I had the opportunity to attend Cisco’s annual Partner Summit last month and I am excited about the news announced at the summit as well as the valuable conversations I had with our partners. The reoccurring topics I heard included cloud, innovation, speed, scale and, most importantly, differentiation.
The partners I spoke with viewed exceptional service as a key enabler of future growth. As solutions get ever more complex, partners increasingly look to services as their key competitive differentiator.
Partners have a unique opportunity to leverage recent Cisco investments in software enabled services to enable differentiation. In discussions at Partner Summit, one question came up time and again:
“Customers are demanding more complex solutions, but they want a simpler support experience – how do we balance these seemingly competing objectives?”
Multi-vendor solutions are by their nature complex. Integrating support across these disparate components enables partners to create a simplified support experience – speeding resolution times and increasing transparency across the support process. Customers also look for integrated SLA’s, no matter how many parties might be involved in delivering support.
By connecting all service partners in the cloud, partners can deliver a unified support experience, opening new opportunities for partners to provide differentiated services. Better still, this “ecosystem” of connections in the cloud enables automation of IT service management and better exchange of support information between providers and customers for faster mean time to resolution for IT issues.
One partner at the forefront of this new paradigm is BORN Green Technologies of Switzerland. I caught up with Patrick Spreng from BORN at Partner Summit. He told me about BORN customers who had visibility into multi-vendor support processes they’ve never had before, using Cisco ServiceGrid. What had previously seemed an unmanageable mess created from a highly fragmented environment was brought together into a single support experience – with one overall SLA. On a daily basis, Patrick reported, it just made support easier.
Services will continue to grow as a major competitive differentiator for partners. Partners that embrace new models and innovate in this space will win new customers. Nowhere is this more important than in managing the growing complexity customers are facing every day.
Cloud providers justifiably tout the ease and speed in which services can be implemented, but behind the curtain a dark reality lurks. “Easy on” is a key selling feature of cloud services and for good reason. I well remember leading enterprise application implementation projects in the pre-cloud era. The initial thrill of taking on a major new initiative that could transform the business was quickly overcome by the stark reality of years of highly complex work before going live, only to find out that you were several releases out of date and needed a multi-million dollar upgrade!
In my first major cloud project (to deploy a cloud service management application to 16,000 service engineers) we had users up and running in a couple of months. The business began seeing results quickly and as the software was upgraded we gained advantage of new features immediately. Soon after implementation, we began experiencing problems. It turned out all of the support and operational complexity had been masked from us. Behind the simple outward appearance lay dozens of different software, hardware, data centers and networks. The cloud service provider took first support calls, but getting issues resolved took a long time – and worse, we never were quite sure who was currently working the issue or the status.
Recent studies have identified service and support as the number one decision criteria for customers purchasing new cloud services. In fact, one recent study of the SMB market for cloud services found that the TOP THREE concerns were service related:
Provide an SLA to ensure application is accessible at all times (53%)
Provide 24x7 customer support (47%)
Provide better notification of upgrades, changes and downtime (45%)
Much as cloud providers would like to address these concerns, it’s very difficult operationally to do so because of the multiple back end providers. Cloud customers, in turn, typically use phone, web or email interface with cloud providers to raise and get status on service incidents, so they have no real-time or proactive visibility into issues or outages. As companies put more mission critical applications into the cloud, this dysfunctional support model is causing growing concern and slowing the adoption of cloud services.
Cisco believes the answer is simple. No matter how many different providers might have to get involved to solve a problem, to the original customer it should look like one organization. All information, data and workflows would be shared in an automated way, eliminating manual practices and bottlenecks. Cisco ServiceGrid enables such integration with a “connect once, connect all” approach, integrating all participants in the support process to the cloud platform only once, instead of integrating everyone one at a time. In speaking with customers who have moved to such a model, they report 40% or more reduction in case resolution times and lower support costs. More importantly, the end user sees what’s happening on the case while it is happening – no finding out hours or days later – resulting in real time SLA’s.
The promise of cloud is incredible, however, cloud customers and cloud service providers need to recognize and address the growing concern about how it will all be supported. Together we can remove a powerful obstacle to cloud adoption, by adding an “easy button” for multi-party support.
When I ask IT executives how happy they are with their external support providers (outsourcers, vendors, etc.) invariably they express deep frustration. They look to these vendors to be real partners – to collaborate effectively and seamlessly, to do their job efficiently and transparently, and to bring real innovation to the table. Instead, they feel like they go into combat every day with these supposed “partners”. And, they say, it’s getting worse. But what has changed?
Over the past several years the number of support providers IT organizations deal with has increased exponentially (one analyst firm estimates a 400% increase over five years). Moreover, the complexity of the relationships is growing – no longer are support transactions limited to just one partner, in many cases incidents bounce between several different partners before they are resolved. Then there is cloud. Cloud makes consumption easy, but hidden behind this “easy on” experience is a highly complex support reality. Cloud services might look like one unified solution when they’re purchased, but in reality cloud services incorporate software, hardware, data centers, and networks from dozens of providers – when something goes wrong, it isn’t easy to even figure out where the problem is – let alone get it fixed.
But the paradigm for managing these relationships has stayed basically the same for decades. At the end of the month vendors provide reports on their own performance. Most IT organizations have teams of people that sift through these reports, consolidate them into spreadsheets, summarize and analyze. This reactive, long lag time model doesn’t support the business need for flexibility and agility.
Cisco believes what IT needs is a “dynamic support network” – whereby IT organizations have real time connections to support providers – all linked back to the system of record IT relies on to manage support. It shouldn’t be sufficient to find out at the end of the month that target SLA’s have been missed – IT needs to know if the SLA on the incident that is open NOW is going to be missed, allowing it to proactively ensure it meets the SLA.
Interestingly, when I talk with external support providers like outsourcers or managed service providers, they have exactly the same requirement. They want to see the incident they are working on from the point of view of the person who originally opened the ticket, not just from when they were brought into the process. They truly do want to partner – and in fact to delight – their customer. They recognize the customer is ultimately the end user, and it is the end users expectation they want to manage to. To accomplish this, they need to be integrated with their customers – their own dynamic network – with real time visibility and transparency into when the incident was raised, the original SLA, what has already happened on that incident, etc.
Cisco ServiceGrid is designed to solve this problem. With a “connect once, connect all” approach, ServiceGrid integrates all participants in the support process to the cloud platform only once, instead of integrating everyone one at a time. It allows companies to collaborate in real time to deliver services to a single customer. All information, data and workflows are shared in an automated way, eliminating manual practices and bottlenecks. From a customer perspective it looks like one company, even if two or more companies are working together to solve a case.