Saturday, July 27, 2013

Gambling with the luggage as the machines had taken over humans

It just deserved to get to UK as it was gone through all the packing.
Even though it wen't there after I already got back :)

Here I'll take a little sidetrack from my usual topics and I'll tell you about the events that happen to me couple of weeks ago. How a seemingly small decision, like putting your luggage into cargo instead of taking it as a hand luggage with you, can make your life not only difficult but lead into machines taking over humans.

There I was, spending my summer vacation. Weather was great, sun was shining from the blue sky whole week. Since other Europe have vacations a Month later, I needed to participate one meeting in UK in the middle of my vacation. So I packed my suitcase and took my laptop bag with me and headed to the airport. While driving to the airport I realized that I didn't pack any white shirts with me. I hadn't got the time to stop for shopping so I decided to solve that problem later.

I had already checked in online, as I always do. So at the airport I didn't need to do anything else but take my bag to the baggage drop. The lobby area was crowded and there were very long queues for the check-in but they hadn't got yet to the security check. So in few minutes I was already at the gate with still more than plenty of time to spend. So I visited a clothes shop at the airport and found suitable white shirt to use with my suit. Then to the gate, in to the plane and couple of hours writing report and creating marketing plan with my iPad. Time well spent.

I arrived to the Terminal 3 and remembered that this was the same terminal I had last time. Still traumatized by that what happen then :) - Last time I arrived late at night and wanted to get a cab to the hotel, just to find out that neither cabs nor busses will accept credit card!!! What country is this? Is this really one of the main capitals in the world? I just couldn't believe it. And as a cherry on top of the cake, I didn't get anything from the ATMs ( to get cash) as they couldn't read the chip on my card. Finally, already almost given up and settled with the thought I would be forced to stay there and grow old in terminal 3, one of the Money exchange reps helped me and did the transaction from my Visa account without actually reading the card but using the Visa card number and the Passport. But that was back then and now it's different.

This time I was better prepared and had already exchanged beforehand the amount of money needed to get to the hotel by bus. The hotel and the meeting were near the Terminal 5. So I needed just to get my luggage and head to the hotel. So there I was with about 20 other fellow passengers from Helsinki waiting our luggage to arrive on to the belt. But that never happen. After 30 minutes of waiting I went to the airlines desk and asked if they knew about my luggage and the answer was that it didn't arrive and they're trying to locate where it is. We'll, no worries. I just filled out the form of lost luggage and filled in my home and my hotel address and the length of my staying. Hopefully it would arrive next morning. I had my laptop and iPad in my laptop bag, and the new shirt that I had bought. And the airline even gave me survival bag including white T-shirt, shaving kit, shampoo and tooth brush, so I didn't have any worries about it. Among the other passengers wondering where their suitcases would be, there was one mother with her two daughters obviously going on vacation and for them that loss would be a lot worse than for me. I also trusted that if it would create bigger problem for me then I could go and buy myself if I really needed to get me something. So I left to the hotel, said hello to my colleagues at the hotel bar, went to have a dinner as the food in the plain... well, let's just say that calling it food is actually an insult to real food. After the dinner to the hotel room hoping that my luggage would appear next morning.

The morning came, but my luggage didn't. I went to the meetings, really business casual this time :) I wore my new white shirt and left the other shirt hanging into my room closet. After the meeting we were to go to the dinner into the London City and we had only short time to take a quick shower, change clothes and come back to the lobby to get into the cabs. But the other shirt wasn't in my closet anymore. I had used the hangar for that shirt. The hangar had the small plastic bag attached to it and the note 'if you want your clothes to be cleaned, put them into this bag and fill out the form and place the bag so that it's visible to housekeeping'. Well I hadn't done any of that, but I guessed someone was little bit too proactive and thought my shirt needed washing anyway. I called the reception and asked them to return my shirt and left for the dinner with the same shirt I had worn all day already. We visited London Eye, which was fun and had a little walk by the Thames and then we had dinner there. Around the midnight I returned to hotel to find out that my shirt was returned into the closet, but my airline survival bag had vanished. Now I started to be a little bit annoyed about the hotel staff taking my stuff out of the room and called again the reception asking what had happen to my 'toilet bag' that the airline company gave me. I guess the quality of the products in my survival bag wasn't meeting the hotel standards and they decided to do me a favor and cast all that rubbish away :) They didn't know where it was and who had taken it but promised they will send me a toothbrush kit to my room immediately and find out later where my toilet bag is. After 30 minutes of waiting I thought I had misunderstood something and went to bed. After one hour my door was knocked and the hotel rep brought me toothbrush kit.

