It’s the Little Things

arthur-conan-doyle-quoteI have lately been thinking about everything we have built at Contegix. We have accelerated the pace of innovation significantly over the past 3 years. The changes are profound and reward our customers daily. I was reminded of this in how we addressed the leap second addition in 2015 vs. 2012. In the end, it comes down to doing a series of small things – regularly, consistently, and successfully.

As the author and voice of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle coined the phrase “The little things are infinitely the most important.” Doyle was not alone, as similar philosophies have been preached by numerous people, from Darren Hardy to John Wooden. The former wrote a book on this, called “The Compound Effect”.

John Wooden, the former head coach of UCLA who won ten NCAA national championships, stated “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” He also demonstrated this point at the start of every season. The first thing Wooden would do with new college basketball players was sit them down and teach them how to put on their shoes and socks. Wooden considered this the initial lesson for “everything we would need to know for the rest of our lives.”

little_quoteYet, in our culture of instant gratification, instant cloud provisioning, and burstable needs, everyone wants success rapidly, which has become a requirement for many businesses. Waiting simply is not an option for many people and businesses; however, doing the small things takes time. Doing the small things is what allows doing great things. Contegix doing the small things in an intelligent manner is how we fulfill these customer’s instant needs.

This is why we focus on seemingly small things, such as color coding and labeling every cable, rigorously testing patches, and still performing manual data center walkthroughs just in case. It’s why we put so much emphasis on process, procedure, and security. Customers do not become loyal brand buyers by accident. Our partners choose us because they know the details they should not have to care about are also the one’s that we put front and center.

The reality is that what we do is hard to do at our level. We have to take a series of small steps in rapid succession, each with precision accuracy. We achieve big things by relentlessly focusing on small things. It’s that easy, and it’s that hard. I am often reminded of this when I walk through our data centers. We take time and go through painstaking details to ensure everything is right.

Our core value of rapid accelerated growth is about the growth of our stakeholders – customers, partners, and employees. We must adamantly strive to incrementally get better each day, by doing the little things correctly. These compound upon each other. This is what makes a difference and allows our customers, partners, and employees to build greater things, especially themselves.

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Companies To Admire

I was recently asked the question “What companies do you admire?” In the technology industry, it would be easy to pick the suspected companies – Apple, Oracle, eBay, Square, Atlassian. Many of these companies started as an idea, developed amazing cultures, and have grown to accomplish technical feats that have changed the world.

Yet, my list is comprised of 2 companies well outside the tech industry. In fact, one is in manufacturing and the other is in entertainment.

Lincoln Electric – Innovation in product and employment culture in a commoditized industry.

As a company, every new product and service we create is almost immediately outdated the moment it is released. Competitors, both new and old, can and will target anything successful we accomplish. This means that we must remain diligently focused on our people and the culture to outpace and deliver for our customers. Our innovation and delivery are concretely linked to this, similar to Lincoln. We want the best talent.

Licareers-headerncoln is somewhat well known for their guaranteed employment. While most may consider their “Guaranteed Continuous Employment” model as archaic, the reality is different. It is locked to a continuous performance improvement and merit-based compensation for those who meet the benchmarks. More important, it and other cooperative programs bring forth all challenges and potential ideas. This includes innovations in the creation and delivery of products and services.

Contegix does this today and must continue to do such going forward. This is critical to our continued growth and is epitomized in our core value of Rapid Accelerated Growth. Rapid Accelerated Growth is about the growth of our stakeholders – talent, customers, partners, vendors, etc. Our mission is to help them grow, and we believe this will inevitably translate to growth of our top and bottom lines.

Disney – Operational excellence and brand loyalty.

Disney is well known for both operational excellence and brand loyalty (internally and externally). I had the opportunity to personally experience both a few years ago on a Disney cruise with the family. Minor tasks, such as cleaning the handrails, were just as important as the major ones. Disney realizes the minor details leave an impression and make a difference. In the case of the handMickey_Mouserails, cruises are notoriously known for outbreaks of infections. Just the mere visible nature of cleaning the handrails allows the guests to be more carefree. Cast members (not employees) are fully engaged in the brand of Disney. It hit me when I watched stingrays trained to respond to a Mickey Mouse cutouts. They knew food would be available when they saw the cutouts.

These traits are the exact ones at the heart of our “Go Beyond” philosophy.

