are the first signs of the imbalance. An example of this would be the recent changes to obtaining a passport. This very important act can now be solely done without any elected official notice or input. Again, most people would argue, why does the politian need to know. It is not a matter of needed to know, but rather one more lost opportunity to understand their constituents. Today, a constituent can interact with local government regarding snow removal and garbage removal. In the past, the constituent would have called their elected official to discuss the matter and the official would have had a sense of the issues without having to ask the administration what is going on in their constituencies. The further the contact is the farther the relationship is.

The Elected Official

The elected official now has the ability to address their constituents in a proactive manner and not just the old reactionary method and passive mail outs. By using modern Internet techniques an elected official can get input on critical government issues without the traditional use of lobby groups. There is lots of current evidence to support true e-Grassroots initiatives. This evidence proves how effective and positive in nature they have become. The older traditional models focus on negative issues and comments. Examples of these initiatives is website that allow for public input, e-Surveys and website that provide status on projects and initiatives.

The Constituent

The constituent has direct access to administration and the appearance of transparency is there. By taking an active role the constituent is now in control of their government interactions. I have, in the course of my career, worked for both private and public institutions and I am constantly amazed of how little the public service knows of their customer (constituent). It is as close to ignorant and abusive as it gets. The public oversight challenge has been allowed to diminish the experience for the constituent. There are some jurisdictions that have been quite successful in their attempts. While other jurisdictions think the user (constituent) is actually a public servant (emphasis on the servant) and provide user experiences that are horrible. Try opening a small business in Ontario to get the full abusive experience.

The Administration

Along with the constituent, the administration element of e-government is one of the big winners,. The new technologies make it is increasingly easier to deal directly with the constituent and therefore disintermediates the elected official. The other big challenge is that the administration has no official role in the dealing with the constituent and is solely driven by police and procedures. The actual government systems are for the delivery of programs and services and as such cause friction to the elected official.

E-Governance can completely impact public policy and public policy execution without involving the elected official. This is the real risk. As current elected official get burdened with unnecessary work they have less time to engage their constituents and cause the imbalance to move swiftly away from them. Without their engagement they become more and more like figure heads being controlled by public administrators. The tail waging the dog comes to mind.

The Goal of E-Governance

The goal of E-Governance should be to engage the constituent on both the administration and elected official fronts evenly. By allowing input for public policy by the elected official and the day to day dealing of the administration all parties are in balance. All parties have to change and with change comes the fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) of a new power shift. We as a democratic people need to positively affect change and allow our governments to act on our behalf and not become slave to their own inefficient processes.

I will address on the next post the effects of e-Business on the traditional business model and you will see the striking similarities.

For both the e-Business model and the e-Governance model once you change the balance on one of the legs you have created transformation. Just streamlining or updating the current balance is a modernization exercise. Affecting the balance, causes by its very nature transformation issues.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Colonel John R Boyd the true public servant gave the world with his obsession, the OODA loop.  You see the good colonel was confused as to why he was so successful in defeating his opponents at the Top Gun academy.  He pondered why he was able to be so successful with a lower quality aircraft and with the same training.  Most people would have approached the problem with why is my opponent not good or from a position of "I am just that good".  Mr Boyd, who did not lack any ego still was humble enough to look deeper.  His quest led him to analyse all the great battles in history and looked at alternatives as to why the battle was won and lost.  The culmination of this research led to the infamous "Patterns of Conflict"power point presentation.  From this research the OODA loop was created.  All his research was for public consumption for he believed being the benefactor of the public purse for his career it was morally wrong for him to benefit privately from it.  This cannot be said by some of his comrades and again gives insight into his personality.  His research is brilliant in its brevity and clarity. Many firms like IBM have refactored his code and called it Sense and Respond.  What a twist of fate, making money selling back the Military their idea.  The classic consultant gig of a consultant borrowing your watch to tell you what time it is and charging you for it comes to mind.  You have to love the irony in that one.

All this to say, that I use the OODA loop all the time for quick operational items, tactical projects and more importantly strategic matters.  I also use this thinking in my Basketball coaching, it is that relevant and open.  The basis of all trouble shooting verses parts replacing is within the OODA loop.  Now let me explain the Loop.

The first "O" in the loop.  This is the simple act of just looking with your eyes at the world around you.  Nothing more.  When you are called to someones office and you start to walk to that location, look around you.  What do you see?  Make mental note of this.  When you are looking at problem what do you see?  In basketball, I ask my players, look for the ball.  What do you see? 

This is a passive step and it the passive event of looking.  

