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.

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.

Do You Know the Difference Between an Analyst and an Expert?

Which should you consult for advice, an analyst or an expert practitioner? It depends on the information you are looking to get.

A number of winters ago, my son decided that he wanted to try snowboarding. As an avid skier, I was pleased that he wanted to learn (so I thought) how to snowboard. I told him that I would set up a trip to a nearby ski resort, and since he had never been snowboarding before, I would arrange to get him lessons with one of the pros there. His response was completely unexpected. He refused the lessons saying, “I don’t need lessons, I’ve already read everything I could find about how to snowboard and watched probably a hundred videos about how to do it.”

We went to the mountain, where he refused lessons a second time, rented him the necessary equipment, and shuffled off to the ‘bunny slope’. As a skier, I could offer no instruction, as the two sports are considerably different when it comes to technique. Needless to say, with no real snowboarding experience, he had a miserable time, and I had a miserable time watching him be miserable. He was on the slope for an hour, more or less when he decided to call it quits. I asked him if he wanted lessons at that point, and he said he was too tired to take lessons, but he should have started with them. We spent the rest of the day watching other snowboarders and skiers from the comfort of the lodge.

We both learned lessons that day, although they weren’t the intended ones. His snowboarding experience strongly illustrated the difference between an analyst and an expert practitioner.

Analysts know a lot about a particular subject. They have researched and read about a particular subject, and may also have written on the topic. However, they may have no real experience in doing what they read and write about. All of their knowledge comes not from doing, but from looking at the past work of others. That is not to say that analysts don’t have value. They can tell you what is currently happening in a particular subject matter area and they can spot trends. Many even try to predict what will happen in the future, though, like a weatherman, their predictions are inaccurate at best.

Expert practitioners, on the other hand, actually work in a particular subject matter area. They not only know a lot about a particular subject, they learn by experience. They therefore have a more intimate knowledge of the subject matter. Because of their experience, they can provide better insights and advice that is contextual and actionable. They not only spot trends, but help to create them. Better than anyone, they can tell you the state-of-the-art in their area of expertise because they work with it on a daily basis.

So, which should you consult for advice, an analyst or an expert practitioner? It depends on the information you are looking to get. If you are looking for trends and ‘forward looking statements’ (predictions), then maybe an analyst can give you what you want, but probably not in the context in which you want it. If you’re looking for a way to solve a problem, in-depth information about a particular subject in a particular context, a ‘reality check’, or actionable advice, go with the expert practitioner.

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?

The PowerPointless Presentation

Instead of a PowerPoint presentation, I offer a highly personalized discussion on their issues, their problems, and how we help clients. We talk to each other using their “real-world what-if’s” instead of me talking at them about how great my company is (and we really are great – call and find out).

I recently had the opportunity to speak in front of a small group of IT leadership from a mid-market company. As the Vice President of Sales for TAC (The Advisory Council – www.tacadvisory.com) I was there to “pitch” my company’s services and value to my audience, in response to an RFP. I came prepared, as I always do, with my PowerPoint presentation on my laptop, a copy of the presentation on my tablet (for smaller audiences or for one-on-one’s) and a third copy on a USB memory stick, in case I needed to use their equipment, and to leave behind so that they would have a copy of it to refer to.

As I walked into the room to “set up”, I saw that there were no projectors, screens, or any other A/V hookups in the conference room. It appeared that I would not be showing any slides that day… and I found myself strangely relieved.

If you’ve never given a “PowerPointless” presentation to an audience, try it some time; it’s truly liberating. Instead of standing in front of an audience in a darkened room, I sat at the table with them in a group. Instead of the usual “chalk talk” type of presentation, with the slides holding me “in line”, I got to really focus on the audience, and use their body language and visual cues to move the presentation to where they needed it to go. Instead of speaking to them I was speaking with them. Instead of asking if there were questions at the end of the “presentation”, I was able to look at a person in the audience after I said something, and state, “You have a question about what I just said, don’t you.” That allowed a single question to lead the discussion (it was no longer a presentation) in a direction that my slide deck would not have let me go.

In the end, the prospective client found out what they really needed to know… not about how wonderful our company is (it is wonderful) and how great our services are (they are great by-the-way), but exactly how their company could benefit from using our services and exactly how they would use us. My PowerPointless “presentation” became a series of “what if’s” using the company’s own issues and problems as examples.

At a “presentation” for another company later that day, I was ushered into a room with a larger group. The room was arranged with chairs in rows, people facing the front of the room. This time all the A/V equipment was there; the projector, laser pointer, etc. When everyone was settled, the group leader sat there, arms folded across his chest, and told me that they were ready for me to “WOW” them, that they were ready for my “dog and pony show” (his words). I knew what their expectations were, because they had just, sarcastically, been given to me. They expected me to show a slide presentation, talk at them for 20-30 minutes, and ask for questions at the end, a “typical” sales pitch.

