Most of you would have watched the Seven Perpendicular Red Lines video that was well circulated in the social media. It depicts a situation arising out of many enterprise vendor relationships, though exaggerated. Even though the video is primarily about the frustrations of the expert, the behaviors of the customers as well as vendor executives are depicted quite accurately.
I am sure that many of you would have come across situations similar to this one, where the customers don?t have any clues as to what they want, there is immense pressure from your own management to succeed at the customer account, and you are caught squarely in between. This is quite common while discussing enterprise application implementations, especially when it comes to projects of the transformative kind. And well, ECM and BPM projects mostly deal with business and process transformation.
In my experience, a majority of customers are not educated enough of why they need an ECM/BPM implementation. Somebody at some level and on some day would have made a decision to acquire an ECM system without thinking too much of what it can do for the organization. Roughly 70% of the customers that I have seen in the past falls in this category (Category A). Another 20% of the customers have a clearer thought process as to why they need such a system, but they lack the clarity in terms of what exactly can be done and how it can be done (Category B). The last 10% have clear vision of what they want and how it can be done and who they want to get it done with (Category C). Please note that the categorization and the relative percentages are based on my experience alone.
Working with Category C customers is interesting and challenging at the same time. They know their business well and have very clear ideas as to how they can achieve them. They are always in a hurry and pretend to be in control. While working with them, I as a consultant had to toe their line of thoughts and sometimes ignore my own reservations of how certain things are done.
In my opinion, the best set of customers to work for are the ones in Category B. They are clear as to what they want to achieve and are willing to listen. They are not the ?I-know-it-all? kind of customers and the process of engagement is more democratic. As a consultant, I get opportunities to work with their business users and leaders in understanding the big picture as well as the nitty-gritty details. They are mostly open to suggestions and are eager to understand the best practices. Mostly they know their business and are willing to listen to people who understand how the right technology could help them run their businesses better.
The large A Category customers quite compare themselves with the one in the aforementioned video. Their IT and business teams typically lack the cohesiveness required for transformational project execution. I have worked with this set of customers both as a consultant and as a vendor. In majority of the cases, such customers see ECM or BPM as an IT project. I have seen instances of the project stakeholders come up with dismissive answers to genuine queries on the project purpose and requirements. Remember the ?Perpendicular to what?? question in the video. The customer is bewildered by that question, tries to find some clues in the set of papers she is holding, and then answers ?Perpendicular to everything?. This is exactly how many of the customers behave in my experience.
Then comes the business user who is not at all clued in as to what the project is about. She listens to whatever is going on and is totally disinterested. Her contribution to the discussion is a final ?change request?. She wants the lines to be in the form of a kitten! This is perfect and to the T.
The one line that I came across too many times dealing with this category of customers is ?You are the expert. You tell me?. In many cases this could be interpreted as ?I don?t have any clue as to how to run my business. You as a vendor tell me how I should do my business?. And many vendors are glad to grab that opportunity as well.