Next morning I started to realize that there's a downside that you understand slowly as more time goes by, having only one pair of socks, not able to change new underwear, new shirt etc. We had so tight schedule all days and during the dinner evening we were not near the shops so I hadn't had any chance to buy more clothes and any other stuff I would’ve needed. The hotel didn't have any shop either. Everything I had now I had on me, which made me feel like an immigrant coming into this country wearing only the one suit he owns and having little money in his pocket :)

Meetings were over, as the hide and seek game with the hotel housekeeping and I returned to Helsinki airport. I asked if they'd know about my suitcase, as it didn't appear into Heathrow. They actually did have information about it, telling me that they had around 100 bags sitting there that didn't leave at all, since they had one of the conveyor belts broken. Nice thinking that no one informed about it for the customers. So I told them that now as I'm back already please make sure it will be sent to my home address when you've sorted it all out. They promised to do so. So the adventure seemed to be behind and I went home thinking I will get the suitcase back in one or two days. But instead I started to get messages asking me to confirm where I wanted the luggage to be sent. So I called them again at Helsinki airport and asked them to make sure it would be sent to my home, not to UK anymore. And they confirmed once again that they’d do that of course. Next day I got automated messages telling me my suitcase is now at the Heathrow airport and I need to confirm where do I want the suitcase to be shipped. I called again and asked why it had been shipped to UK as I was already here (and the luggage had been here all the time at the airport). The answer was that they couldn't go through all bags one by one and it was easier just to ship them to the destination addresses. At that time I realized that machines had taken over humans and there wasn't actually anything anyone could do to stop the process. I had heard how the IRS, phone company and some other examples who were collecting the debts even years after the person had died, like dying wasn't any real excuse for not paying your dues. That's how we've mostly build these systems and processes. The common sense and the automated digitalized systems are rarely going hand in hand. When things like this happen, one individual against the huge and complex automated processes and machines is as small as when you're standing outside looking the thunder clouds heading to your direction filling the whole horizon and darkening the sky. Finally I got them to change the address and some days later they called that they'd bring my luggage between 11-15 o'clock. They brought it 17:30 :)

Now afterwards I must admit, I gambled putting my luggage into cargo and not having only hand luggage with me. There was a reason that from the full plane coming from Helsinki to London, only handful of people lost their luggage. I wondered why most of the passengers came into the plane with their luggage trying to desperately fit them into those small compartments and why didn't they put them into cargo. Now I know. Next time hand luggage only and 'don't disturb' sign stapled permanently to the door knob to keep the housekeeping away :)

(The name of the hotel and the airline have been left out from this text as they are irrelevant for the actual point in the story - but we're talking about one of the biggest companies in both of them)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Opposite trend to Outsourcing - Insourcing but with a twist

We all remember the time when IT resellers came up with the revolutionary idea: 'why should the customer companies put their valuable resources into something that wasn't their core business. If your business was to make food pruducts, why would you hire 10 persons just to operate the IT environment and why would you even own it by yourself. You should stick in what you're good at. And let them take care of the IT who are good in that. You don't need to pay them anymore even if they were idle, but you pay only what you need and what you use.'. Looked from the customers perspective also moving your IT hardware and software to outside your company seemed to be a clever thing - let the others get the headache'

We all know what happened. End users eagarly agreed on this. Too much money went already yearly just to maintain the IT environment for something that seemed to be far from efficient. The bigger the customer company was, the easier it was to show the benefits and savings they'd get. What also happened with many companies was that many times not only the IT environment (software and hardware) was taken over by the outsourcing partner, but also the IT team was moved under the outsourcing company, leaving only IT manager, or in worst case the one left making the decisions about IT for the end user company was CFO. What actually was outsourced was more than customers realized at the time. Only when time passed and the skillful people that were moved from customer to outsourcing partner found new challenges with some other company walking away with the true knowledge about the customer setup, customers came to meet the fact that the knowledge transfer wasn't successfull even though one of the argumentation for outsourcing was that end user wouldn't rely on one person only as there would be backup people who would know the stuff too. Only thing that everyone forgot was that outsourcing company makes profit by doing as little as possible. The more hours the engineer needed to operate for the customer the less profit was left under the bottom line. The same goes with hardware. It wasn't outsourcing company's interest to update the hardware and software unless they were forced to do so. They extended the life cycle of the environment from 2-3 years into 4-5 years or even more. If customer wanted to upgrade anything based on their new business need, that meant upgrading the service contract, which meant more money to cast to the bottomless well.

