Easy deployment in the cloud: What about users and applications?

Easy deployment in the cloud: What about users and applications?

cloudpagingBusinesses are migrating their systems to the cloud, it’s true.  Organizations of every size and type are taking advantage of the cost savings and flexibility introduced with cloud deployments and hosting services.  Rather than focusing efforts on procuring, installing and maintaining servers and applications in-house, IT departments are moving workloads offsite to cloud providers and hosted platforms.  The tools are readily available to help these IT workers configure and light up VMs in hosted infrastructure, and certain platform licenses and other elements are made accessible to customers.  But there’s something missing in the toolsets provided by platform hosting companies – a certain something that ultimately determines how useful (or not) the hosting platform service is when IT is ready to deploy users and applications in the environment.

Conceptually, hosting services are supposed to provide a centralized management and administrative capability for an organization.  While this is true in the context that most of the system and resources are assembled inside the datacenter, proximity alone doesn’t make things easier to manage.  In fact, some virtualization and delivery models can exacerbate issues that IT at least had a known way of dealing with when it was in-house.

Consider that, even in hosted and virtualized infrastructure, everything that needed to be done to build the in-house network still has to be done – only now it involves the on-premises computers (sometimes with client software still requiring installation and management), the local LAN, the Internet, the datacenter facility and network, and computers and software in the datacenter.  Most of the complexity may reside in the datacenter with the hosted systems, but even that scenario isn’t necessarily plug-n-play.  IT must still bring up the servers, and then the fun begins.  Fun, in this case, means setting up policies and permissions, users, and applications.  The unfortunate thing is that there are few tools being made available which directly and specifically address this requirement for customers in hosted infrastructure.  Hosted customers are still burdened with the requirement to not only establish and manage their permissions and user accounts – they also have to still install, update and maintain application software in the environment.

Most IT teams recognize that installing an application once is way better than having to install it a bunch of times, so there is a tendency to lean towards hosting models where a single (or few) machines service desktop and application sessions for lots of users.  Reducing the number of actual application installations, this approach (such as with terminal services) can make software implementations go a bit easier than if the app had to be installed across a lot of machines.  On the other hand, there is a fine art to implementing some applications in terminal server environments, and not all apps behave well in the delivery model.  Many engineering hours have been spent trying to get user apps working on terminal servers – sometimes much more time than if the application were simply installed to multiple PCs.  On an ongoing basis, technicians fight with applications and broken functionality, wishing the entire time that they could bypass the terminal services issue and get back to working with individual machines and app installs.  At least they knew the apps would work.

Companies determining that a VDI or DaaS solution would more directly mirror the individualized PC approach quickly find that managing and maintain the working user environment, including the variety of applications and functionality demanded by entry-level and power users alike, is just as complicated and time-consuming as it was when they were managing individual user PCs.  And, lacking quality software distribution and lifecycle management tools in the platform, find that template-based VM imaging doesn’t go far enough in terms of easing the burdens of installing, updating and maintaining applications on a user machine, whether it’s the local PC or a managed VM.

The truth about many cloud solution offerings and hosting platforms is that they are often oriented towards the enterprise customer and IT department, expecting that the customer has the skills and capability required to do the right things in deploying the hosted solution for the company.  Leaving all of the time-consuming aspects of service management and delivery to the customer – the parts of the delivery which address the actual users, desktops and applications – simply shifts the location of work for IT, but not necessarily the nature of the work.   They’re still going to spend a bunch of time not just setting up groups and users and applications; they’re going to spend a bunch of time managing and maintaining them, just like they always have.

There should be smart solutions to these problems – tools which could be made available to customers having a desire to deploy their operations in hosted infrastructure and that deliver the automation and ease of management which enables IT to realize gains through process efficiencies at all levels of the deployment.  The heavy lifting isn’t buried in the building of a server.  The heavy lifting – the grunt detail work that nobody really wants to deal with – exists around groups, users and applications.  Get some truly useful automation tools in those areas, and hosting becomes even more viable and beneficial for value added resellers, IT departments, and their users.

jmbunnyfeetMake Sense?

