I had lunch today with an old friend from college, who works for a very large enterprise. I used to do consulting in that space and so it’s fun to compare notes and talk shop at a different level than the pure SMB level I deal with day-to-day.
He wanted to pick my brain a little over deployment models for virtual machines. He is in the process of developing a system that is highly burstable. It’s possible that the system could need as many as 50,000 connections simultaneously, but will more commonly serve one tenth of that. One of the software components he uses has a maximum connection limit of 5,000 per node, and thus a simple solution is adding more nodes. Virtualization is thus ideal here, as nodes can be added and removed as needed. It’s all technically possible, and our lunch (and delicious burger) was to verify his assumptions about what virtualization could do. We talked Hyper-V and VMWare, and confirmed that everything was technically possible.
The larger problem was not technical. In fact, what he wanted to do was reasonably simple. The larger problem was process, procedure, and organizational. The organization that was advocating the work fell under a different organization than those that could do the work, and there isn’t a relationship between the two groups that allowed the group performing the work to show it as “income,” so it became a lower priority.
Additionally, while the virtualization layer can handle it, there is custom software wrapped around for deployment, so there is more to write. The conversation reminded me why I left enterprise consulting. The burger and the discussion were fantastic.
I bring this up to highlight something that is true no matter what the size or scale of an organization is. Regardless of size, the biggest problem faced by organizations is not technical, but people. Much more challenging than any technical problem we face is the people and process hurdles to make it happen.
One of the key values we can bring in the SMB is simplicity. Where my friend needs to manage multiple departments, various budget pressures, and internal politics, in the SMB we often can deal directly with a single decision maker, and can handle most of the complexity for our customers.
Those pressures are not something we can do away with entirely, however. Having more than one employee means having management issues, and thus handling those issues well is a key differentiator for a good service provider.
I’ve found that there are some great strategies for overcoming those complexities.
• Ensure that you’re working with the decision maker in an organization. Often those responsible for a function are not those who decide, such as an office manager who requires financial approval for purchases. You need a working relationship with the decision maker.
• Understand the decision-making process at the organization. Having insight into how decisions are made goes hand in hand with understanding whom makes decisions regarding money.
• Focus on solutions, not on technologies. It’s easy as technical experts to quickly focus on what technologies we use to solve problems, but it’s much more important to focus on what problems we’re solving and what the benefits of the solution is than the specifics of how we do that.
• Remember the process. It’s important to remember that there are steps that ensure success, and planning for those ahead of time will create more success.
• It’s all about the people. Finally, concentrate on the fact that everything is about people. Good communication trumps all others in a relationship, and will assist in good times and in bad.