Cloud providers deliver great infrastructure and applications, but they are not in charge of the entire customer experience. That job still belongs to IT.
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As an impoverished student I owned an old car. By today's standards it was basic. It had no air conditioning or cup holders and it rusted continuously. Being broke meant I had to perform my own maintenance, which I wasn't especially good at.
But that aside, when I lifted the hood after a breakdown I could normally see and fix the problem. I could repair a damaged hose, change spark plugs, and if I was feeling adventurous, adjust carburettor settings. Sure it burned a lot of oil and the mileage was terrible, but it got me around.
Today in IT, and just like with new cars, if we look under the hood we are confronted with something very different: mass complexity. Worse still, some of it we can't see. So even if we want to do some "tech mechanics," we can't because we've lost our essential tools: visibility and control. It's no wonder then that just like with new and advanced cars, we feel less inclined to lift the IT hood. Think about it: how many times have you looked under the hood on the car you now drive? Once, twice, ever?
So why would you look under the hood of IT when advanced cloud platforms are proving their value over and over again? And like great new cars, isn't cloud computing engineered from the ground up to support all the greatest gadgets – like mobile devices and social computing? Surely, too, doesn't the scale and standardization provided by service providers (the auto shop if you will) always ensure your tank is refilled and your spark plugs changed automatically? And even provide the PaaS smarts needed to keep your passengers (no offence to developers) amused on the journey? So maybe we don't need to look under the hood after all. Well -- yes and no.
The real problem isn't losing infrastructure visibility and control -- that's gone, get over it. Rather, it's the forgetting that success is driven by something we actually always own: the passenger, or should I say the customer experience. And when I talk about "ownership" here, I'm not talking about owning the customer because we've actually lost that, too. In an age of social and mobile-everything, we're no longer in the driver's seat -- the customers have ownership. They call the shots and rain judgment on businesses and supporting IT according to the experience provided.
So before we close the IT hood forever and put the tools back in the garage, stop and refocus. They might be redundant in the traditional sense, but will still be useful when they, like you, can be recalibrated to for a better customer experience. Here is my New Mechanics 101 guidebook for the cloud:
Revisit the cloud "auto shop" continually
Cloud and service providers deliver great infrastructure and applications. Furthermore, they do it cheaply and efficiently. But before you hand over the keys, ask yourself this: What are they providing over and above the standard lube and service to enhance the customer experience?
Remember, just like a well-run auto shop, they work on volumes, cost control and diminishing margins, so services that you've previously taken for granted when maintaining in-house applications might not be part of the package. Worse still, when they are provided to you they could be so specialist and proprietary that you'll be locked in.
Become the cloud supervisor, not the mechanic
Ok, you've lost control, but remember, just as your customers own and rate you on the experience provided by your business, you have similar control with cloud service providers. So ask yourself this: Which cloud providers are in tune with your customer experience strategies? For example, which of them go above and beyond with roadside assistance, loan vehicles and advice? Providers can do this with value-added services that monitor your own customer experience indicators, such as transaction volumes, response times or even mobile device support.
Avoid those "are we there yet" moments
However great your car, if the passengers are unhappy, it makes for a rough journey. Same in business tech. You might have super cloud services, but there will be problems if they're not seamlessly integrated with all your existing systems to provide the best customer experience and support the productivity needs of your workforce. Remember, customers and users are part-time tech mechanics too, so if your service is poor they'll work around it (think BYOD) or hitch another ride.
It's time to move on from just providing the mechanics needed to keep the business engine running. Customers expect a lot more from you. And they're in control. They need to be engaged, entertained and enriched. The cloud is your vehicle and you're supervising mechanic. Yes, get your hands dirty from time to time, but manage the overall customer experience for the best possible drive.
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. We've got a management crisis right now, and we've also got an engagement crisis. Could the two be linked? Tune in for the next installment of IT Life Radio, Wednesday May 20th at 3PM ET to find out.