I didn’t show a single slide.

I stood in front of them and spoke with them, again asking them what their issues were, what they needed from me, and how they needed it delivered. We played the “what if” game with their real-world problems, and I told them how my company could help, if we could, and what we couldn’t help them with, if we couldn’t. Again, a presentation became a conversation.

TAC prides itself on the ability to provide highly personalized service to its clients. Now when I go into a company to talk about what we do, I offer a highly personalized discussion on their issues, their problems, and how we help clients. We talk to each other using their “real-world what if’s” instead of me talking at them about how great my company is (and we really are great – call and find out). The prospective client gets the information they need to have, which cannot necessarily be engineered into any PowerPoint presentation in advance.

So now, if they want a PowerPoint presentation (and does anybody really?), I’ll leave them with one to look at after I leave.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, we got the business.

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.

A Learning Curve for Windows 8? Much Ado About Nothing, but Stick With Windows 7 for the Enterprise

Windows 8 really doesn’t bring anything new to the table of advantage to the enterprise. From a productivity standpoint, why introduce change and a learning curve, steep or otherwise, that returns no net return on productivity? The new Metro “Apps” have no useful place in the enterprise and were designed primarily for the consumer market, and for administrators, locking down these apps looks daunting.

I try to be an early adopter, as long as the cost is low. So when I had the opportunity to upgrade my personal laptop to Windows 8 for $15 (I had recently purchased 2 laptops, and Microsoft offers the $15 upgrade to recent purchasers of machines running Window 7), I took the plunge. After reading about the increased security, I knew I should do it for that reason alone. And after reading all the reviews about a steep learning curve, new “Apps”, and how it would be so different running it on a laptop as opposed to a tablet or touch screen device, I decided to do the upgrade anyway.

The upgrade itself was no big deal. The installation was effortless (I created media from which to do the install, one of the options available) but took a long time, since I elected to keep all of my files and settings. Once the laptop rebooted, I took to conquering the so-called steep learning curve, how the new Metro interface would change things forever on the laptop.

For anyone using a tablet of any kind, the learning curve is minimal. For those that have never used a tablet, the learning curve could be steeper, but it really isn’t that daunting.

Microsoft has essentially set up an “invisible” start button in the lower left hand corner of the screen that, when clicked with a mouse, opens the start screen instead of a start menu. Microsoft also starts you on the start screen instead of your old desktop. When on the desktop, nothing at all changed for me. It looks the same as my windows 7 desktop, minus the start button. All of the old keyboard commands and shortcuts work as they used to, all of my applications are the same, the only two real changes were that there is no “Aero Glass” look to the windows, and all the rounded corners are gone.

I haven’t really come up against anything I don’t like about windows 8. Boot times are much faster, the start page is easy to navigate, and the opening screen, with clock and background apps, gives me a great first glance at the day ahead, without even unlocking my account.

That being said, I would stay with Windows 7 for new desktop and laptop upgrades for the enterprise. Here’s why:

Eye candy aside, Windows 8 really doesn’t bring anything new to the table of advantage to the enterprise. From a productivity standpoint, why introduce change and a learning curve, steep or otherwise, that returns no net return on productivity? The new Metro “Apps” have no useful place in the enterprise and were designed primarily for the consumer market, and for administrators, locking down these apps looks daunting. The new version of IE10, while pretty, also takes time to learn to use properly and effectively, another learning curve with no net gain.

So while I will use Windows 8 on my own personal laptop, Windows 7 remains the choice for the enterprise.

Daddy (or Mommy), Where Do Ideas Come From?

Ideas are the result of the exposure to a certain piece or pieces of key information in an environment conducive to solving a perceived or subliminal problem at a critical moment in the thought process. In other words, ideas happen in much the same way babies “happen”; it’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time doing the right things to produce them.

Those of you with kids over the age of 5 (I have two, now college age), have undoubtedly heard this question asked before, albeit slightly differently. Answering that “other question”, likely with some discomfort, required a firm grasp of human anatomy, patience, and the ability to distill a complex biological function down into something that a 5-year-old could understand.

Studies have been done using sophisticated medical equipment that tell us which parts of the brain are in use during the formation of an idea, or the process of “ideation”, but that still doesn’t give us the “how” or “why”, only the “where”. Computers lack the ability to ideate; that may change in the future, but for now they only do what we ask them to in the manner we tell them to do it.

So where is it that ideas do come from?

