Posts Tagged ‘Autotask’
It seems to be fashionable these days to write “open letters” to corporations–and since I would like to feel that I am “à la mode”, I’ve decided to write one to you, my good friends at Autotask.
First, let’s start with the positive aspects so as not to look like I’m flaming you folks or anything. I am very grateful to Autotask for quite a few things. FAR has been a faithful Autotask-based organization for well over six years and I am thankful for the incredible offering you folks have built and continue to improve upon with each and every release. As a cloud-based professional services automation solution, you were “cloud” before it was cool. The vision that Bob Godgart and his team had from day one–and the passion in sticking to the plan–has paid back dividends to the company, it’s investors and, most importantly (from my perspective), to its customers. I am also thankful for receiving the Autotask MVP designation. It is nice to be recognized and, yes the “bling” on the awards’ mantle makes for a great discussion.
So now that we’ve gotten the positive points out of the way, here’s the issue I really want to bring up with you: with Jay McBain leaving Autotask, who is my LEADER? A bit of context to this question is definitely necessary. When Bob Godgart resigned from active duties as CEO of Autotask, he did a fantastic job transitioning day-to-day functions to his replacement, Mark Cattini. He also passed the torch of the Community leadership, the “partner face” of Autotask to Jay McBain. Bob said that he actively pursued Jay to take over this function to energize the Autotask CommunITy; to be our tribal leader. That collaborative group is a very active one–any doubts can be quickly dispelled by logging on to the site and seeing the number of contributing members and the quantity of threads/discussions taking place each day. We are energetic, vocal, knowledgeable and critical to the success of Autotask–not just because we pay a monthly fee, but because the members feed your product funnel. The Autotask CommunITy finds the bugs and makes feature requests, providing the gravel and sandstone for your roadmap.
Right now, we’re leaderless. The concern isn’t so much about being left without a “go-to guy,”, but the personal disappointment about how this entire situation came about. How did the Autotask MVPs, group leaders, and all your other clients find out about Jay’s departure? From a leaked internal memo, published by the MSPmentor editor Joe Panettieri. What followed after that was an absolute social media feeding frenzy, with everyone and their uncle (including myself obviously) writing blogs, news articles, tweets, and other commentary.–All are speculating about what seems to be the most important thing on people’s minds right now: WHERE IS JAY GOING? Of course, being a master of social media manipulation, Jay has been stoking the fire by re-tweeting posting quotes and Facebooking anything and everything that mentions Jay McBain. Considering where Jay IS going (and yes I do know where he is going), I am impressed with the ingenious use of social media to make sure that his name stays top of mind. He’s going to need us.
Enough about Jay–back to the real point of this post–and that is, why have we, the Autotask CommunITy been left with a leadership vacuum, a tribe of energized and active customers with no chief, to stoke the fire and keep it crackling? Why was the On Tour series created, booked and advertised; only to have the real driver of these events not show up? Jay asked me to provide the customer presentation for the Toronto event but, when I recently messaged him to ask if he was still planning on attending the event, his response was “no.” That does not paint a good picture pertaining to leadership continuity or commitment to the Autotask CommunITy that you so carefully and painstakingly cultivated from scratch. Its one thing to build a 30,000+ strong customer base, but it’s another thing to build and maintain an active ecosystem of customers.
Unlike most open letters that just whine and complain, allow me to offer a few suggestions that might help improve the situation and make us all feel that you are truly committed to the success of the Autotask CommunITy.
Empower and nurture your group leaders
You have a number of dynamic, entrepreneurial and energized group leaders that take time out of their busy schedules—and most importantly, time from running their BUSINESS—to plan, coordinate, and execute group meeting in their respective areas. Why don’t you empower them even further within the Autotask CommunITy ecosystem? Give them the ability to lead their respective groups, both at meetings and online. Compensate them for the time they will have to spend encouraging, coaching and mentoring their micro-tribe. Spread out the responsibility of energizing and mobilizing the 30,000+ customers and maintaining the stickiness.
Invest and capitalize on your MVPs
So you gave us a nice trophy, fired off a press release, and gave us reserved front row seats at Autotask CommunITy Live 2011. Thank you–that was a nice gesture. Now, turn around and make us sweat to keep the title. Empower us so the MVP status actually means something. Use our creative and leadership qualities to drive the company and customer experience to new heights. Make it worth our time and effort—there’s nothing illicit or sleazy about that. Inviting us all to Las Vegas is nice, giving us a preview of the roadmap is great, but that’s not a deep enough commitment; not for us or for Autotask.
