Tag Archives: requirement

Have Software Suppliers Become Too Customer-Focused?

Remember the old dictum that says “the customer is always right”? Guess what, they aren’t.

Many times during my career as a management consultant, I have heard clients articulate their business needs and wants in the form of technical solution requirements. Besides completely ignoring the important intermediary step of stating those needs and wants as business requirements, the technical requirements voiced too often reflect only what the client knows to be possible; they do not imagine new and alternative technical solutions to business challenges. In other words, customers are not always a great source for innovative ideas on software functionality, much less on entirely new products.

I mention this because, lately, I have been hearing so many software vendors saying how focused they are on use cases and requirements voiced by their customers. Platform module and individual application development seems to be highly driven by customer feedback these days. Perhaps too highly.

Please do not misunderstand; software suppliers should consult frequently with customers, absorb their feedback, and develop against their use cases and requirements. However, vendors must also proactively imagine and build new functionality that will help customers overcome real and critical business challenges in ways that that they did not realize were possible.

A few software suppliers are mindful of this need. I recently saw a position opening announcement for a Senior Product Manager at a software provider that listed the following as one of the key qualifications for a successful candidate:

A demonstrated ability to get past what customers say they want and deliver what they really need

WOW! How powerful is that? It would be difficult to say it in a more simple, clear fashion.

The point of this post is to encourage software providers to think beyond stated customer technical requirements. Those are an important part of product planning, but cannot be the sole basis on which current product development and long-term roadmap decisions are made. Think and act like a management consultant; help your customers envision previously unimagined possibilities. That is a sustainable source of product innovation and competitive advantage.

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FINRA Affirms Regulation of User-Generated and Social Content

In a Regulatory Notice released earlier today, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) opined that brokerage firms and their registered representatives must retain records of all communications related to the broker-dealer’s business that are made through public blogs and social media sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

“Every firm that intends to communicate, or permit its associated persons to communicate, through social media sites must first ensure that it can retain records of those communications as required by Rules 17a-3 and 17a-4 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and NASD Rule 3110. SEC and FINRA rules require that for record retention purposes, the content of the communication is determinative and a broker-dealer must retain those electronic communications that relate to its “business as such.”

Brokerage firms will now be required to archive and make discoverable business-specific content produced by their employees. They will also have to establish and maintain procedures that ensure a supervisor has either approved an interactive electronic communication before it is posted, or that a “risk-based” method of post-communication review exists and is exercised.

“While prior principal approval is not required under Rule 2210 for interactive electronic forums, firms must supervise these interactive electronic communications under NASD Rule 3010 in a manner reasonably designed to ensure that they do not violate the content requirements of FINRA’s communications rules.

Firms may adopt supervisory procedures similar to those outlined for electronic correspondence in Regulatory Notice 07-59 (FINRA Guidance Regarding Review and Supervision of Electronic Communications). As set forth in that Notice, firms may employ risk-based principles to determine the extent to which the review of incoming, outgoing and internal electronic communications is necessary for the proper supervision of their business. “

In addition, FINRA’s guidance states that all organizations under its purview must establish and communicate social media usage guidelines for their employees, and that those individuals must also receive employer-provided training on those guidelines.

“Firms must adopt policies and procedures reasonably designed to ensure that their associated persons who participate in social media sites for business purposes are appropriately supervised, have the necessary training and background to engage in such activities, and do not present undue risks to investors. Firms must have a general policy prohibiting any associated person from engaging in business communications in a social media site that is not subject to the firm’s supervision. Firms also must require that only those associated persons who have received appropriate training on the firm’s policies and procedures regarding interactive electronic communications may engage in such communications.”

FINRA’s guidance marks the beginning of a new era for financial services companies and their use of external social media. However, the Financial Services sector is not the only one that will be subject to regulation of communications made via blogs and other types of social software. An IBM Senior Product Manager related last week at Lotusphere that IBM customers in the Healthcare and Utilities industries were also beginning to ask about the management of user-generated and social content.

If your organization is currently required to comply with regulations pertaining to the use of email and instant messaging for business communication, expect to see similar requirements placed on your management of external blog and social media site posts in the near future. At some point, it is likely that these regulations will also be applied to internal communications conducted via enterprise social software.

The Nexus of Defined Business Process and Ad Hoc Collaboration

My friend Sameer Patel wrote and published a very good blog post last week that examined the relationship of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and enterprise social software. His analysis was astute (as usual) and noted that there was a role for both types of software, because they offer different value propositions. ECM enables controlled, repeatable content publication processes, whereas social software empowers rapid, collaborative creation and sharing of content. There is a place for both in large enterprises. Sameer’s suggestion was that social software be used for authoring, sharing, and collecting feedback on draft documents or content chunks before they are formally published and widely distributed. ECM systems may then be used to publish the final, vetted content and manage it throughout the content lifecycle.

The relationship between ECM and enterprise social software is just one example of an important, higher level interconnection — the nexus of defined business processes and ad hoc collaboration. This is the sweet spot at which organizations will balance employees’ requirements for speed and flexibility with the corporation’s need for control. The following (hypothetical, but typical) scenario in a large company demonstrates this intersection.

A customer account manager receives a phone call from a client asking why an issue with their service has not been resolved and when it will be. The account manager can query a workflow-supported issue management system and learn that the issue has been assigned to a specific employee and that it has been assigned an “in-progress” status. However, that system does not tell the account manager what she really needs to know! She must turn to a communication system to ask the other employee what is the hold up and the current estimate of time to issue resolution. She emails, IM’s, phones, or maybe even tweets the employee to whom the issue has been assigned to get an answer she can give the customer.

The employee to whom the issue was assigned most likely cannot use the issue management system to actually resolve the problem either. He uses a collaboration system to find documented information and individuals possessing knowledge that can help him deal with the issue. Once the problem is solved, the employee submits the solution to the issue management system, which feeds it to a someone who can make the necessary changes for the customer and inform the customer account manager that the issue is resolved. Case closed.

The above scenario illustrates the need for both process and people-centric systems. Without the cludgy, structured issue management system, the customer account manager would not have known to whom the issue had been assigned and, thus, been unable to contact a specific individual to get better information about its status. Furthermore, middle managers would not have been able to assign the case in a systematic way or see the big picture of all cases being worked on for customers without the workflow and reporting capabilities of the issue management system. On the other hand, ad hoc communication and collaboration systems were the tools that drove actual results. The account manager and the employee to whom the issue was assigned would not have been able to do their work if the issue management system was their only support tool. They needed less structured tools that allowed them to communicate and collaborate quickly to actually resolve the issue.

We should not expect that organizations striving to become more people-centric will abandon their ECM, ERP, or other systems that guide or enforce key business processes. There is a need for both legacy management and Enterprise 2.0 philosophies and systems in large enterprises operating in matrixed organizational structures. Each approach can provide value; one quantifiable in hard currency and the other in terms of softer, but important, business metrics (more on this in a future post.) The enterprises that identify, and operate at, the intersection of structured process and ad hoc communication/collaboration will gain short-term competitive advantage.