Customer Centricity And The Cloud


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I’m venturing into a little different area than what I normally write about, but I have a real passion for software and technology. A large number of our clients are technology companies—hardware, software, and services companies. I’m excited about what they do and how they present themselves to the markets. For the past couple of years, I’ve watched the escalating volume of discussion on the “cloud.” It seems to be the answer to vendors’ prayers for differentiation, but I have an overwhelming sense of déjà-vu and “so what.”

Perhaps I’m dating myself, but I’ve kind of seen this before. I’ve been through the mainframe, minicomputer, workstation, client/server battles and discussions. Vendors were positioned on both sides of the argument and there were great religious discussions about each. The lines of demarcation were predictable—mainframe vendors proclaimed the greatness of mainframes, minicomputer vendors aligned with what they made, and so on. Some vendors, had an interesting strategy—they said you could choose whatever fit best, they offered each alternative, making the technology implementation irrelevant.

Over time, all of this became irrelevant. There are still mainframes, minicomputers, workstations, and so forth, but there are no battles about one over the other. My guess is they disappeared, because the customers didn’t care–it was only the vendors.

My first encounter with cloud computing was when I was in high school through something called “time sharing.” It was a wonderful concept, all I had to have was a device of some sort, a modem, and a dial up line. There were computers somewhere that had all the software and stuff I needed to accomplish what I wanted. I just paid a fee (per minute, per week, per month—depending on the service) to use it. (Hmmm, this sounds like a familiar idea).

So it’s intriguing to see all the same old battles (some done with the same old competitors) being posed, but now it’s about the cloud. There are some who say, “It’s all about the cloud!” Usually, those are the vendors who only have a cloud implementation, so they have to make it about the cloud. There are others on the other side saying, “you need control over your assets, implementation, and the ultimate flexibility in customizing the solution to your company—you need an enterprise solution!” Usually, the most vocal are those that only have enterprise based solutions.

Then there are those who are saying, “have it your way.” Those are the suppliers who offer a range of alternatives and solutions—some enterprise based, some cloud based, some completely transparent. (Personally, I think this is the winning strategy).

As a business person, I don’t care! It’s not about the technology. I want my applications, information and data. I want accessibility from anywhere, often on any device. Since the early 90’s, I’ve traveled millions of miles—I’ve had my laptop with me, or access to a computer virtually everywhere I go. I’ve been able to do word processing, spread sheets, presentations. I’ve been able to access our corporate data from any place in the world, even though it sits on some servers in our offices in Southern California.

I’ve really not cared about the technology, whether it resides on my laptop, phone, in our “enterprise” systems or in some cloud. The discussion of cloud or whatever technology is really irrelevant to me. I suspect it’s irrelevant to CIO’s as well.

I, as do other business professionals, care about getting the job done. We care about accomplishing out goals and producing results. We measure tools that we leverage to do this by the “return on our ability to achieve our goals.”

Yet the vendors on all sides of the discussion choose to make the discussion about technology—and their specific implementations of technology. They are making the discussion about what they have to sell, not what I want to accomplish. What’s worse, is many are disguising this features/functions message as “customer centric.”

In some ways it’s amusing to watch these discussions. I know it’s irrelevant, because all those old discussions of mainframe, minicomputer, workstation, and so forth became irrelevant. In 10 years, the cloud will be replaced by something else. And I know the same thing will happen, vendors will shout about what they have to sell and why it is the best. They will impose their approach on the markets, shouting from roof tops, on the web, and other places about the wonders of their technology. Somehow, the customer will be lost in all of this, when all they want is to have their problems solved efficiently and effectively.

For real customer centricity, the discussion has nothing to do with the technology. The discussion never starts with a vendor implementation, because that’s what they have to sell. The discussion has to start with the customer. It has to focus on customer problems and helping them achieve their dreams. I don’t care how it is done, I just want it done. I value those who focus the discussion on what I want to achieve and not what they have to sell.

I suspect these comments aren’t just about the cloud. We sell what we have to sell and want to make what we sell important. Our companies continue to pitch features and functions, loudly proclaiming the value or our particular approach. Perhaps we would sell more if we focused on what the customer wanted to buy.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


  1. Dave, I too have the same reaction to this trends, since I’ve seen them over the past 30 years or so.

    What’s significant about cloud computing is not the cloud but the business model. Vendors are selling a service instead of a product. This mean vendors must, as a matter of survival if not success, keep focused on customer satisfaction. Otherwise customer will leave!

    What a change from the day of “sell it and run” software sales. Close that million dollar deal, then see ya later!

    Granted there are many benefits to cloud computing. But there were benefits to each previous generation of technology, too. What’s different is the alignment of vendor and customer interests. That’s customer-centricity in action.

  2. Great observation Bob—though I’m a little more skeptical. While the SaaS model is different, I’m not sure it insures better customer service.

    The primary issue, as with other models is the “switching costs.” While SasS has semi-standard software, between customizations, “app store” add-on’s, and tons of data; switching is not as easy as many might think.

    Coordination of contract terminatations, most suppliers are on at least annual contracts, add to the difficulty of switching.

    So while it’s a different business model, I’m not sure it is a more customer centric model.

    Looking at the other side–the very existence of the cloud alternative, makes the “sell it and run” model less likely. The enterpise vendors are trying to maintain and grow their current customers, as well as acquire new customers–the cloud alternative has caused them to raise their game.

    In some sense, these combined models serve the customer–as vendors compete with each other, the potential for improving customer service is greater.

    Thanks for extending the conversation Bob!

  3. Dave, you’re right that it’s not so easy to switch as cloud vendors suggest.

    But customer sat/loyalty ratings really are higher that the traditional on-premise vendors. We’ve run our own benchmarking studies and the difference is remarkable.

    Maybe it’s not just because of the delivery model. New vendors are led by executives with a different vision than the big software companies. Compensations plans are different. Reps are different.

    In fact, we found some smaller on-premise vendors with a niche product also got high marks.

    As usual, it’s a number of things, but I think service model is one important factor that has caused (forced, perhaps) the software industry to be more customer-centric.

    All that said, I’ve noticed some SaaS vendors reverting back to some old tricks, locking in customers and getting them to buy more than they really need to get a better price per seat. This is what led to the “shelfware” problem with installed software.

    In the end, it’s still customer choice and willingness/ability to switch that keeps suppliers honest. These days, the number of cloud-based solutions is amazing.


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