As the holder of a customer’s electronic livelihood, we are committed to a level of operation excellence that parallels the best, including Disney. One can see it in our minor details, from the meticulous cabling where every cable is labeled and color coded to the architecting of solutions to meet an individual company’s needs.

Brand loyalty is about our internal and external customers. Similar to Disney, we believe that we must build an exceptional customer relationship with every stakeholder, including our talent, our customers, and our partners. The power of this connection will continue to drive employee retention and customer loyalty. Even when presented with other options, this allows us to deliver an outstanding value for both as we  “Go Beyond”.

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Definition of “Service” and Our Industry

service_defContegix’s industry has gone through a series of name changes in the past 20 years. We have gone from being called “Internet Service Providers” to “Web Hosting Service Providers”. The “Web” was replaced with “Application” and later dropped as companies embraced the value of having all applications available via the internet, not just their website.

A decade ago, Contegix was one of the companies that helped pioneer a higher level of service for these applications. We believe that our customers are more innovative, more productive, and genuinely better run businesses when they are focused on their specific uniqueness rather than hardware and application infrastructure. Thus, the term “Managed Service Provider” was born. This is was specifically true for our managed services as we often push down into the application infrastructure.

In the past few years, the term “cloud” has become ubiquitious. This has led to Contegix being referred to as a “Cloud Service Provider”. Today, we use this term and often extend it to “Managed Cloud Service Provider” when describing what we do. We still passionately believe that managed services are what often help companies drive the benefit of IT.

The commonality used throughout this evolving name change has been the phrase “service provider”.

At our core, we provide our customers service as defined by “the action of helping or doing work for someone”. It’s represented in our core values. We believe in our mission to help lift the burden of technology. For many, this is through our private cloud solutions while others it may be colocation. For all, it includes our Go Beyond philosophy of service. As a “service provider” we can think of no greater privilege than the opportunity to deliver outstanding service and support to our customers on a consistent basis. We embrace the service provider label and regardless of what future descriptors are bestowed upon our industry, we will always remain true to our core and who we are.

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Google, True Leadership and The Who of a Contegian

Leadership_artLast month, the New York Times published an op-ed by Thomas Friedman titled “How to Get a Job at Google“. The premise of the article is that Google has reduced its dependency for candidate evaluation around traditional measurements of academic success and traditional leadership.

It’s interesting to see Google change their interview approach over time. Originally, you had to attend the best university. You had to have the best grades. The interviews were notoriously grilling. You had to be the best of the best. (Note, there was never any definition of what “the best” was.) According to the article, their core areas of focus are now around general cognitive/learning abilities, emergent leadership, humility, and ownership.

This shift is the difference between “what you know” vs. “who you are” as a candidate. At Contegix, we have spent the last 5 years placing more emphasis on the “who” than the “what”. We learned a few lessons along the way that experientially highlight and predict the long-term success of a team member based around who they were. An example I often give is our support engineers.

We have absolutely brilliant engineers as part of our team. They manage, monitor, and maintain our customers’ infrastructure everyday. They ensure systems are performing and respond to technical challenges. This work is based upon what they know. The “who” aspect of our engineers is around their ability to deliver passionate customer service while performing this work. We cannot lose sight that this infrastructure can and does have an impact on customers’ livelihoods. Being the best engineer, but then being insensitive to the customer, leads to failure.

Furthermore, in the world of evolving technology, the “who” of an engineer will guide how she/he will be able to grow, adapt, and rethink. We need people who are excited by and able to build the technology. They should be able to deliver technology to our customers while not being overwhelmed by it.

Of all the candidate attributes, I would take this a step further and state that (true) leadership is the core attribute. It is the critical, all-inclusive “who” trait for which every company must evaluate candidates. This is regardless of the position or role in the company. True leadership shows itself in every place, from small team settings to times of challenge.

It takes true leaders to take ownership of challenges. It takes true leaders to be humble and allow a more qualified or experienced team member to temporarily lead a team. This is the truly open minded approach. Can one truly lead if they ignore new facts and drive their team off the cliff due to ego?

Leadership has been the trait most critical to growing Contegix. Building and adding great leaders has had a profound positive impact on the culture. Having folks who are willing to be humble leaders, who are open minded, and are willing to take ownership, significantly increases our capacity for progress, innovation, and, most important, customer service.