Turn the lights back on
If the lights stay out much longer, people are going to look for other sources of illumination. Right now, we’re all in the dark; reading rumours, tidbits, tweets and blogs. By now they’re pretty much just regurgitating the little that we already know. Come out and officially tell us a few things like who’s taking over for Jay, who will lead the On Tour campaign and, most importantly, where Autotask CommunITy Live 2012 will be held! Your executive team needs to step up and communicate with the CommunITy at large, and with the group leaders and MVPs in particular. Don’t let the rumour mill be the source of this kind of information. It’s time to turn on the lights and make things clear and transparent.
In summary, let me once again thank Autotask for the excellent solution you’ve given us. You’re system is the nuts and bolts of my business, and I am committed to continuing to use it and support your growth as much as I can. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t have bothered writing this long letter and expressing the concerns many of your other customers are experiencing.
First, what is The Cloud?
The Cloud simply refers to information technologies that are externally hosted or otherwise “virtualized”. For example, your Web site is probably hosted through an Internet service provider. It’s in The Cloud. If you’re using Gmail for email, your email is in The Cloud. If you have “hosted VoIP” or “hosted Microsoft Exchange”, then that means your most business critical tools are in The Cloud. If you use SalesForce.com, Autotask or other software as a service (SaaS) offerings, you’re using The Cloud.
For IT pros, The Cloud is just a new way to refer to a general trend in computing (usually referred to as cloud computing) over the last 20 years to move computing resources and applications off-premise. For businesses, using The Cloud means that they don’t have to worry as directly about administering, managing and provisioning the hardware and underlying software for those applications (along with some up-front savings). There’s nothing especially new about The Cloud (except for the recent round of hype).
Is The Cloud really gaining momentum? Reality bites.
I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but The Cloud is still a fair amount of unrealized potential and, analysts and vendors aside, a source of confusion for us earthlings. That doesn’t mean The Cloud isn’t useful for some applications. It is. It’s just that small and medium business owners need to be careful to set their expectations accordingly and that IT professionals need to do a better job of educating customers about what the benefits and pitfalls of The Cloud are.
It’s always difficult to predict when a way of managing information technology is going to gain critical mass. Sun declared that the network was the computer in the 1990s. If you read the press at the time, we were all going to have thin-clients on our desks. Corel was converting Word Perfect to JAVA in anticipation of a swing in the market. Things didn’t turn out exactly as expected, did they?
That’s not unusual. Lots of good technologies and good ideas never transform the market. But that doesn’t mean The Cloud isn’t gathering momentum this time around. There are good reasons to believe that there is some truth to the hype about The Cloud. Security, bandwidth, decreasing costs for computing resources and other factors are looking very good for The Cloud, but there are rarely any guarantees with information technology. For now, The Cloud is still on the horizon, and FAR is advising clients to take a wait and see approach unless they have very compelling business reasons to switch to The Cloud.
What should small and medium businesses put in The Cloud and what should they keep on premise?
This is always the most difficult question to answer. It depends on the business. It depends on their costs and business model. It may even depend on the types of customers they service (their verticals). At FAR, we work with customers to put the right solutions in place for their needs. More and more, small and medium businesses, even if they have IT teams in place, need that kind of help from a company like FAR. What is important is using the right tool to meet the right challenge, and using the tools at your disposal (whether they’re in The Cloud or in your server room) in ways that work for your business.
But really, what should and shouldn’t small and medium businesses put in The Cloud?
Most companies can divide their information technology into two key groups: user productivity and related business systems (e.g,. their customer relationship management applications, their project management applications, and so on), and their core infrastructure applications (e.g., Microsoft Exchange, their VoIP phone system, their network and so on). These are general categories and some products straddle both.
The Cloud is sometimes a good way to address the needs of the first group. For example, FAR uses Autotask to manage its professional services automation. We love it. I love it. FAR also hosts a lot of our clients’ Web sites through a virtual Web server provided by an ISP. So, these are both in The Cloud.
The Cloud is often a bad (bad as in costly and potentially dicey) way to manage the second group (core infrastructure products). E-mail, phone services and unified communications, for example, are typically so critical to many businesses and so expensive to host over even a 2 year period that putting them in The Cloud doesn’t make much sense for many small and medium businesses. FAR hosts its Exchange and VoIP phone system on-premise for this reason, as do the majority of our clients.
What key factors should businesses consider?
