I 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.”
Yet, 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.
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.
Lincoln 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 handrails, 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”.
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.
Programmers, You Need the Sysadmin. And Vice Versa.
In honor of System Administrator Appreciation Day, I decided to revisit an article from last year regarding the role of system administrators in the world of cloud computing. At Contegix, system administrators (our engineers) make up the overwhelming majority of our staff. Employing a significant engineering staff is a necessity as a provider. They are responsible for delivering hosting and cloud solutions to our customers. The article addresses the question of whether system administrators are needed when there is no physical or network infrastructure.
In October 2009, George Reese wrote an article for O’Reilly Community titled “Your Cloud Needs a Sys Admin”. The article discusses how and why system administrators are still needed, even in the age of cloud computing. George breaks it down to a simple point—divide responsibilities based upon skill sets and knowledge.
System administrators have had the role of hardware procurement removed in the world of cloud computing. This is a huge benefit as it is often (but not always) mind numbing work for most administrators. They are now allowed to focus on where they can deliver the highest value — the development and long term maintenance of the application infrastructure. (No one buys a dedicated or cloud server to receive pings back. It’s always been about the applications!) Specifically, this represents the planning of application infrastructure, reducing risks and liability in it, and managing infrastructure across the ever changing landscape of application, user, and environment requirements.
If George is right, as we believe he is, I think we could see the overall evolution and expansion of what defines cloud computing. In reality, cloud computing is outsourcing at its core definition. A company outsources a portion or all of their Internet infrastructure requirements to another company specializing specifically in it. The system administrator outsources the procurement of infrastructure to a company specializing in its delivery. This is a physical outsourcing. Yet, what is the next step?
Our belief is that the outsourcing will extend beyond just the infrastructure into the system administration of the infrastructure and application stack. For Contegix, this represents the promise of our managed services — delivered for dedicated infrastructure as Beyond Managed Hosting and for cloud infrastructure as Cloud Cover. We often see this as a blend of our customers’ system administration team and our system administrators. We work together to supplement and compliment the other party, and both parties dive deeper and take responsibility for the application stack. It also allows our customers to focus on their core business.
I think there is also another important, overlooked point in the article. System administrators need developers. System administrators are great at writing scripts and programs to make their lives easier. Yet, system administrators are not specialists at building the applications. At Contegix, we follow the same principle in often using outsourced development blended with some internal development.
At the time the article was published, we had just launched our public cloud offering. This represented our first step into a platform that allowed customers to decide whether they wanted unmanaged or managed. I remember reading the article and wondering how this would be reflected in our cloud. Today, cloud computing with our Cloud Cover represents a double digit percentage of our cloud offering.