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Customer Complaints Are Healthy

Complaint BoxHaving a successful business hopefully means having customer accolades and cheers. It also means customer complaints. Thanks to our amazing staff, we have very few complaints. Our internal scores and feedback mechanisms reiterate the happiness of our customer base. Yet, no company can escape customer concerns nor should they even try. I advocate that companies should embrace and hug each and every customer communication, especially those where we did not perform perfectly.

For Contegix, the most critical reason why customer complaints are healthy related back to our core values. Nearly every complaint touches upon at 3 of our core valuesRespect People, Time & Data, Foster Communication Through Transparency, and Rapid Accelerated Growth.

  • Respect People, Time & Data – When a person communicates, it means she cares enough to complain which means she is giving up her time. Time is the currency of our lives. Even when this is pure venting or frustration, it is still an individual’s currency and she has chosen to spend it in a manner that allows us to improve the relationship. We owe it to her and ourselves to honor the core value of respecting her time. This is done by actively listening and working to improve on a misstep.
  • Foster Communication Through Transparency – Every communication from a customer is a gift to communicate with them in a transparent manner. A complaint is an invitation to open a dialogue. We hear how we performed and where we stand in the customer’s mind and heart. We get to learn what actions missed and hopefully what actions can be taken to make the situation better.
  • Rapid Accelerated Growth – This core value is not about growth of the company. It is about growth of our two most important stakeholders – our customers and our talent. As someone who loves what I do, I need to know when I am not as successful as I could be. I need to know when I do not hit the mark. This is why I embrace my annual 360 Review and any event where our staff openly communicates. My natural inclination may be to defend my position. I have come to appreciate the missteps more than any accolades. It gives me an amazing gift to help me personally grow. Complaints from customers are the same. It gives us a chance to grow in our technical and communication skills. Perhaps, we were technically perfect in our performance. Yet, if we failed to communicate well to the customer, it is an opportunity to get better. Everything is training. Everything helps us grow, as individuals. It helps our talented people improve.

It is impossible to have zero customer complaints. The only way to achieve this would be to have zero customers. We are blessed to have very few complaints. It’s how we deal with the few we do get that defines us and our relationship with our amazing customers.

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CIO Survey : Cloud Is Top Priority & Costs In Focus

Compuware recently commissioned a survey of 468 CIOs. The report, published by Research In Action, showed that nearly 2/3 of respondents named cloud as their top priority. The most interesting and hopeful aspect of this report is that we are finally starting to see real analysis of the topic. It is being applied to determine the true ROI of cloud computing. This is reflected in the focus on cost where cost is more than subscription fees and staff training.

Here are some of the key CIO concerns from the Forbes survey:

  • Poor end user experience due to performance bottlenecks (64 percent). This goes right to the customer end-user experience as well, since e-commerce is the leading cloud application area, the survey finds – 78 percent of respondents are already using cloud resources to support e-commerce.
  • The impact of poor performance on brand perception and customer loyalty (51 percent).
  • Loss of revenue due to poor availability, performance, or troubleshooting cloud services (44 percent).
  • Increased costs of resolving problems in a more complex environment (35 percent).
  • Increased effort required to manage vendors and service level agreements (23 percent).

CIOs are thinking about cloud and expressing challenges about its associated, impacting costs, such as user performance.  It is evident that total costs are heavily (and rightfully) focused on the results. For cloud to continue to drive IT forward, this is what should be in focus for any IT decision, especially cloud. If a shopper leaves due to website performance or if internal resources are unable to rapidly help the prospect due to internal system availability, that potential customer may be lost to a competitor forever. That represents a real long term cost for the company.

There is no single approach to solving these concerns. Viewing the points, there is a common theme that sticks out – the cloud service provider. The right cloud service provider is aligned with the customer’s goals, including performance and availability. SLAs should match the customer’s needs rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. (The exception should be services such as network and power where 100% uptime can be expected.) Complexity of the environment should not even exist. Cloud service providers need to be focused on the “service” if we truly want to be involved in and share responsibility for aspects of business that impact livelihood.

The focus on costs and ROI are a good thing for the industry. More important, it’s good for the cloud consumer, specifically the businesses utilizing cloud to create greater agility and flexibility.

Download the full survey report here.

