TAC Talk Episode 3: Reducing Baseline Costs through Better Demand Management

Recorded July 24, 2015
A conversation about Demand Management between TAC president Peter Schay and TAC expert Patrick Savard, who consults with Fortune 500 businesses to provide solutions which help companies optimize their IT spending and maximize the value of their IT investments.

How IT Advisory Services Should Work

Designed as a stand-alone, on-demand advisory service for the occasional user, the TACwizard has no seat licenses, no restrictions on the use of information internally, and no strings attached.

tacwizardOn Tuesday, March 10, at 8:30 AM EDT, a new type of IT advisory service launches. TAC (The Advisory Council) has been changing the way IT advisory services work for well over a decade, first by building one of the world’s largest private networks of vetted expert IT practitioners, then by introducing Expertise-as-a-Service® (EaaS™) . TAC now introduces the world to the TACwizard.

You may have seen a number of articles and endless tweets referring to this launch. It’s a concept and service we’re really proud of, because it completely changes the way IT advisory services are delivered.

Traditionally, IT advisory services have been delivered in the form of white paper research compiled by analysts. Written for large enterprises, and sometimes “sponsored” by vendors, the advice is difficult if not impossible to scale to smaller enterprises and midmarket companies. TAC changed the game when it built a network of hundreds of expert practitioners and gave clients the ability to leverage this network through phone consultations and documents custom-written in the client’s context. Further, TAC did away with seat licenses and restrictions on information sharing within the client organization, reducing the cost and increasing the quality and value of IT advisory services.

Over the years, TAC has added a number of other services leveraging the same expert practitioner network. These EaaS™ offerings bring a level of quality to smaller IT departments that were once only available to large enterprises.

The TACwizard is the latest in these offerings. Designed as a stand-alone, on-demand advisory service for the occasional user, the TACwizard has no seat licenses, no restrictions on the use of information internally, and no strings attached. A user simply creates a free account and asks their tactical, strategic, functional or operational IT question to the TACwizard. A few days later they receive a response to their question (a mini-bio of the expert that answered the question is also included with the response).

That’s it.

We hope you’ll take a look and give it a try. We believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the quality of information, the ease of use, and the speed of the responses to the questions you ask.

You can follow the countdown at the TACwizard website, and if you have any questions, please contact us.

Regards,

Mike Greene
Vice President
TAC

Six Easy Ways to Get More Done in Less Time

We still have only twenty-four hours in a day, seven days in a week, and to-do lists that continue to grow. Large companies get around many time limitations by buying more time in the form of employee man-hours, but not all of us can afford to do this.

We made it to the new year, but some things never change. We still have only twenty-four hours in a day, seven days in a week, and to-do lists that continue to grow. Large companies get around many time limitations by buying more time in the form of employee man-hours, but not all of us can afford to do this. It becomes important, therefore, to get more done in the hours one has. This means using time more efficiently and minimizing distractions. Here are six easy tips that will help you accomplish this:

  1. Don’t let emails and texts become a distraction – it takes between 10 and 15 minutes to get back on task after an interruption. Shut off the notifications on your laptop, tablet, and smart phone that warn you that emails or texts have come in. Then check and respond to your emails and texts only a few times a day, like first thing in the morning, noon, and 4:00 PM. Give yourself a half hour (or other appropriate amount of time) to respond to the emails and texts
  2. Don’t answer the phone unless you really have to… Or it’s a customer – the same rules apply here as they do to emails and texts. The only difference is that you have to be aware of providing the best customer service you can, and that may mean answering the phone for customers and clients. Again, check voice-mails only a few times a day and respond as necessary.
  3. Tie your to-do list to your calendar – Most of us have a to-do list, and that list seems to get longer, not shorter, as time goes on. We then have trouble prioritizing and reshuffling the tasks and fewer and fewer of them get done. Part of the problem lies with due dates of “soon”, “sometime next week”, and “ASAP”. Since these are abstract ideas of time, the human brain doesn’t process them the same way as a hard due date. By putting tasks on your calendar with blocks of time to accomplish them, just as you would set an appointment, you automatically prioritize the tasks and reserve the proper amount of time to get that task done. Make sure that if the task is more than a few days out, you set periodic reminders for yourself.
  4. Delegate wherever and whenever possible –Much of the time we find ourselves doing things ourselves that we can delegate to others, freeing up our valuable time for those things we can’t delegate. Make sure that when you delegate a task, you assign it in writing with a due date, and if the due date is more than a few days out, make sure you get periodic status reports. Most CRMs (Customer Relationship Management systems) allow you to assign tasks to others. If you don’t have a CRM, do it on a shared calendar.
  5. Share your calendar – It’s important that others on your team know what you’re doing and when you’re doing it so they know when not to disturb you. By calendaring tasks (above) and sharing that calendar, you indicate the times you are busy, removing in-office distractions.
  6. Access Expertise-as-a-Service when and where needed – by using experts to get the information you need in the proper context, you shorten the amount of time needed to make mission-critical decisions, freeing up time to do other important tasks.

Try these tips for 60 days. Why 60? Because it will take you at least 30 days to break the habits of looking at your smart phone 50-100 times a day and keeping your email folders open. After using these methods for a few months, I think you’ll find that it’s easier to get more things done faster, with less aggravation and better results.

Have you tried any of these tips before? how did they work for you? What advice do you have to use time efficiently? Please comment to let us know.

Rabbit Season, Duck Season, Budget Season

Reevaluating services and looking for options is always a good idea. It keeps you up-to-date on new technologies, new services, and new engagement models that could reduce your need (and cost) for some services and replace them with lower-cost, higher-value ones.

In the confluence of seasons, deadlines, holidays and budget cycles, little things can make a huge difference.

One of my favorite cartoons growing up was Bugs Bunny, and one of my favorite Bugs Bunny cartoons was (and still is) “Rabbit Seasoning”, written in 1952 by Chuck Jones and voiced by the immortal Mel Blanc. In this cartoon, Daffy Duck tries to get Elmer Fudd to shoot Bugs (as usual), which backfires on Daffy (pun intended), multiple times. The difference between getting shot and not getting shot is the strategic use of pronouns. You can watch a clip of the cartoon here:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6e1hZGDaqIw?version=3&rel=0&fs=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent]

The takeaway is that doing something small, (like changing a pronoun) can have a drastic impact on outcomes.

This time of year is full of decisions: personal, professional and business. Budgets need to be both reconciled and projected, new services acquired, and old ones reexamined for the coming year. The leaders of organizations find themselves in one of two equally stressful positions, possibly both: either they have money left in the budget that they have not spent yet, or they’ve been given the same budget as last year and have greater demands for the coming year.

So, you have money left in last year’s budget? Good for you!

You’ve worked hard this last year to save what you could, and now you are reaping the rewards… tough decisions about where to allocate remaining budget dollars from this year. You are likely asking yourself and your trusted advisors, “what can we invest in now to make our lives easier in 2015?”

Stuck with Last Year’s Budget for Next Year’s Demands?

You’ve been hit with the second edge of that double-edged sword. You got through the year on the budget you were allocated, and maybe had a little left over, so now “the powers-that-be” want you to do it all over again, but with bigger demands than last year’s. That’s going to mean reevaluating and possibly replacing expensive outside services with lower-cost ones.

Compromise? Nope.

Reevaluating services and looking for options is always a good idea. It keeps you up-to-date on new technologies, new services, and new engagement models that could reduce your need (and cost) for some services and replace them with lower-cost, higher-value ones. For instance, now is the perfect time to investigate our Advisory Services, personalized, in-context, actionable advice and information with truly unique deliverables, and TAC Insights, a semi-monthly information and intelligence report on current IT trends and topics. Both are a low-cost, high-value services designed to make your life easier now and in 2015 – with satisfaction guaranteed.

