That loud rustling sound
Is it from pure joy abound
What’re you saying o’ leaves
Or just heavy heaves
Is it an in-tandem dance
Or your coming out of trance
To mark a celebration
Or start a revolution
There seems a lot of unrest
Matters of ceasing trust?
Are loyalties swaying
As casually as seasons coming and going
Whatever it is, I must say
You have quite a way
To take it in stride
Even for the couple of tears you cried
You stand so tall
Winds, rains, sun, above all
Seeing how you still spread the shade
That’s how I think best friends are made
~ Seema Joshi
It has been an interesting coincidence that on the last few occasions in different discussions and industry forums I participated in have attracted a good amount of the classic “Products and Services” in IT industry deliberation. As such, this is not a new debate. It is common to see patrons from the products world root for it by generating IP and for the services gurus illustrate how they are able to tailor deliveries as per customer need to make good revenues.
In the various roles that I have been involved in be it front line sales, to working with target customers, to addressing markets through the channel, or driving product management for products of different types right from enterprise to small and medium businesses that are deployed on-premise or delivered as a service, I have realized it is more than “this versus that”. While at the face of it, running “product or services” businesses largely seem to be two different ball-games, which infact is true to an extent. However in addition to the different focuses that are essential on some aspects; these also involve some similarities and common influences that need to be capitalized upon. And no, it doesn’t end there. An important element of success viz the customer expectation is undergoing an interesting shift. A customer increasingly expects…a solution! They are neither looking for a product or a service in isolation, but instead for a solution that delivers timely value. In this post, we will explore the different characteristics between IT products and services and some common factors that have a bearing on the business opportunities and performance.
First, let us take a holistic look at some key characteristics of what constitutes a product and a service. The marketplace typically includes an offerings continuum. At one of the two ends are pure-play products and at the other pure-play services with combinations in between. It can be illustrated as below:
A closer look
If we take a deeper look and closely evaluate this in context of IT products and services, around which this article is primarily focused, it involves some common influences with distinct approaches to run both businesses. The evaluation of key indicators includes consideration for common factors, but with different focusses—a little more or less depending on the case. For instance, both product and service type of offerings involve evaluation and use of technology, assets and resource planning, cultural bearings and so on. A comparison of approaches for some key indicators is included below:
As we can see, some aspects are quite clearly distinguishing. For instance, meeting a market need versus single customer need; transactional approach versus relationship driven, internally focused culture and processes versus tailored to customer. At the same time, aspects like technology, people, and processes are the common influences that can either enable or inhibit effectiveness in either model. The previous section has covered how the approaches vary across indicators. Let us briefly assess the common aspects that can greatly influence outcomes.
- Technology: Technological advancements are constant. With every technological paradigm shift, right from main-frames to distributed systems to the cloud, with the change in technology capabilities available, businesses have looked at methods to leverage these for maximum benefits. So for a provider, irrespective of the nature of business, they have to constantly find ways to stay abreast of technological advancements to be in a position to advise the market or customer with right solutions. For instance, if we take a look at one of the hottest shifts around SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud), it is not prudent for either product or services companies to ignore those.
- People: One of the most significant contributors to the success of any business is the people assets they have. Knowledgeable, motivated, productive and enlightened workforce is needed for running both products or services successfully. Ensuring the workforce it kept current with the market and technology demands and on the soft side ensuring they’re productive is of paramount importance.
- Process: Processes are a great tool any company can have through which preferred frameworks can be pressed into action for a more consistent and repeatable outcome. These could be applied to internal focused activities like training and development, knowledge sharing, documented development methodologies (e.g. Agile, etc.), sales methodologies and so forth. Processes can help with managing OpEx for both frameworks. Similarly, they’re applicable even to external focused aspects like processes for
compliance and so forth.
- Success factors: While the measuring metrics might differ across lines of business, it is a fact that there is no better way to walk towards success than to be driven by results that ensure customer success. This is an essential metric to keep track of that cannot be overridden or ignored in either business.
Looking at all of above, one can think of products and services as two separate circles having distinct indicators with some overlap of common influences. All of these put together, put organisations in a position to meet the need of tomorrow. Let’s take a look at an
illustration that highlights these put together:
Gearing for the shift
At the same time, given the economic challenges, the markets becoming buyer markets, general shifts in buying patterns, need to respond to businesses faster, and need to demonstrate value and return on investments (ROI), the focus is increasingly on the “customer” than just a product or a service that is up for offering. Customers today carefully evaluate every penny being spent. They expect to realize value from investments faster. Customers are tired of siloed approaches either by just having a product deployed and not having a working solution, or having a solution frame-work, but the underlying products not being stitched to deliver the value the customer expects from the investments made. Gone are the days where companies could deploy a product and take months or even years to tweak it to a customer need. Or suggest a service without having their own skin in the game when it boils down to technology or products involved. Customers today expect product companies to not just deploy a product, but to provide a working solution tailored for their needs. Customers today expect services companies to have the required levels of expertize, coordination and relationships with involved products and technology stacks, to effectively tailor-make a solution to meet their needs. They do not expect the ball to be dropped in either of the cases to have prolonged deliveries. Customers today are looking for working solutions. Customers today are looking for faster realization of value. Customers today are looking for a positive experience to respond better to business needs rather than being tied up with large IT projects.
The shift is really towards using products and services together effectively to deliver effective solutions.
