I’ve always believed you are what you ask in business. Given that, here are some questions on my mind of late.
Are you losing your local touch?
An MSP I know told me that some of his best customers have begun cancelling the quarterly business reviews (QBRs) he schedules. “Oh boy,” I said. “What do you think the problem is?” His response floored me: “They don’t see the value.” Yes, his customers appreciate the number of malware threats his company stops, the hours of uninterrupted uptime he provides and the staggering amount of data his company helps store, protect and backup. But they don’t value his QBRs as much. “I’ve lost my local touch,” he said. When I pressed for an explanation, he said that the professional services and remote management automation technology that he uses to improve efficiency has one unintended consequence: a loss of customer intimacy. Unless something really goes bad, he has no need to put a body in a van to visit a customer site. (Good thing, too, he said, considering that that costs him approximately $200-an-hour every time.) But without regular customer contact, his perceived value diminishes. Instead of QBRs, he’s now offering his customers once a month “brain dumps” during which he reviews the latest news headlines, cybersecurity threats and case studies that he believes matter most. So far, no one has missed or cancelled a call.
Why should robots get taxed but not apps?
You no doubt heard that Microsoft co-founder and former CEO Bill Gates recently said that “robots should be taxed like humans.” Of course, the Internet went nuts. But if you read or listened carefully to what Gates said, he had some very compelling things to say about jobs and more. In particular, he had some insightful observations on tax revenue, which, if reduced thanks to robots, could have a significant impact beyond employment. Think caring for the elderly, reducing classroom sizes or helping those with disabilities. While I appreciate his message, it nonetheless raises a delicate question: why should robots get taxed but not apps or other forms of automation that disrupt workers? Let’s face it, employment dislocation resulting from innovation and industrialization has been with us for more than 100 years. The tax implications of these phenomena for nearly as long. So why does a robot get so much attention? Probably because it embodies the visceral image of a 1:1 replacement for a human worker. But why not a chatbot, algorithm or electronic shopping basket? Surely these have displaced as many workers as robots. How many jobs, for example, were negatively impacted by Microsoft Office? And what happened to those tax revenues? Gates is clearly onto something. Unfortunately, it could have ramifications for those selling technology that ultimately impacts employment.
What should you consider before buying another company?
MSPmentor contributing Xpert Khali Henderson has put together an informative chart that can guide you through the acquisition of another company. You can find her digital illustration here. Her best advice? Don’t forget the power of communications. “Any time an acquisition or merger is done, employees worry about their jobs… and customers scrutinize their new vendor. M&A experts have know—and reported—for decades that eight of 10 deals fail to meet their financial targets. A well-developed communications plan can help to minimize many deal shortcomings,” she writes. Well worth a peak.
If you sell tech products and services for a living, are you obligated to promote all forms of innovation?
Product delivery drones. Driverless vehicles. Gamification software that rewards specific, desired behaviors. All of these and more are being developed with only a modicum of scrutiny. Which begs the question: is all technology good for us? Okay, futurists have been asking these questions for decades. But the voices of caution have been drowned out by those promoting the virtues of augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence. That is until lately. Now more people are wondering “is AI dangerous?” That got me thinking about many of the technology consultants that I know. Do you have to promote all forms of technology in order to appear “with it” when it comes to innovation? Or is there room for you to question not just the efficacy of new technology but also its morality?
Why in the world is Verizon buying Yahoo?
$350 million. That’s how much of a discount Verizon negotiated on its bid for Yahoo. $350 million on $4.83 billion. For a company that has been hacked to bone. Twice. Is it me or does that seem insanely small? Yes, I recognize the absurdity of asking, “does $350 million seem small to you?” But let’s put the discount into perspective: it’s less than 8 percent. That’s like getting a free Diet Coke at a restaurant after the chef chars your filet mignon beyond recognition. It’s not much of a gesture, in other words, especially since it’s impossible to accurately assess the damage to Yahoo’s digital assets and goodwill after the two hacks. Yahoo says its traffic has remained strong. But how much of that is people racing to reset their passwords only never to return again? I wonder. Verizon, experts says, is still eager to buy Yahoo for its mobile-first, digital advertising business. Fair enough. But it still feels like Verizon is buying a mid-90s Jaguar with plenty of leaks and lots of potential recalls.
Are we “over-rotating” on data to help make business decisions?
“If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it.” How many times have you heard that chestnut? This thinking paved the way for the era of big data and business analytics. And for good reason. With expert data analysis you can literally change the world and save lives. But you can also misread things badly. In 2013, a former undercover CIA operative wrote a first-person account in The Wall Street Journal of how his team misread data and wound up storming a salt factory in Baghdad that it mistook for a covert weapons factory. Woops. Which brings me to this: big data is awesome until it’s not. Sometimes it’s incomplete. Other times it’s unimportant. And sometimes it’s just flat-out wrong. If you don’t agree, ask yourself if “you were with her” and feeling pretty smug last November? Big data is an invaluable tool. But many of the practitioners who apply it misunderstand its power, scope and limitations. They also forget the power of intuition. A better way? Apply the two in harmony to dramatically elevate the quality of decision making.
“Fake news” is destroying journalism. Will it do the same for marketing and sales?
Regardless of your politics, it’s hard to ignore the impact that fake news has had on our society. Stanford Economist Matthew Gentzkow has gone so as to try to quantify the impact fake news had on Donald Trump's election. All of the rhetoric has me wondering about its long-term impacts—especially when it comes to our corner of the world, buying and selling technology products and services. Today, most companies go-to-market in an honorable fashion. Some of this is due to our laws and guidelines including the “Truth in Advertising” regulations governed by the FTC and others. Some of it comes down to common practice. You’d hard-pressed, for example, to get a Cisco executive to say something negative about a competitor on the record. Same for IBM, Microsoft, HPE and others. But in a world in which global leaders knowingly spread falsehoods, how long will this continue? In some ways, the best practices of the tech industry feel as antiquated as the Marquess of Queensberry rules of fighting. (My favorite? Rule No. 11, which says, “No shoes or boots with springs allowed.”) Lying about the competition, misrepresenting one’s capabilities or otherwise tipping the scales in one’s favor should forever be banned. I look at it this way: If we can keep politics out of business, it’ll put a spring in all our steps.
Short of that, keep on swinging ‘til the bell rings.