If It’s About Solutions, Then What Is The Problem?

Evolving From Hardware Supplier to Solutions Provider

I started my first tech job over 20 years ago, working in a New York University lab, building a token-ring network that was running Novell NetWare; the clients were brand spanking new IBM PS/2 computes running version 1 of OS/2. IBM_PS2_print_adBack then, IBM was looking to solve a problem; but it wasn’t a customer problem, it was an IBM problem. They were trying to reclaim the personal computing space from the likes of Compaq and Microsoft and tried to do that by creating a new standard that really didn’t solve any customer issues.

I’ve since worked with several end-user companies and for three hardware vendors, including EMC and currently, VCE. In each case, I’ve observed, from both within and without, a similar evolutionary process for all hardware vendors as they attempt to capture a bigger share of their market and assert greater dominance over their competitors.

evolution

It usually begins with assertions, by a vendor, that they have the biggest and fastest tin around. Over time, that same hardware vendors will begin to tell everyone they’ve actually been a software vendor all along and that is  the secret sauce that makes their tin the best in the industry. The vendor will then try to “evolve” into a services-driven company, going after higher margins and more profitable customer engagements. If the vendor survives long enough, they inevitably buy into the “solutions-selling” paradigm and thereafter proclaim they no longer just sell products, but deliver solutions that package their hardware, software, and services.

Outside-In vs. Inside-Out

Sounds familiar? The fact is that, as in any evolutionary process, there are those who adapt to their new situation and thrive and even more that fail and fall behind the others. For every tech company that is able to make the transition from selling tin to selling solutions, there are those who stall out and never figure out how to make the solutions sale.Dodo_bw

The issue as I see it is the propensity, for vendors, to develop solutions from inside-out instead of outside-in. What do I mean by that? Too often, vendors develop their proposed solutions by focusing only on the capabilities of their own products and not on the needs of their potential customer base. As a result, vendors find themselves in the classic “solution in search of a problem” conundrum, where the solutions that are rolled out do not solve any critical customer problems; marketing campaigns fail, bonus and commissions go unpaid, and it’s back to the drawing board.

square-peg

But what if vendors stop trying to put a square peg in a round hole with their inside-out method of solutions development and take what I call the outside-in approach? Very simply, it may look like this:

  1. Take the time to speak with a cross-section of customers to find out what business problems they may have that you can solve.
  2. Gather intelligence from your own field teams and your partners to find out what they are hearing from customers.
  3. Map every potential solution to a business use case or use cases to ensure that it solves a set of customer problems.
  4. As solutions are being developed, ensure that they integrate with customer environments and policies.
  5. Validate proposed solutions with customers, partners, and sales staff before being released to customers.

I am oversimplifying the development process but want to make the point that the fundamental approach that vendors should take towards solutions development must be rooted in solving customer problems and not just as a means to package their product catalog.

Solutions on Vblocks

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We just celebrated VCE’s third anniversary and as the company has matured, so has its go-to-market strategy. The Vblock is evolving from being not only the premier converged infrastructure stack for enabling server consolidation, but a platform for enabling solutions that solve customer problems. As we move into this next stage of the vendor evolutionary process, I am moving into a slightly different role that will give me the opportunity to collaborate with VCE Product Management, Engineering, and Global Services on rolling out Vblock solutions to the field, specifically in the Metro New York region.

My role will be providing, to VCE Corporate, feedback on what problems the customers in my territory have identified so that we are developing solutions that solve real customer problems. I will then take these developed solutions and work with VCE sales, our partners, and our parent companies – VMware, Cisco, and EMC – to bring them to market in the Metro NY region. These solutions could potentially include re-platforming applications, enabling Desktop-as-a-Service, or building private clouds.

As this evolution continues for VCE and my role evolves along with the company, I hope to be able to write more about the process of building solutions on a virtualized infrastructure, such as the Vblock. Since I view a complete solution as the sum of multiple elements, I am looking forward to sharing about new technologies and new ways of transforming IT, that will be part of what we hope to roll out to address customer needs.

Solutions components

I welcome feedback on whatever I write about; I particularly welcome feedback from any end-users on the IT problems that you have and for which you need solutions.

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One comment

  1. “….solutions development must be rooted in solving customer problems and not just as a means to package their product catalog”
    Great post Ken!

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