Ideas are the result of the exposure to a certain piece or pieces of key information in an environment conducive to solving a perceived or subliminal problem at a critical moment in the thought process. In other words, ideas happen in much the same way babies “happen”; it’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time doing the right things to produce them.

So what are the critical factors to conception? And yes, we’re still talking about ideas:

1)      Access to information – In order to ideate, one must have unrestricted access to information. Since one never knows which piece of information may trigger an idea at that particular time, it is important that information flow freely.

2)      Collaboration – Access to people with diverse backgrounds and knowledge bases increases the amount of information available to ideate on. It also allows many people to throw fresh ideas back and forth to help them grow and become more full featured.

3)      Environment – A culture that allows people to present their ideas in a non-judgmental atmosphere is vitally important, as it sustains the ideation process by encouraging team members to add to an already born idea, or to publicly give birth to their own without worrying how their idea will be accepted. This type of atmosphere is very difficult to promote as we know that, just like babies, we tend to favor our own.

Some ideas are born in group conversation, others by an individual thinking to him or herself. Some people need to be relaxed; others ideate best under the pressure of deadlines. Therefore, a combination of environments must be provided to allow people to ideate in a manner that suits them best.

4)      Time – Just like babies, the conception of an idea is unpredictable. All of the elements to form the idea must be there, but it’s all in the timing. Some ideas take seconds to be born, others take years. On the plus side, the more people you have, the more likely a viable idea is born.

Once the idea is born, it of course needs to be nurtured so that it can grow and mature. Nurturing an idea a great responsibility, and one that comes with having the idea in the first place.

But we can talk about that when you’re a little bit older.

Why I Would Short Facebook

Social media sites have flourished and withered on a regular basis (witness Myspace, for which News Corporation paid $580 million in 2005, and then sold in 2011 for $35 million). The younger crowd gets bored easily and have a herd mentality. They will follow the crowd to the next hot thing. You can already see this by the Facebook demographics. The average age of members is getting older by the day. The advertisers see this as well, and it’s only a matter of time before they move on as well.

by Alan Guibord Founder of TAC

How many times have we been enamored with trendy technologies only to get left behind while the rest of the world moves on? I believe that this is true with Facebook. These types of social media sites have flourished and withered on a regular basis (witness Myspace, for which News Corporation paid $580 million in 2005, and then sold in 2011 for $35 million). The younger crowd gets bored easily and have a herd mentality. They will follow the crowd to the next hot thing. You can already see this by the Facebook demographics. The average age of members is getting older by the day. The advertisers see this as well, and it’s only a matter of time before they move on as well. Without both, Facebook is just another Plaxo.

I am not saying that Facebook’s days are numbered, but that they do not have a sustainable model for growth.

It’s OK to use these technologies personally, but very risky to introduce them to the enterprise environment. In doing so, you might be thought of as cool for a short period, but, soon you will be considered behind the curve as new ones emerge, and they will on a regular basis. Make sure that you clearly understand the business problem you are trying to solve before moving forward, and don’t get caught up in the hype

I recently asked for feedback on this subject from a college student I know to get the his perspective. His name is Alan Schay and is entering his senior year at Clarkson University. His comments are below.

Facebook’s growth is limited by multiple flaws of their system. Most prominent flaw is the failure to deliver and capitalize on an effective mobile application. AdParlor recently found that the cost-per-click on mobile is 30% less than web based ($0.42 vs. $0.60), despite the click-through-rate on mobile being 13 times higher than on browser based. This is what most analysts point to when discussing why Facebook is overvalued. However, this is just why Facebook’s revenue projections are overblown.

There is also the issue of why their user growth projections are inaccurate. This more subjective, and pervasive problem is due to Facebook’s attempt to be the hub of all interaction in a user’s life. Sites targeted at specific forms of interaction are booming. Tumblr and Pinterest are where people are going to create and discover content. Twitter is used to interact about mundanities with wide audiences. This is not to say that Facebook has no appeal left, but it is not where people want to spend all of their time. (One study showed a year-to-year drop in visit duration of 21% among Australian users.)

For years now people have been suggesting that the popularity of Facebook shows that people want to share everything with everyone, but that simply is not true. Compartmentalization is a central part of human interaction, and it’s only now that multiple forms of social networking exist that people can let their online personas more closely reflect their real world interactions. The best way to describe it is that while I might connect with colleagues on Facebook or LinkedIn, I have little interest about what they might be saying on Twitter, and no interest in letting them know what artists I like on Tumblr. Like every other industry in the world, social media companies need to accept that there is no such thing as permanent and absolute market dominance, and that different people will use different services for different purposes. If that were not the case, then we’d all be driving Fords, and they’d all be black like Henry wanted.

This further substantiates my position. I hope you found it provocative. We continue to caution our clients to be very careful with social media selections for their companies.