~ Seema Joshi
From a distance it had looked like a ray of light,
On getting closer he found it was a dark night.
The stars that had once seemed like hope distant,
Had all disappeared, were they too malevolent?
He took a deep breath in search of fresh air,
But it brought him deep despair.
All around him he could smell toxicity,
Washed away were all traces of simplicity.
A feeble nudge could get loyalties to sway,
Alas, there is no white, just black or then gray.
Seeking colorful and pleasant shades are no more aspired,
Dark, somber ones draped in illusionary lights are rather admired.
Lost was the feeling to together rejoice,
He instead felt, heads rising in malice.
This mass march towards name, fortune and fame,
With all this looked like a failure–so much in vain.
He thought it couldn’t be as late as fait accompli,
There was the time to still go out and try.
He closed his eyes and could see a spark,
On a self-cleansing journey, it was time to embark.
~ Seema Joshi
Recently my 8 year old nephew walked up to me as we were watching a debate on television. He wanted to know the meaning of leader. These days he is beginning to use the dictionary and I thought it would be a perfect occasion to encourage him to help make it a habit. So, we decided to ask the dictionary. The dictionary told us the following:
After some more Q&A he mapped these to the fastest car in his Cars Toon collection, to the top star from WWF and captain of his favorite football team. I was wrong in thinking we were done with the exercise. My nephew is also quite curious about ages and has age mappings to people and things. So, his next question was how old do I need to be to become a leader? I told him there was no age to get started and told him about leadership and realized it was time to go back to the dictionary. Leadership was explained as below.
He translated this into an interesting interpretation. He said, “If I do my homework on time, obey my teacher’s instructions, offer help to my classmates and teacher, and tidy my study table before I am asked to, will you give me a golden star for leadership?” I said, “Of course.” Next he went on, “Do you think my teacher could also make me the monitor?” I nodded smilingly as he was looking at both – practicing leadership and being a leader. This made me think how many of us grown-ups often end up looking at leadership only in a top-down format and have ignored or unlearnt the important self-leadership lesson. We seek and follow effective leaders which is important. Being a leader means leading a group from the front, walking the talk and taking others along to achieve planned goals. In every aspect—work or otherwise, this is no doubt important. And this too needs leadership. Infact effective leaders practice a lot of leadership. But how many of us come out of comfort zones to practice some self-leadership and initiative ourselves. We seem to get lost in everydayness. Don’t we have an opportunity to exhibit and use leadership in a wide variety of ways – right from everyday activities, to projects to larger goals.
We can take the initiative and act upon things and it is not as difficult a path as it may seem. In a simplistic way, self-leadership consists of four building blocks – Passion, Dream, Envisage and Act. It almost forms a continuum that we can apply and reapply—be it a task – personal or work task; volunteering; or any larger responsibility. And if we practice this enough, it need not stop at self. It is important to note that in addition to the popular top-down format of leadership and following initiative we seem to practice well, we can extend this to other scenarios as well. These can be practiced independently or in an inter-linked manner. Because after-all leadership is action not position – in terms of age, of place or co-ordinates. You can start with yourself and the process continues. And this can be quite powerful as the quote signifies “Leadership: Each of us can serve as a leader. And one leader creates another and another, ad infinitum; just as one candle’s flame lights another and another, until the once-impenetrable darkness has turned to brilliant light.” When this combines with drive of effective leaders in an organization, the benefits can be enormous.While it sometime seems uncommon to find this being practiced, If we look carefully, we can find ample examples and motivation for this around us. Over the span of my career, a number of such examples have stuck with me. One of the sales leaders I worked with was a perfect example of walking the talk with taking the lead and providing support wherever needed. However, he created an environment where each of us in his team were expected to practice self-leadership. When I look back, I think that was definitely amongst one of the more productive teams I have been part of. Another example is of a leader at an organisation I worked with where his call for action was “ “bias for action”. He was a great proponent of this, which I think is a great form of self-leadership! Another example relates to a larger team. I was once invited to their offsite and I was extremely impressed to see both an effective leader and leadership amongst the team in action together. Part of the agenda was for everyone in the team to go over status of things and plan for improvements. I was very impressed to see the positive energy in the room, the objectivity in discussions as a candid way to find a better way forward (and that being the only point of focus without being distracted)—a lot of leadership in action—in all forms—self leadership, lateral leadership, bottom-up leadership and top-down leadership. As a leader of the group not only did the group head provide the team with a platform and occasion to participate freely for a better outcome, but also importantly lead the group whenever the need arose… the walking the talk of a true leader in action. In essence, the biggest step in this journey is getting started. As renowned Chinese philosopher Confucius says, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand”.
We can do this by REWARDing ourselves.
R – Recognize you can take the lead
E – Empower others, feel empowered yourself
W – Will to lead…everyday
A – Attitude, Attain, Align
R – Raise and foster initiative
D – Do it, Just do it – that is the single-most effective way to get started
And this will go a long way. I’d like you end this with a call for action with the famous quote, “Do something for yourself today that your future will thank you for”.
~ Seema Joshi
Are like a stream
Chart out a path
At times meander
At others they cease
And are lost.
Some are joined by others
Now a gush of ideas
A strong current
Now a movement
They make headway
Are not stagnant
They are powerful
To keep moving…ahead
They don’t go back
A stream isn’t a river
A river many streams
A dream can just be
Or start one stream
Dare to dream
Become a stream
A river that takes the streams
And all the dreams!
~ Seema Joshi