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When It Comes to Cloud, Which IT Executive Are You? Part 4: Where Do I Start First?

If you’ve been following my last 3 entries, you’ll know that I have been discussing my experiences talking to senior management at some of the largest financial, insurance and banking companies about cloud infrastructures.  I’ve related stories about the different kinds of customers I’ve met (the “Huh?,” the “Been There, Done That” and the “Dessert before Dinner” folks).   Finally, I get to tell you about the best customer in this series which is the kind of customer who not only has a clear understanding of what they want and where they eventually want to be; they also harbor no illusions about the cost and effort to get to that place.  

As you’ll recall, I broke down my experiences into four simple categories:

•             Huh?

•             Been there, done that

•             I want to eat dessert before dinner

•             Where do I start first?

Tell me something I don’t know (that I don’t know)?

When I first talk to a customer, I instinctually get a feel for what the customer knows and what they don’t know…but, more important…I get an idea of what they don’t know that they don’t know.  Now this is probably the single most important thing to discover with a customer because it’s all of these “unknown unknowns” that will virtually define where the customer ends up.  OK, that might sound a little too opaque to a lot of people so let me explain it a different way.  If you ask anyone what it is that they want (really, it applies to most everything), but you don’t give them any context…any structure or framework…then they most likely cannot answer you in any coherent way.  Even if they really want to answer, they simply have nothing to base their decisions on.  Now if you present that same person with a whole laundry list of possibilities to choose from, they will definitely be able to tell you, from the list, the things they don’t want.  What you have left, what they haven’t said no to, is what they do want.

People are just funny that way…

A deeper explanation is that when context is supplied (i.e. what “X” means in relation to “Y”) for people to base decisions on, they are able to conceptualize their answers because they are immediately able to imagine a future state that is relevant to the particular choice because there is a perceived causal relationship.  For example;

  • If I ask a friend of mine what she wants for dinner 3 weeks from now, what do you think she would say?


  • If I ask her what she wants for dinner 3 weeks from now on her 40th birthday at Delmonico’s Steakhouse in New York City, I’m pretty sure that she’d be able to come up with a pretty good…and definitive answer.

With context, people are able to logically analyze if a particular future state is what they want or need.  The tough part in any engagement is finding out what the customer doesn’t know that they don’t know because it’s not like you can just ask them what those things are.  A way of getting that information is to basically recreate the customer’s level of awareness and depth of knowledge (about the subject) within yourself or your team and then compare that to the experiences and expertise available to you (but not to them…for whatever reason).

The delta, the difference between those two extremes, is what the customer doesn’t know that they don’t know and, like I said earlier, is likely where they want to end up because if they did know, they wouldn’t need a consultant, right?

The kind of customer that asks “Where do I start first?” is the kind of customer that understands what I’ve just explained above.  They “get” that even though they know about and are probably really good at a lot of things that are components of a cloud infrastructure, they realize that they know very little about cloud infrastructure itself…that there is a lot that they don’t know that they don’t know. To get to that delta, and be able to help the customer define, design and implement a cloud infrastructure, the typical process is what is sometimes called the “50% Rule.”

50 Percent Rule

Using the 10 month engagement timeline above, the 50% rule says that in any engagement:

  • The first 50% of the allotted time should be spent on discovery (determining what the customer knows),
  • 50% of the remaining time is then spent on analysis (determining what they don’t know),
  • 50 % of the time left after analysis is spent creating a solution design or plan (this is the delta…what they don’t know they don’t know) and, of course
  • The remaining time is for implementing the solution (by the way, this is actually not just specific to cloud infrastructures but is applicable to any consultative engagement).

Customers who get this concept are the ones who are successful simply because they allow themselves to see all of the available options instead of just what some vendor told them or merely what they are able to imagine for themselves.  They’re not paralyzed with information overload, and they aren’t convinced that because they do parts of a cloud infrastructure that they already have one.  Customers who understand this are the ones that ask “Where do I start first?” because they realize that even though there are many types and definitions of cloud infrastructures, to get to the right one…the right one for them…it is a process that involves understanding themselves first and foremost. Everything after that is the easy part…

Hopefully anyone who has been following these installments has enjoyed reading them and has learned a little about both cloud infrastructures as well as the ways that they are defined, designed and implemented.  The purpose of presenting different customer perspectives was to help illustrate the vast amount of information available, much of it conflicting, and the fact that many out there will use that confusion to their advantage to try to sell products, regardless of the applicability to the customers’ needs and wants.  It has always been my perspective that a solution has to be based, above all else, on the customer, their environment and where they want to go on their journey to the cloud.


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