As a result the outsourcing sercive providers got a customer lock, where customer really didn't have flexibility to take the contract elsewhere. All the hardware and software and the knowledge about their environment wasn't in their hands anymore. The Monthly costs started to grow, the IT environment starded to look like grandpha rather than a fast and vivid yougnster able to move fast with the businessn needs. Reasonable saving turned to be saving to death.

Sometimes some good things happened also, standardazing the environment that had really got out of hands helped in maintaining it better, but the benefit from that didn't come so much to the enduser but merely grew the profit of the service provider. Some more wise customers used open book contract where the savings were treated mutual and the profit that came with it divided between the enduser and service provider. But also in those cases the focus turned into savings, not into the things that actually would make the customer company fast and flexible to respond to their customer needs. But the standardization helped them later, something they didn't realize yet as it wasn't yet time.

Only when outsourcing partners went to virtualization to save even more in harware, cooling, electricity and management, they actually at the same time shot to their own foot, as it also gave tools to end users to quite easily be able to move the environment to another service provider, or even to take the environment back to be maintained by themselves. Now that the hardware was separated from the operating system, it meant that customers were able to move the environment (the operating systems, software and data, everything being now only bits and bytes) to somewhere else a whole lot easier. Their servers were now actually just files that could be moved to other side of the world in hours if not in minutes. As many of the customers were at this time questioning very much of the outsourcing partner's ability to actually maintain the environment and support the customer business the same time, what we saw was some of the customers taking the environment totally back. Not maybe the best decision but understandable. Some customers went to another road, finding more flexible and cheaper service provider who would take some of the tougher and the most time-cosuming tasks and leave the business critical applications which were closest to the customer core business for the customer IT team. Yes, many customers already had hired some of theresouces back, mainly for the core applications and development. So now the customer IT team concentrated only on maintaining and developing the solutions that closely supported and enabled their core business. All the other areas were outsourced to smaller, faster and more flexible partners, who's business wasn't yet so big that it wouldn't let them act fast. To someone who responded fast with the resolution to the problem - not with the automated message saying we'll let you know something in 48h. The difference now was that with the new IT core teams at customer site, they had the knowledge to ask for the right things to be done. They know knew what to measure, what was important. They knew now it was irrelevant to know if the server was up and running if the software on top of it didn't actually work. And it didn't matter if the traffic in the network was flowing if the user couldn't access the right data at the right time. A lot was learned from the past.

At the moment it's easy to see the analogy to how we bought our hardware and software earlier (something I discussed in my earlier blog about unified solutions We're now in the phase where customers buy different services, actually more and more cloud based services, basing their decision by 'best of breed' thinking. When the best of breed solutions ended up with the situation where no-one could manage those individual tools anymore as there were just too many of them, the same is happening now with the services we buy.

The next phase will be that customers will reduce the number of service providers offering these cloud based solutions. They will try to find those who can offer more under the same contract with only one front end. But this time they are not looking for the big players bringing them everything which would get them into the same situation they were before. What they are looking is one shop to buy different solutions based on their needs and where it is easy to start and end services ny Month, even by day or even hour if needed and choose what ever is needed on the fly. We're talking about the same way we buy software as we need, like what Adobe does today, offering consumers and professionals the ability to rent their quite expensive product if purchased off the shell with much more readonable Monthly fee, paying as long ad you need the software and getting always the latest version of the software without any extra fees. Resembling the way we're bringing all kinds of gadgets to our working place wanting to be able to use them the same flexible way we're used to in our homes. The same way the customers want to be able to buy the IT services that they need to support their business. If they want to have couple of extra servers once per year crunching all the numbers for tax authorities, there's no sence buying and paying for the extra capacity if they need it only for 2 days, not for the whole year. So this temporare capacity needed should be able to be bought as easy and fast, without any time consuming service contract negotiations or the amount of labor it normally would need to make it the old way.