J

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A Higher Level of Customer Relationship Management: Building Closer Customer Relationships

A Higher Level of Customer Relationship Management: Building Closer Customer Relationships

Most businesses recognize the importance of creating a quality experience for customers doing business with them.  The thing that many business owners overlook is how their internal workflows and information management systems serve to either support or impede the delivery of a well-rounded positive customer experience.  Growing businesses must adjust their processes and improve their tools in order to have the necessary information available to workers at various levels of the organization, providing a centralized means for collaboration, data sharing and analysis.   With the right information systems and process support, even small businesses are able to function at exceptionally high levels and provide the consistently high-quality service and customer experience that establishes long-term value in each and every customer relationship.

Businesses which excel at providing very high levels of customer service tend to have a few common characteristics – features of the business that identify it as an organization geared towards growth and success in driving the customer engagement and business value.  Among these characteristics is the recognition of the need to use technology better – leveraging automation to a greater degree to create consistency in work performance, and improving information collection and integration to provide more context and depth to the data. Added efficiency which affords employees time to focus on customer oriented tasks and elevating the customer experience even more is the payback.

total-business

Many CRM solutions describe the benefits of a “360 degree” view of the customer, yet these solutions often orient themselves to supporting only sales and Contact Management and do not address product and/ or service delivery (fulfillment of what was sold/ordered)  or project management, contracts and agreements tracking or other aspects of doing business with the customer.

Granted, customer interaction occurs most frequently with sales and service teams, but there are potentially vast number of processes and tasks performed within the business which operate with the same information as sales and services, and which would benefit by integration within the same information and workflow framework.

By selecting a solution that addresses the wider variety of business and information management requirements rather than focusing solely on sales and support, business owners and managers find that they are better able to address internal workflows with streamlined process automation.

The result is significant improvement in the quality and completeness of the information available to users throughout the organization, ultimately improving the quality and nature of customer engagement and interaction. Perhaps even more impactful is the ability for the business to better understand  the context of and motivations for customer interactions, and (most importantly!) having the capability to take immediate action based on that knowledge.

With the right customer relationship and business management solution in place, and with a focus on systematic approaches to enabling process and workflow automation, businesses can become more flexible and responsive to changing customer needs and expectations.  Creating the complete view of the customer relationship and capturing the data which helps users understand the dynamics of the entire relationship serves to build closer customer relationships that will strengthen and grow over time.

When a business needs to implement a Customer Relationship Management solution to address sales and support needs, it makes sense to also review information management requirements for:

  • Delivery of products and/or services  – i.e. fulfillment of what was promised by sales
  • Scheduling of Work/Service Orders and integrated billing based on completed work
  • Time and personnel activity management as well as time reporting and billing
  • Project or job resource and time management and reporting
  • Documents, contracts, before & after pictures, and agreements of all types
  • Products and services, proposals and quotes, price books and channels

Additionally, since the processes are so closely related in terms of the information collected or used, it makes sense that the CRM solution would also work with:

  • Marketing campaigns and activities, lead generation systems and e-newsletter solutions
  • Accounting solutions which also utilize customer, product, job, time, cost and other data
  • Expense spending management, approvals and reporting

To be truly useful, the solution must also support remote and mobile workers since field service personnel and other workers are often not in the office when they need to get something done.  Whether the access is via hosted solutions providing full remote desktop functionality, or via web-based application extensions allowing device independent access (or both!), the solution should be designed to allow users to access the system and perform their work from wherever it is required.

Even more, a comprehensive approach to managing business activities and information, particularly with a focus on providing all departments with all the information and capability they need to get their jobs done properly, requires that everyone in the company be on board.  There really isn’t a great way to centralize and manage critical business data when the approach is to give a few people some information and functionality, leaving it up to human beings and individual initiative to connect the dots (and the data).  The result is almost always a series of gaping holes in various processes where information and requests get lost.

Among the best solutions I have found which delivers the foundation for all of this functionality is Results CRM.  Thousands of users have successfully migrated from ACT!, Goldmine, Telemagic, Salesforce.com and other SFA and CRM solutions to the Results CRM platform, and have benefitted from better workflow automation, more logical company and contacts associations, and a broader range of functionality supporting everything from sophisticated quote and proposal development to comprehensive project, time and expense management.

At the end of the day, it’s the reporting that wins.  If the data isn’t in the database, you can’t report on it.  If you can’t report on it, you can’t measure it. If you can’t measure it, you can’t make good business decisions and grow the business.

Make sense?

J