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Shall We Play A Game?

wargames-for-sale-13apr10I am surprised that there are still companies that employ “the enterprise sales process” . We often see this employed when we evaluate new hardware vendors.

Here is how I recently described the process to a potential vendor (who thankfully promised to not do this):

  1. Vendor send quote.
  2. I gasp.
  3. I reply that I received the quote and that we will be evaluating it.
  4. Vendor calls and emails numerous times – to the point of excessive.
  5. I pretend to go on vacation or be “crazy busy”.
  6. Vendor eventually leaves a message and sends an email regarding how they value us a  partner (which actually means customer). Also, the message states that prices have temporarily dropped due to some random, arbitrary reason such as unicorns are currently in mating season. (This translates to it’s end of quarter.)
  7. Our team evaluates the product but worries about future pricing.

Sales is the first point in what could be a long term relationship for both parties. Setting the tempo and tone around this type of process seems to defeat this potential. It breaks down the trust and adds worry to us as a customer. For me, this defeats the purpose of a good vendor – make the customer’s life better. Period.

FWIW, I have to say that I am very grateful our vendors, such as Dell/EqualLogic, CDW, and many others, do not play these games. It allows us to get the best pricing and service, commit to them long term, and make our customers lives better.

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Focus on the Five Percent

For most companies, 95 percent of what they do is what EVERY company has to do – build and service a customer base, human resources, accounts payables, etc. Instead of focusing on that, businesses should be focusing on the five percent that makes them unique.

The products and services a business has, how they deliver those products and services to customers, and the company culture built around them – those three things are what a business needs to focus on. It’s their “five percent,” if they want to leverage their company’s uniqueness, and innovate in the business and technology space.

A business will win in the business and technology space by having people engaged in its unique company culture. Company culture is possibly the biggest part of the five percent that makes one unique, and dictates where a company heads and how it heads there. It’s easy when there are only three to five employees, when everyone knows everyone. But as the company grows, there are problems sourcing and selecting the right people. Companies need to know what they want in employees, to build the right culture.

People are hired for what they know, but are fired for who they are. Too many companies hire for the what, not the who. Companies need to know what they want. For Contegix, we need people who are brilliant, agile, but more importantly, they have to know how to TALK to the customer. We need people who understand Linux, and also understand how it impacts the customers. When stuff breaks, because tech always breaks, our people need to understand how that impacts the customer.

Aside from our company culture, Contegix’s five percent is the products and services we have, and how we deliver them. We can supplement what IT departments need. Businesses say things like, ‘I don’t want to maintain a server room. I just want to take my equipment, and put it somewhere I know will be safe and secure.’ We help people get the innovation gap back by helping companies cope with increasing IT needs with managed services, with colocation, with cloud computing. And once they have the innovation gap back, they can focus on their own five percent.

At Contegix, we don’t just want to sell you ‘computing.’ We also want to be there to help you understand what the right thing is for you, and to help you understand how technology makes your company better.

So what’s your company’s five percent? Talk to us, we’re happy to listen.

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Five Questions for Family Dinner.

When it was time for dinner, Courtney and I sit with our kids and want to know how each of their days was. Sometimes, a child would just utter “Fine”, “ok”, etc. and want to move on. Other times, a child would be so excited that others wouldn’t have a chance to share their day. This was completely non-conversational and awkward!

A few months ago, we started structuring the conversation and came down to five (kinda, six) questions.

These are the questions:

  1. How was your day?
  2. What was your favorite thing that happened today? What was your least favorite?
  3. Who did you have lunch with today?
  4. Who did you play with at recess today?
  5. What is one thing you learned today?

Everyone participates, including Courtney, me, and any guest. Each person must answer every question and then gets to pick who goes next. By having the current person randomly pick the next, it helps ensure everyone is paying attention and not mentally preparing for his/her turn if he/she already knew they were next.

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Video: How Linux is Built

Many people often don’t know how much technology impacts our everyday lives. Even those considered tech savvy are often tech dependent for pieces of technology outside their core expertise.

For many people, Linux is one such technology. It powers a large portion of the world’s hosting and cloud computing, including our public and private clouds. It is at the heart of most virtualization stacks, including XenServer, KVM, and even VMware ESXi.

So, it’s great to see the Linux Foundation put together this video on how Linux is built and the impact it has on our daily lives – from web servers to search engines to phones.

Watch the video

 

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