The Cloud and on-premise solutions are not mutually exclusive ways to solve business problems. They are two different but increasingly related tools to solve the challenges many businesses face. There may be overlap between the two in the same business process.
For example, when I wrote this blog, I wrote it using Microsoft Word on my desktop computer. Then I uploaded it as an attachment to an Autotask project for the proofreader (into The Cloud). So, even though I didn’t write the document in The Cloud, we used The Cloud during the process; now that I am publishing it to this blog, the content is officially in The Cloud again.
Even though we could have used Google Docs to write the blog (and so, used The Cloud from beginning to end), we won’t be switching to Google Docs any time soon. Why not? Microsoft Office provides us with the right cost/benefit ratio and the features that we need. That’s really the best way to make a decision about what to put in The Cloud and what not to put in The Cloud: does it make financial and business process sense?
Beyond that, there are a number of factors to account, but the big questions are usually: What are the costs? How important is this information technology to our business? What level of service does this application require? In some cases, cost-wise, it may make sense to rent an application (in The Cloud), and in some cases, it makes sense to own (on-premise). In some cases, the business system is simply too critical or too complicated to put in The Cloud and an on-premise solution makes the most sense. In other cases, the level of service provided by an external service provider can’t match your business expectations or requirements. The answers to the questions will vary from business to business and from application to application.
The FAR Cloud
As a managed service provider, FAR provides its own “cloud” to our customers (The FAR Cloud, so to speak). We take the business challenges our customers face and put in place a seamless solution that combines on-premise and virtualized products and services with our boutique level of planning, execution, support and monitoring to meet their business requirements and to provide continuous improvement. We make sure that everything just works together.
That’s really the value that good information technology planning and execution provides (whether it’s in The Cloud, on-premise or a combination): reasonable peace of mind at reasonable cost. What FAR provides customers is that peace of mind extended to the whole of their information technology requirements. Over the next several blog entries, I will be giving you some of FARs most common answers to these questions and how The Cloud can be an effective part of your business.
Behind every great business practice, there’s a great tool and someone who knows how to use it. One of the many tools FAR uses to keep our employees productive and our customers happy is Autotask.
Every business has key productivity tools and one of the most critical to FAR is Autotask. Autotask is delivered as a “software as a service” (SaaS) or what is now commonly referred to as “The Cloud”. That means that Autotask hosts the application centrally, and FAR’s employees can login from anywhere.
The same is true for all of our customers. Autotask provides us with strong project management tools to organize our internal communications and workflow, but equally important, with ways to make that process and its status transparent to our clients. The Client Portal allows clients to login and track their tickets, issues and project status any time they like 24 hours a day,7 days a week.
What makes Autotask important to FAR?
We currently have 10 employees with a plan in place to grow to 15 in Q1 2010. A 50% increase in headcount is no small task by itself. Keeping everything smooth requires regular and expected process, but also the ability to improvise in real time to meet customer expectations when necessary. Autotask helps FAR do both.
A competitor enters
No business practice, no process, no tool, and no employee’s performance is ever entirely perfect. I was recently approached by a key competitor to Autotask. I’m mostly agnostic about technology: best tool for the job is the mantra at FAR, and like any business, FAR is always looking to reduce our costs, serve our clients more efficiently — or both!
When I asked this competitor why I should switch from Autotask, the response was surprisingly anemic. For FAR to switch out Autotask for this alternative solution would have provided us with less functionality, fewer benefits at greater cost. It was a no-brainer for us to stick with Autotask.
The moral of this story: if it ain’t broke, plan to continuously improve it.
To stay ahead of competitors, your business needs to improve continuously, and that means your business processes and information technology need to keep up. Human resources, business processes and information technology all require continuous improvement.
What’s important for a small and medium enterprise is to plan and execute that improvement over time — otherwise, you end up with an inflexible business process and an aging tool set that no longer helps your employees get the job done (or, just as likely, makes their jobs more difficult and less productive). In that situation, you go from continuous improvement for low, planned costs, to rip and replace for high and unpredictable costs. Having a plan for your business processes and how they should integrate and make use of your information technology is a simple way to save money and time for your business over time.
Also, businesses should be prepared to use the best tool for the job. Sometimes that means using the “The Cloud” and SaaS, but just as often, it means in-sourcing key components of your network (like your phone system, your Exchange deployment and other business critical tools). Watch this space for the next few weeks as I plan to be writing about The Cloud, and what small and medium enterprises should (or shouldn’t) host.