We know we’re not the only ones out there, but we are the only ones out there that do what we do, the way we do it. In a new year with new challenges, better decision-making, productivity and collaboration can make all the difference to you and your team. A small change with a dramatic impact? That’s TAC. You really do owe it to yourself to make your life easier in the new year. Let us know how we can help and we’ll get it done.

Oh, and have a happy Thanksgiving!

Why You Should Rethink Making That New Software Purchase

Investing in new software to resolve an issue within businesses is a common but often misguided solution, since many times the required functionality already exists within the business’s software portfolio or is available at some level for free on the Internet.

Investing in new software to resolve an issue within businesses is a common but often misguided solution, since many times the required functionality already exists within the business’s software portfolio or is available at some level for free on the Internet.

An investment in software always deserves a lot of thought. Even SaaS (Software as a Service – internet-based software accessed through a browser) software can be expensive for the enterprise, and comparatively more so for the small business. So how can a business determine if and when it’s time to commit to spending the money?

Look at the software you already have. You’d be surprised at the amount of functionality you have in the software you already own/lease that you’re not using (or not using properly). By some estimates, a full 75-80% of the functionality engineered into some software goes unused. The reason for this is that software is usually purchased to solve one immediate problem, and, once solved, the user goes no further in learning about other features/functionality of that software. As a business grows, other needs arise and, since the previous software wasn’t purchased to solve the current problem, little or no thought is given to investigating the unused features of that software. In addition, software is constantly updated, and the functionality you are looking for may have been added since you made the original purchase.

Is there freeware/shareware that will solve your problem? For the larger businesses, enterprise-class open source software is a very real option these days. Almost every type of business productivity tool is available for free online either for a trial period or for an unlimited time for a small group of users – usually with some limitations. Available on most platforms, this type of software is great for small groups looking to “kick the tires” on new functionality within the enterprise without any financial outlay for software acquisition. Cost usually enters in only when customization and support are needed from the software vendor.

Small businesses need to keep in mind that nothing on the internet is really free (you may not pay with cash but you pay with your eyeballs or data instead – banner ads on the screens you’re using, sharing personal and/or business data with the vendor). However, there is a wide range of productivity tools and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software that you can use with no immediate financial outlay.  Software companies give free access to their software for individuals and small groups with the idea that as your business grows, you’ll pay to expand your use and the functions you need. Using freeware/shareware even for a limited time, gives you the opportunity to evaluate various options and to determine whether you really need to make the investment in time and money. Keep in mind any regulations, like HIPAA, when dealing with personally identifiable information and financial/health records.

Examine the business case and timing of the purchase. Will the purchase, training, and ultimately the use of the software increase sales and/or reduce cost? What are you currently spending (in person hours) to accomplish what the software will automate, and how much less time will it take after implementation? If this functionality is new to the business, what is the expected ROI (return on investment) and when will it be realized? Only once all of those questions have been answered to support the business case does timing come into play. Budget is usually the biggest factor for putting off a purchase, but one also needs to look to see if an imminent major release for this software is scheduled. If so, it may pay to wait until that new release comes out.

The Takeaway:

There are almost as many criteria for selecting software as there are software packages available for use. The key for the business is to leverage what you already have for the new needs of the business, and find adequate free or low-cost solutions online (again keeping in mind security concerns/regulations) that will serve the immediate need. This way you get what you really need without incurring additional cost. As your business continues to grow and you’re in a better financial position or have a bigger budget, you may feel the need to upgrade to pay versions of freeware or transition to software that meets the new needs of your bigger business. In the meantime, you’ll know that you’ve gotten your money’s worth out of the investments you’ve already made.

What existing unused features did you find in the software you already have, before you went out and purchased the same features from another vendor? do you use freeware/shareware? if so, what are you using and how? We’d like to hear it from you.

3 Reasons Advisory Services Fail… And Why You Need One

Traditional advisory services companies are not really advisory companies; they are research companies. They don’t give actionable advice, they provide “forward-looking information” based on research and the past performance of clients and other companies. In other words, they are in the “past and future” business.