The second "O" in the Loop.  The is the active act of orientation to the observation.  Now you need to adjust your thoughts to what you have seen.  If it is an error message, you start to ask yourself "what was the user doing?".  My favourite question is asking "what changed".  The orientation step takes into account all matters of the known and the inquisitive.  Political factors, Social factors, business factors and technical factors all play in this realm.  You need to put context to the first observation.  This is where you can take a baseline and make statements such as I am in the presidents office, the scroll lock is on and the screen is saying the password is incorrect and you have observed the obvious frustration.  The culmination of the observations and the orientation of the ancillary factors will lead to options for resolution.

I find many people do not take the time to orient themselves to the problem and more importantly the observations.  This lack of interest in orienting to observations manifests into rudeness,  lack of concern and many failed attempts at resolution.  I cannot stress enough how important this element is to the overall process.

This becomes the difference between fixing problem or addressing a symptom.  Take the time, do the research and put your observations into context.  At this stage, I seek out the "moss backs" or "lifers" of a company to get some idea of why and how certain things have happened.  

In basketball, I ask my players, who has the ball?  If it is us, then we must be on offence.  If we are on offense and you do not have the ball, then what are the offensive decisions you need to think about.  That is the next stage.

This is the "D" in the Loop.  This is the step that takes into account "make a decision".  After you have observed something and have taken into account the periphery issues you can now put into focus your options.  This in turn creates your decision.  The decision itself is just a course of action based on what you saw and what you learn about your observation.  Weighing the pros and cons of the decisions is influenced by your orientation step.

Will you buy or build your software?  Will you implement the change?  Who will you assign this project to?  These are the questions that need to get answered and the previous two steps allow you to make better pragmatic decisions.

Going back to the basketball analogy, if we have the ball and you do not have the ball then you have two decisions to make.  Move towards the ball or away from the ball.  By working on decision based thinking your team is elevated from the stress of guessing and becomes a more accountable group.

The "A" in the loop.  The elusive action stage.  All too many groups, make great observations, relevant and accurate orientations and make sound decision choices but fail to act.  The implementation of the decision is paramount.  Without it we get analysis paralysis and foster a culture of complaints and whining.  Action must be clear and be specific to the decision.  You must act respectfully in the spirit of the decision.  Deciding to do one thing and then acting to the contrary is a colossal waste of time and energy.

The basketball scenario completes this step in this example by going away from the ball to an open place on the court.

And the loop continues
Once you make your action the loop continues all over again.  This is the part where you get to observe what your action did.  The cause and effect part.  Your action will have impacted the process and now you start all over again to see how that action has affected the original observation.  Is the problem fixed?, did the desired affect occur?  All these things are now relevant.

The basketball player who moved to the open space on the floor, needs to find the ball again and orient themselves to the new reality and make decisions according.  The next decisions and actions will be determined on these revisits of Observe, Orient, Decide and Actions

In the John R. Boyd world if you can get inside your opponent's OODA loop then victory is certain.  This is due in large part to your opponent now being directed by your actions and therefore is behind in their processing.  The faster your loops are processed and the more experience and exposure you get the better your decision making is and therefore your actions will be more effective.

An OODA loop can exist in nanoseconds (Emergency conditions like a vehicle accident about to happen) to hours, days and even years (Strategic Planning).  The key is to be consistent and to educate as you communicate to your staff when they are not performing the loop effectively.

It is very powerful and is worthy of the attention of a young manager.

Monday, February 2, 2009


The IT Stack as I have so affectingly named it has been drawn on so many napkins and scraps of paper that at times I find it difficult to take myself seriously.  Then I look with amazement on the eyes of the recipient to realize it is as relevant today as it was in the early nineties when I was first exposed to it.

Yes, sometimes, the simple is really the best approach.  I am visual and therefore this imagery is even more powerful to someone like me.

To the young Information Technology leader this becomes your compass for how and why decisions will be made.

I will explain the diagram from the bottom up for that is how we provide value to deliver the why of an organization problem.  This is not just some trite literary play on words.  The difference between how and why is the difference between organizational success and technological blunders.  The latter is all too common when the bells and whistles become more important than solving the business problem.   Do not chase the technology, but rather solve the organizational problem.

Here is the stack you can use to vet your solutions and their overall placement.  Learn to draw this quickly on napkins and the backs of envelopes.

The Network

This is the basic pipes and plumbing of the Information Technology infrastructure.  This is the physical cabling of the network, or the wireless infrastructure that allows your computers and users to talk to each other.  This is all the telecommunications lines you have going into your buildings and branch offices to extend the reach of your connected devices and users.

Watch the monthly costs from your telecom provider to ensure you are getting the best value for your dollar.

Your networks need to be stable and built like a utility.  By that I mean your users must have the same faith in plugging in a computer network cable as they do plugging in a toaster.  When this focus is maintained confidence will be raised in your users.  Your users should NOT know what type of network you have and how it is laid out.  No one cares except your team so stop trying to impress your bosses and other non-related business units with the how the ones and zeros travel between computers.  I cannot stress this enough.  When I go into organizations and their business leaders are exposing the details of their network both positive and negative I become deeply concerned.

