news / tech talk

Customer Advocacy

by Lee LeClair
As seen in Inside Tucson Business

Right now, I am involved in the large scale rollout of some new technologies for a huge organization. The changes being implemented are significant; they involve establishing new data centers, migrating large remote locations from a mostly de-centralized IT model to a regionally centralized model, deploying new network security mechanisms, and generally re-tooling the network design of the entire organization. There are a lot of teams, efforts, and parts happening all at once.

The goals of these changes are two-fold: improve security for the entire organization, and standardize tools and processes for more efficient (less costly) continuing operations. These goals are intended to be achieved while helping the “customer” which in this case is the workers at the remote sites, or at least not making things worse for the customer. I use the term customer because one of the most tangible ways that the success of a project is measured is through customer satisfaction. There will be a couple of pilot sites migrated immediately after the data centers are stood up so a lot of work is taking place in parallel.

As you might imagine, there are huge technological changes being engineered and put in place. They involve various network, computing, and storage technologies as well as monitoring and management systems. All very geek oriented stuff. However, one of the things that I see missing is an advocate for the customer at the remote sites. Most of the engineers and staff are focused on getting their various parts working while management is poring over schedules and costs. In the flurry of activity, there is little communication occurring with the affected personnel at the remote sites.

During conference calls, they are clearly slightly bewildered. They know the scope of the effort and that much of their current world is going to change. They are growing a little frustrated that they are hearing so little. They ask what they should be doing to prepare and they ask how certain functions that are critical will be handled. They are smart people; they need reassurance, what some call “hand-holding”. It is natural that big changes cause anxiety and well they should; rarely is central planning so well thought out that every contingency is conceived. It will be the case with the initial sites, they will have some troublesome systems or applications that do not “fit” within the new model and a solution of some type will have to be determined.

However the customer often waits with growing unease as time goes by and little news travels down to them about what is coming, how it will be accomplished, what their role will be in the implementation and later in the new operations. This is a recipe for failure; like watching an accident unfold in slow motion. To prevent this, central planners and designers need to appoint a customer advocate. The advocate should have a mix of technical knowledge and people skills. The advocate’s purpose is to know the customer’s situation, their concerns and anxieties, and their technical needs and communicate those to the central planners and implementers. They should be approachable and competent as the customer will not have confidence in the solution if the advocate appears confused or obtuse. The advocate has inside contacts at central and can let the customer know what is coming and how things will work. They can also communicate critical detailed information about the site that central probably did not know so that potential problems are nipped before they become real problems.

However, the most important value of the advocate is addressing the customer’s concerns and priorities. By providing the customer with a line into central for input and for output, they gain that most important thing for a large scale rollout: customer acceptance. In the end, it is still people who make organizations work and they need to be well treated as well as provided with tools to be productive. I will be recommending a customer advocate for this project.

Lee Le Clair is the CTO at Ephibian. His Tech Talk column appears the third week of each month in Inside Tucson Business