The future business opportunity is with those who are able to combine the best of breed solutions from different application and service providers behind one front end, where customers can buy what they need and pay per use. Best of breed is still good compared to one provider who would offer you couple excellent solutions but the rest more mediocre or even useless tools. But best of breed solutions are good only when combined and offered with a new way.This is a whole new business area, advanced brokering is what you might call it. Not only will you need good relations to one of the best application and solution providers, but you would need to build the invoicing and measurement and provisionimg mechanism which would be very simple and easy and automated into both direction, both towards the customers and the vendors who provides the unique services in the background. Also you need to cover your market area with high availability access, meaning multipke service sites offering your services. If one site is down, there must be several others to take care of offering the service without interruptions. This position is very natural for IT distributors who have been in the middle always having relationships to both towards the vendors and the channel. What it needs though is a new way to think about their role and offering as a distri. But not only for distries, this is also opportunity to the new gamers, building their business just on that - brokering the best of breed solutions based on the cloud services and taking a fee from every transaction. 

For customers this means new and efficient and flexible way to renew and grow with the trends of the market. For us in IT business this creates new business which will partly replace the old business. We're living very interesting times where we will see the transfer to something very new. And we're lucky to see it from the front seat and to be part of it.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Best of breed vs unified solution - combining the two worlds the new way

Looking back there was time in the 90's when we went more and more towards the best of breed solutions in IT. You wanted to have the best virus control solution in the market, and from another vendor you found the best firewall and from the third came the switching devices. It was fun, as you could really use your time to carefully choose only the best money could buy - depending on your budget of course. When IT environments were more simple, traffic going out and coming in through only one route, it was easier to build a solution that you could manage. You didn't need to adapt into 10s of new software coming in every day, as with todays gadgets, which would've meant building new rules to firewall, enabling software processes to be run in one's PC. Every day and every hour.

From that time we grew these environments coming into the year 2000 and forward until the datacenters reached their limits, cooling systems practically melt down, electricity bills went up like rockets and the budget limits were reached. Until the last 5-10 years, we turned from adding more individual dedicated components into building more virtualization, reducing the number of devices needed in the datacenter. That time also the strickt and clear border between outside and inside network vanished and the number of end user client devices went to sky high. No-one was prepared their environment for that. We knew we were going to that direction eventually, but the speed it happen surprised everyone. IT tried to keep up, but found out that there's just too many moving parts and too few resources. At the same time the IT budgets had already grown so big that top management wanted to reduce the money spent to IT as the IT teams couldn't justify the investments, nor could they show any return of investment. So IT and the actual business went to different directions. IT which was supposed to be supporting and enabling the business, started to be a burden and actually slowing down the business development as it could't renew anymore.

With the virtualization, like VMware, we went to the right direction reducing the number of devices needed and centralizing more and more of the management too. Still there are too many moving parts and what's especially creating a major problem is that many of this kind of attempts are based on the legacy systems, having the history burden, needing to take account too much outdated solutions. Only lately there have been more solutions that are built to support actually today's needs. One very interesting example is Meraki, which started everything from the scratch and based it's management totally into the cloud - from the day one. It included very early the mobile device management, supporting the way people do business and use collaboration solutions today - all the different gadgets we have. They have wireless access points, switches, security devices. All managed from the same cloud and browser based management. Everything is very simple, just take the device to the place you need it, add it into your management, meaning very up to date browser management, and there you are. This simplicity growing the solutions from small office to the large retailers having hundreds of retail shops all over the world, is an example what a newcomer is able to do when they take the technology we have today and just build it straight to serve today's needs. As with great solutions many times, also in this case a large market leader saw their value and bought them. Meraki was bought buy Cisco and you can find more about them in

Meraki alone isn't enough of course, probably one of the reasons Cisco bought it, to complement the Cisco portfolio with the new way of thinking. There's still many areas where the same kind of development needs to happen. But this is the step to the right direction. And opportunity for new start-ups in the future (or the ones that are there but have been under the radar so far). But what it shows is that there's a totally new way to look things today. With solutions like this it's easy (easier) to show the return of investment for the management. From day one you get already not only savings but such efficiency that you couldn't get using legacy systems - the ones we have built in our networks for decades. For IT and Business management this is opportunity to move into the new way of thinking, move also back closer to each other, and back to support and enable the business to develop with the customers and with the market needs, rather than trying to blockade the outside world from progressing. New time has come and the ones who adapt into it will grap the market share and the profit in the future.