Many IT organizations today use traditional advisory services. The reasons they use them vary, but it is usually to gain the advantage of expertise, information, and actionable advice that the organization does not have access to in-house. The personnel within the organization who use these services varies, but because of the high per-user costs, the users are generally higher level managers and executives. But regardless of the who and why, traditional advisory services companies continue to fail their clients.

They look into the crystal ball… They don’t eat the glass

Traditional advisory services companies are not really advisory companies; they are research companies. They don’t give actionable advice, they provide “forward-looking information” based on research and the past performance of clients and other companies. In other words, they are in the “past and future” business.  Anyone who has ever purchased a mutual fund has heard the phrase “past performance does not guarantee future results” and other “Safe Harbor” statements,  yet it is these predictions based on past performance that enterprises rely on to make decisions, and they are finding that in an era of fluctuating economics and the rapid growth of disruptive technologies, the predictions are becoming less and less accurate and so are becoming less and less valuable. Traditional advisory services “hide” these inaccuracies by issuing “revised estimates” essentially saying, “we got that one wrong folks, but now we’re right… until the next revision”.

Being in the “past and future” business, these companies leave out the one place we actually do business… in the present.

One size fits all… Except that it doesn’t

Only in the business world would a company that provides “food for thought” ironically license by the “seat”. We all know that prices are somewhat negotiable, but for traditional advisory services companies, seat licensing is the norm, meaning a small or medium-sized business (SMB) will pay the same price (or more) for a seat as a Fortune 100 company. This “seat license” becomes a much bigger percentage of the IT spend for an SMB; some companies can only afford a single seat, and many can’t even afford that. Add to that the fact that only the seat holder can access the information, and must then “digest” and reformat the information so it can be used by the rest of the team without violating the advisory services contract, wasting the time and effort of what is usually a senior manager. This greatly reduces productivity and collaboration.

Since advisory services companies make most of their money catering to the large enterprises, most of their research is targeted at these enterprises, leaving the SMB to figure out for themselves whether the information has any relevance at all to their unique situation.

“I’ll do anything for you, but I won’t do that!”

Traditional Advisory services companies use analysts to do research and write their findings into white papers. Each analyst is immersed in a single subject matter area and does not stray into other areas. For that reason, it is difficult for these types of advisory services groups to provide information in niche areas or very new markets. Clients who have questions that fall outside the knowledge base of the analysts are stuck without an answer; and unless the advisory services group feels that it would be profitable for them to add an analyst in that area, the client will never get an answer to that particular query.

Why you need advisory services

The irony is that you need an advisory services company for the exact reasons that traditional advisory services companies fail. You need access to practicing professionals who can give you real world advice and information in the context of your own organization and circumstances. You need services that are scalable to both your size and budget, and save you time by providing these services to your whole IT organization instead of a single seat. And you need to be able to get information in niche areas and in a specific context.

Companies employing the Expertise-as-a-Service® (EaaS™) business model have been able to overcome these failings of traditional advisory services organizations. The EaaS™ delivery model uses a network of practicing experts instead of analysts, so the information available is firsthand and current. Because of the nature of the expert network, it is easy to add expertise to cover emerging technologies and other niche areas of interest to a single client; and because of the EaaS™ business model, costs are greatly reduced, since a company does not need to pass on the high cost of maintaining a bench of full-time analysts.

Advisory Services groups using the EaaS™ business model deliver highly personalized, highly targeted, and highly contextualized, actionable advice and information to the individual client, regardless of the size of the company or IT organization.

Which is why you need an advisory service in the first place, isnt it?

Business After the Fiscal Cliff

While the Federal Government seems to want to act out the final scene from “Thelma and Louise” with our economy, we can’t wait for someone to hit the brakes. Regardless of what the government does (or does not do) in the next few days to avert the fiscal cliff, we do know that taxes will go up on those making at least $400,000, including small businesses.

