Unfortunately for you, the reader, it snowed last night. Why “unfortunately for you”? Because shoveling my driveway causes me to think. And thinking leads to blog posts. When I started this blog I committed to myself I would use it only for professional topics. Well, I guess I’m weak. Because today I’m venturing into “social and political” territory. This crazy political climate causes unusual things to happen.
Most of my life has been spent working with or in information technology of some form. During that time I’ve had some experiences that have sort of “stopped me in my tracks” – from the standpoint they caused me to realize what I was experiencing at that moment seemed highly significant from a technology evolution and impact-on-daily-life perspective. Some examples of experiences that caused me to go “Whoa!”:
Thanks to Patty Azzarello I was made aware of a concept/study that Malcolm Gladwell references in one of his books. In this exercise one group of people is asked to generate a list of items that are white. Another group is asked to generate a list of white items that are commonly found in a refrigerator. Interestingly the group that generates the list from the refrigerator generally comes up with a longer list. The point of the exercise: Oftentimes by putting specificity and concreteness into the question people can focus and think more clearly. I experienced this recently in a business context, which I found both interesting and perplexing.
It’s difficult to put my finger on why, but for some reason I’ve always been fascinated when conventional wisdom is challenged and better results ensue. There is something intriguing to me when we think we have something figured out and, in reality, the situation is very different or counter-intuitive. I think this is why open source business models have interested me so much.
In the best-selling book Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert relays the story of a great saint that meditated on God with a number of other followers. The saint’s annoying cat impeded meditation, so it was tied to a pole outside the temple prior to meditating. Over time tying the cat to the pole became a ritual and prerequisite for successful mediation. Imagine the group’s despair when the cat died! They had no idea how they’d be able to successfully meditate without first tying the cat to the pole. A means to an end (removing the cat) had gotten in the way of staying focused on the real objective (meditating). Has the act of vendors open sourcing a technology become the modern-day version of tying the cat to the pole?
We're all familiar with terms that become exceedingly popular very quickly and, in some instances, overused. Big Data. 3D printing. Cloud Computing. There are other examples - both in high tech and not. We hear the terms. We think we understand them. But do we really?
When a technology or concept becomes as popular and hyped as much as cloud computing is today there is a distinct danger that people will lose sight of why the technology is important and the real value it provides. And unfortunately, focusing on just the term and not on why it is important comes at the expense of the most important thing: Paying attention to what the customer truly needs. In other words - what customer problems need to be solved? As I've worked with businesses interested in or actually moving to the cloud I've been amazed at how frequently, when I ask what their solution needs to be able to do, I receive a response along the lines "It needs to be in the cloud." OK - but WHY?
A number of years ago I learned a valuable Product Management principle that I use to this day:
A "customer requirement" is only a requirement if it can be solved via multiple, distinct methods or solutions.
Customers care about having their problems solved. They oftentimes don't care how they're solved. In the vast majority of cases customer requirements need to be written such that Engineering could potentially solve them in a variety of ways. This encourages creativity and, hopefully, coming up with solutions that no one may have considered. "The solution needs to run in the cloud." is not a customer requirement. Data security. Easy WW access. High availability. Low cost. All of these are examples of requirements - problems the final solution needs to address. It's possible that one way to solve these requirements is via a solution that is running in the cloud. But there may be other viable non-cloud solutions as well. Don't confuse the selection of a particular solution implementation with the requirement itself. When the requirement is quenching thirst possible solutions are water, milk, tea or some other beverage.
[The following comments and interpretation of the solution below are mine alone. I do not have a relationship with Pelco and was not involved in the creation of the solution. I'm inferring requirements and business drivers from Pelco's marketing materials. I think the MultiSight solution is a good example to highlight this requirements vs technology discussion.]
Pelco is a leading manufacturer of cameras used in video monitoring. Their traditional solution involves capturing video streams and storing the data on local servers/storage for later review. This solution has tended to focus on local site storage and access. As companies with multi-site operations become more prominent and various types of expertise is centralized (such as a centralized Security department or centralized Operations department) there is a growing need for a central location (i.e. headquarters) to be able to access video streams captured at remote locations. Some requirements that would be easy to surmise:
Pelco created MultiSight, a software solution that enables remote sites to have their captured video available to users at other sites. MultiSight is implemented on Amazon Web Services. It turns out (as one might guess) that Amazon's cloud is a very cost effective and convenient method for solving the requirements as they are written above. But also note that nowhere in the requirements list is the word "cloud" used. Pelco could have solved those requirements with a number of other solution architectures. It is apparent, though, that the cloud model and technology was the best implementation alternative.
Lest they be forgotten the kinds of customer requirements that a cloud-based solution can address include:
These are the kinds of requirements businesses should look for when considering cloud technologies as the basis of a solution.
So while cloud computing is incredibly exciting and is changing the face of how computing is delivered, don't lose sight of what the real customer requirements are. Challenge yourself to be sure you understand and document the requirements that address the real customer needs - and not get caught up in buzzword hype that delivers a false sense of security of having a modern solution that is keeping up with the times. A modern, high-tech solution that doesn't actually solve a problem is of no use.