Networks have to be built to be used and abused.  The physical plant should be well labeled and very well organized.  You would be amazed on how many problems are due to sloppy labeling and wiring connections.  Take pride in NOT having a rat’s nest for a wiring closet.

Technology Platform

This is the actual hardware that you can hug and hold and get all warm and fussy about.  This has the pretty lights and fans that go whir.  I get real serious about hardware and I standardize on what my team can support.  Being an IBM Bigot or DELL Bigot does not help you here.  This layer is now a commodity.  However, if you have excellent support from a vendor then make sure it has some value on the purchase side if they are not the cheapest vendor.  Having every make and model from every vendor out there does NOT help you.  Buying hardware you can make on your own is great if this is in your basement and you have no friends. It does not have a place in the business world.  Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.  Let’s be professional here.  You have much more important things to worry about.

The technology platform consists of the following  elements but is not limited to these.

  •   Routers, switches, hubs
  •  Firewalls
  •  Servers
  •  Desktops
  • Laptops
  • Mobile devices
  • Storage Arrays
  • Printers
  • Scanners
  • Access points

All technology equipment must be respective and supportive of the network layer.  These two layers depend completely on each other.  Any mismatches here can have serious repercussions.


This is where the rubber hits the road or the user interacts with the system.  This should be the only piece of the technology a user can explain and get intimate and animated with.  The software should fill the organizational goal.  The goal may be just a simple tool for adding rows and columns (read spreadsheet) or the goal may be to have a modern and robust warehouse management system.  The user interaction should be respectful of who is engaged in the process/system.   A repetitive theme in my posts is “if you wouldn’t use it then why are you releasing it”.

The application must also be written to be complimentary to the technology it is sitting on. No use in building a behemoth memory intensive system if in fact the user experience can only support minimal processing capacity.  Use some forethought. 

Like the interdependencies between the technology layer and the network layer so is the application layer to the technology layer. There is one exception for the application layer though and that is the application should also be sensitive and supportive of the network.  A final check between the application layer and the network layer is paramount.  You must be aware if your application cannot support a high speed network.  All too often software programmers have no understanding of how networks actually work and therefore their applications do not provide a proper user experience.

A simple list of some application layers are as follows;

  • Office productivity tools (MS Office, Open Office, Lotus Smartsuite, WordPerfect)
  • Operating systems
  • SAP
  • Peoplesoft
  • Warehouse Management Systems (WMS)
  • Transportation Management Systems (TMS)
  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
  • Business Intelligence
  • Sharepoint
  • Email
  • Text Messaging
  • On screen programming for your Satellite receiver
  • Firmware
  • Content Management Systems
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • And many more.  The list is endless


This is the actual business or organizations drivers to proceed with any effort.  This is the problem that is being solved and interaction should only be with the software application layer.  The organizational leadership should not know about the hardware and/or the network that is delivery the solution.  This is so critical.  The bottom layers should be hidden from the system users.  If they know the intimate workings of your solutions then you have failed.  I cannot stress this enough.

The interaction is just between the problem and the solution (application user interface).  The solution may have all elements of the layers in the ultimate solutions but that is not what the organization needs to know or really should care about.  Sometimes when I am in a meeting with the business units and my team is present the conversation will typically lead to one of my team member saying something like “well that will be a performance hog or man that is a lot of data” and my internal or sadly at times external response will be “so what”. That is the correct answer.  Sometimes to really solve a problem we will have to update the technology, applications and the network and that is our job.  That is our problem and the business users.


This is the value we bring to the organization.  We bring the HOW the problem will be solved.  We bring recommendations to the organization to give them the tools to succeed. 

We bring value through a relevant application layer that is sitting on a stable and effective technology layer and is running on a ubiquitous reliable network layer that is responsive back to the application layer.


The decision making process is from TOP down.  The organization provides the WHY and the Information Technology group responds with an effective HOW.  I am a strong proponent of Information Technology providing recommendations and the organizational leadership provides decisions.

But before you give me “your shitting me, right”.  There are some decisions that fall in the complete purview of Information Technology leadership. These decisions will always be based on business realities and sound business judgment.  The ultimate network layer and technology layer are decisions that I do not give up without a fierce fight.  However, before these decisions are made I take time to understand our budgets, long term plans, support skills etc.  Once the standard is set by the Information Technology group then we only need to get approval for funding and not the actual decisions

I was once told if you can’t explain an idea on the back of an envelope or a napkin it is not worth pursuing.  If this is the case, the IT stack is a sure winner in this category.