Are We Making Progress?
Mon, November 19, 2007 at 01:15PM
Cynthia Holladay in Communications, Customer Development, Leadership, Management, Performance, Technology

My career appears to be a series of random lateral moves that reflect my heart more than my head. I knew without a doubt that I would have a lifelong relationship with computers in the late ‘80’s, after successfully implementing one of the first small office systems, a Wang 2200, as an intern at a Boston law firm. But instead of installing and using the applications, I wanted to write the code that made the systems work. So the lateral moves began.

In my formative years as lead database architect at a large Boston bank, application packages like Oracle or SAP weren't invented yet. Instead I worked directly with the finance executives to understand the business, the transaction processes, and the data, while custom-designing and deploying applications for them. The work was thrilling to me. (Well, except for the 2 AM calls from IT Ops when an overnight batch program abended.)

The systems were called mission critical because when they went down, millions of dollars (and my employment) were at stake. So rest assured, I paid close attention to details and results.

I didn't think of myself as a marketer then. But based on Dr. Philip Kotler's definition, I certainly was. Now the lateral moves don't seem so random.

Authentic marketing is not the art of selling what you make but knowing what to make. It is the art of identifying and understanding customer needs and creating solutions that deliver satisfaction to the customers, profits to the producers and benefits for the stakeholders.

--Philip Kotler, leading author and professor

The who, why, and what factors revealed

Illustration: Who, Why, What

The fundamental way I observe and experience the world is through the independent and interdependent factors of who, why, and what. One illustration comes to mind when I reflect on my experience as technology developer and marketer then and now -- and the key relationships between provider, customer, and value.

Corporate IT was a centralized department who developed all internal and external customer applications in-house. Resources, relationships and deadlines were tight. Developers and internal customers (who) worked from the same set of requirements (why) for the same business results (what). There were no “if we build it, they will comeprojects.

I am not saying that this was a perfect world. I'm over-simplifying here to be brief. But within that space and time, the critical relationships among the who, why, and what factors - to deliver business value through technology investments - were clear. Perhaps there was clarity because there were fewer layers of abstraction -- relatively speaking!

Ambiguous relationships

When I left the world of corporate IT and entered the thrilling world of venture start-ups, perspectives expanded. I began to learn what happens when multiple layers of abstraction and conflicts of interest are introduced into the relationships among these who, why, and what factors.

By the mid-'90's, corporate IT de-centralized. And external technology vendors and consultants supplied most companies' enterprise applications. The symbiotic set of relationships that once enabled a company's technology advantage was multiplying exponentially.

In the now classic NY Times article, Software That Can Make A Grown Company Cry, Claudia Deutsch calls enterprise IT projects, circa 1998, a Corporate Root Canal. Ouch!

Writing in CFO Magazine in 2002, Peter Krauss describes executive surveys by AMR Research and Charles Phillips (then at Morgan Stanley, now at Oracle). A Terrible Thing To Waste reveals how billions of dollars are wasted by U.S. corporations' enterprise software license purchases.

Now fast forward to 2007. Michael Krigsman writes about IT project failures in his ZDNet blog, aptly named: Rearranging the Deck Chairs. One such post painfully illustrates how an SAP implementation failure affects real people -- in this case, Los Angeles schoolteachers.

Things aren't much better now than they were in 1998 or 2002.

Where's the value?

Who is accountable? There's plenty of blame to go around. We all have responsibilities. With so many people with varied intentions in play, it's even more important that we get the who, why, and what relationships right. We must measure and deliver mutual value. And we must communicate clearly with everyone we serve.

That is, we must, if we truly want to make a competitive and sustainable difference.

One would think that, as an industry, we'd be close to getting it right. However, on November 17, 2007, following Oracle's 43,000-attendee user conference, OpenWorld, Krigsman writes about the vendor's massive wall-to-wall software suite. "While the product suite is big and growing, fellow Enterprise Irregular, Brian Sommer, takes issue with Oracle in the area of customer value":

Value was clearly a missing in action component at this conference. In one telling panel, five Oracle executives each recapped what they believed were the more critical messages for this year’s show. If I listened correctly, not one of the individuals used the word value. After this panel, I approached an Oracle communications executive and relayed my concern about this to him. Without compelling value propositions, net new sales of product in the marketplace will likely languish.

--Brian Sommer, The Oracle Facts I Wanted

What's missing? Besides the who (our stand and agreements) and the why (our service and purpose), we also need the what: customer and business value.

To make progress, we must work on ALL our relationships.


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