While the Federal Government seems to want to act out the final scene from “Thelma and Louise” with our economy, we can’t wait for someone to hit the brakes. Regardless of what the government does (or does not do) in the next few days to avert the fiscal cliff, we do know that taxes will go up on those making at least $400,000, including small businesses. We know this because if the government takes us over the cliff (which, in actuality works well for both parties), the “Bush Era” tax cuts will expire, and they won’t all be coming back. We also know that there will likely be changes to the tax code in the coming months as part of the “fiscal cliff deal”, but there seems to be no consensus on what those changes will be.

So, assuming that is the case, business must still go on. Because of the continuing uncertainty, the likely scenario will be more belt-tightening, fewer hires, and maybe even a few layoffs, depending on how long the government allows this to go on. In the IT world, most organizations have already cut to the bone, and many are unable to keep up with demand as it is, and we all know that demand is likely to increase.

So what can an IT director or CIO do to ensure minimal impact on their organization?

  • Increase efficiency – collaboration and better use of time makes the need for overtime hours or more staff unnecessary.
  • Re-prioritize – look at what is important rather than merely urgent.
  • Find high-value/low-cost services that make it easier for you to make decisions, and faster for your team to get things done
  • Structure your financial model to be lower fixed-cost with more variable cost options.
  • Get more and better buy-in for projects from the business stakeholders.

As we move into the new year, IT needs to be able to plan for the unknown, be ready for changing demand, and become a more flexible and agile organization.

The Advisory Council can help.

Two-Thirds of IT Pros Say BYOD Connectivity Increases Company Costs — Duh!

BYOD isn’t about cost reduction; it’s about responding to psychologically driven demands from end-users. Employees in today’s consumer-oriented culture expect to be able to “have it your way,” regardless of whether there is any financial benefit to the business.

by Peter Schay, President and CEO of TAC

I recently saw an article which quoted from an obviously self-serving vendor survey of attendees at an industry conference that, “67% of respondents think that BYOD increases IT and security costs.”

Give me a break. Does anyone really think that bring-your-own-device would reduce costs? BYOD isn’t about cost reduction; it’s about responding to psychologically driven demands from end-users. The vendors of smartphones and tablets, led by Apple, have developed devices with wonderful visual and functional appeal, and have marketed them consummately. Employees in today’s consumer-oriented culture expect to be able to “have it your way,” regardless of whether there is any financial benefit to the business.

IT leaders inevitably have to be responsive “to the business,” but BYOD — far more than PCs in the 1980s — conflates end-user desires with actual business needs. Since business executives are likely to be among those end-users demanding support for some sexy smartphone or tablet, political imperatives require support for BYOD lest — as is so often the case among business executives — IT be perceived as once again obstructionist.

Costs could conceivably go down with BYOD, but only if two policies are implemented: (1) employees with BYOD are on their own when it comes to wireless carrier charges, while the enterprise absorbs the carrier charges for company-owned devices, and (2) “support” from IT is limited to allowing BYOD connection to the enterprise network, without IT involvement in the management of the device. The problem, of course, with policy (2) is the huge security exposure it creates. Also, even if an organization is willing to live with security risks of (2), how likely is it that BYOD users are not going to call the help desk when they have problems?

TAC has helped clients successfully address BYOD issues (policies, device management, security, etc.) in industries ranging from manufacturing to professional services. If you’re struggling with BYOD issues, contact us — we can also help you.

EaaS 101: The Fundamentals of Expertise-as-a-Service

EaaS is an extension of the SaaS philosophy, allowing the procurement of information, expertise, performance management and measurement and other necessary IT services the same way. This way of thinking is not new to the enterprise; legal and finance departments have leveraged outside counsel and accounting firms for decades.

In today’s economic environment, IT departments are seeing higher demand without an increase in budget. In addition, CFOs are demanding more accountability and want to be able to measure return on their IT investment. Corporate boards want to see IT transform from cost center to profit generator. Smart CIOs have been able to reduce infrastructure and software costs by leveraging SaaS and IaaS, and now, with EaaS (Expertise-as-a-Service®), other IT costs be reduced or contained, while increasing the IT department’s flexibility to handle fluctuating demand.

In order to understand EaaS, one must first understand the fundamentals of SaaS (software-as-a-service) and IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service). These services reduce costs because they are:

  • On demand – rapid startup with no “installation” or maintenance
  • Ubiquitous – Instantly “there” and easy to use, with no additional infrastructure or personnel needed
  • Scalable – can quickly add/remove service as demand requires.
  • Cost effective – economies of scale and no additional hardware or personnel  keep costs low

As an example, since SaaS means that you no longer have to have software running on your own in-house servers and PCs, you save by reducing the size of or eliminating your data centers, reducing the number of full-time employees tasked with maintaining the software and the hardware it runs on, and in many cases, reducing the need for the company to provide computers, as more organizations have adopted BYOD (bring your own device) policies. Extending this trend, many companies are now implementing IaaS strategies, moving data storage and servers “to the cloud.” Again, this reduces the number of full-time employees necessary to maintain an in-house infrastructure, but allows growth instantly as it is needed.

EaaS is an extension of this philosophy, allowing the procurement of information, expertise, performance management and measurement and other necessary IT services the same way. This way of thinking is not new to the enterprise; legal and finance departments have leveraged outside counsel and accounting firms for decades. The IT department is one of the last of the major departments within the corporation to move to this low-fixed-cost model, relying on outside sources for as-needed expertise. Just like SaaS and IaaS, EaaS brings cost savings by enabling IT to reduce and reallocate resources while having “on demand” access to the needed expertise, information, and performance measurement to use whenever and however it is needed.

CIOs and IT executives are finally transitioning their IT departments to the lower fixed cost financial model that EaaS allows. With the budgeting cycle starting up again very soon, IT departments that embrace EaaS are finding that staying within a flat or shrinking budget, while dealing with increasing demand from the business, is less of a problem.

Bigger is not better… and here’s why.

Back in the 20th century, Big was a good thing. Economies of scale meant that Big could produce things faster and cheaper. Big used to mean stable, reliable, bulletproof, Indestructible. This is no longer the case.

Back in the 20th century, Big was a good thing. Economies of scale meant that Big could produce things faster and cheaper.  Big used to mean stable, reliable, bulletproof, Indestructible. All of the best thinkers and innovators worked for Big. If the big guys were doing it, it meant that it was the right thing to do. If small businesses wanted to compete, they needed to emulate as much of the Big business model as they could.

If we’ve learned anything from the “Great Recession”, it is that this is no longer the case. The “Big” of the 21st century now means fallible, inflexible, hierarchical, slow to react, and expensive.

The economies of scale have largely been done away with in the information age. Small has access to the same tools and information that Big does. Small is more agile, proactive, faster to market, more cutting edge and more cost-effective. Doing business with Small gives you these advantages:

  • Small not only wants to do business with you, they need to do business with you, meaning more advantageous contract terms.
  • Small now has the best thinkers and innovators.
  • Small business can better meet your needs quickly with customized solutions.
  • Small often has better customer service than Big (See first bullet).
  • Small cares more about your business than Big does.
  • Small can do things that Big can’t, because they are small.
  • Small costs less than Big does… without a sacrifice in quality.

The not so big secret is that in order to compete in the 21st century, Big is getting smaller. Big has split off whole divisions into independent businesses, or has at least thought about it (IBM and HP personal computing – IBM sold to Lenovo, HP was looking for a buyer). They outsource everything they can to smaller companies, nowhere is this seen more than in IT. Independent consulting (i.e. not an employee, but the smallest unit of a small business) is thriving. Companies are using hosted software and cloud computing to “downsize” their own data centers. Companies of all sizes are now looking more and more for Expertise-as-a-Service (EaaS) to enable big companies to get smaller, and for small companies to have the same tools and expertise as the big guys.

Faster, better, more cost-effective, customizable, higher value, flexible, cutting edge. No matter how you look at it, doing business with small companies brings great competitive advantage, where in the last century, the opposite was the case.

In other words, Small is the new Big.