Friday, March 7, 2014

Fast-changing demands on data centers drive need for uber data center infrastructure management

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor: HP.

Once the province of IT facilities planners, the management and automation of data centers has rapidly grown in scope and importance.

As software-driven data centers have matured and advanced to support unpredictable workloads like hybrid cloud, big data, and mobile applications, the ability to manage and operate that infrastructure efficiently has grown increasingly difficult.

At the same time, as enterprises seek to rationalize their applications and data, centralization and consolidation of data centers has made their management even more critical -- at ever larger scale and density.

So how do enterprise IT operators and planners keep their data centers from spinning out of control despite these new requirements? How can they leverage the best of converged systems and gain increased automation, as well as rapid analysis for improving efficiency?

BriefingsDirect recently posed such questions to two experts from HP Technology Services to explore how new integrated management capabilities are providing the means for better and automated data center infrastructure management (DCIM).

To learn more on how disparate data center resources can be integrated into broader enterprise management capabilities and processes, now join Aaron Carman, HP Worldwide Critical Facilities Strategy Leader, and Steve Wibrew, HP Worldwide IT Management Consulting Strategy and Portfolio Lead. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. [Learn more about DCIM.]

Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: What’s forcing these changes in data center management and planning and operations? What are these big new requirements? Why is it becoming so difficult?

Carman: In the past, folks were dealing with traditional types of services that were on a traditional type of IT infrastructure. Standard, monolithic-type data centers were designed one-off. In the past few years, with the emergence of cloud and hybrid service delivery, as well as some of the different solutions around convergence like converged infrastructures, the environment has become much more dynamic and complex.

Hybrid services

So, many organizations are trying to grapple with, and deal with, not only the traditional silos that are in place between facilities, IT, and the business, but also deal with how they are going to host and manage hybrid service delivery and what impact that’s going to have on their environment.

It’s not only about what the impact is going to be on rolling out new infrastructure solutions like converged infrastructures from multiple vendors, but how to increasingly provide more flexibility and services to their end users as digital services.

It's become much more complex and it's a little bit harder to manage, because there are many, separate types of tools that they use to manage these environments, and it has continued to increase.

Gardner: Steve, I suppose too that with ITIL v3 and more focus on a service-delivery model, even the very goal of IT has changed.

Wibrew: That's very true. We’re seeing a trend in the change and role of IT to the business. Previously IT was a cost center, an overhead to the business, to deliver the required services. Nowadays, IT is very much the business of an organization, and without IT, most organizations simply cease to function. So IT, its availability and performance, is a critical aspect of the success of the business.

Gardner: What about this additional factor of big data and analysis as applied to IT and IT infrastructure? We’re getting reams and reams of data that needs to be used and managed. Is that part of what you’re dealing with as well?

Wibrew: That’s certainly a very important part of the converged-management solution. There’s been a tremendous explosion in the amount of data, the amount of management information, that's available. If you narrow that down to the management information associated with operating management and supporting data centers from the facility to the applications, to the platforms right up to the services to the business, clearly that's a huge amount of information that’s collected or maintained on a 24×7 basis.

Making good and intelligent decisions on that is quite a challenge for many organizations. Quite often, we would be saying that people still remain in isolated silo teams without good interaction between the different teams. It's a challenge trying to draw that information together so businesses can make intelligent choices based on analytics of that end-to-end information.

Gardner: Aaron, I’ve heard that word "silo" now a few times, siloed teams, siloed infrastructure, and also siloed management of infrastructure. Are we now talking about perhaps a management of management capabilities? Is that part of your story here now?

Added burden

Carman: It is. For the most part, most organizations when faced with trying to manage these different areas, facilities IT and service delivery, have come up with their own set of run books, processes, tools, and methodologies for operating their data center.

When you put that onto an organization, it's just an added burden for them to try to get vendors to work with one another and integrate software tools and solutions. What the folks that provide these solutions have started to realize is that there needs to be an interoperability between these tools. There has never really been a single tool that could do that, except for what has just emerged in the past few years, which is DCIM.

HP really believes that DCIM is a foundational, operational tool that will, when properly integrated into an environment, become the backbone for operational data to traverse from many of the different tools that are used to operate the data center, from IT service management (ITSM), to IT infrastructure management, and the critical facilities management tools.

Gardner: I suppose yet another trend that we’re all grappling with these days is the notion of things moving to as-a-service, on-demand, or even as a cloud technology. Is that the case, too, with DCIM, that people are looking to do this as a service? Are we starting to do this across the hybrid model as well?
Today, clients have a huge amount of choice in terms of how they provision and obtain their IT.

Carman: Yes. These solution providers are looking toward how they can penetrate the market and provide services to all different sizes of organizations. Many of them are looking to a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model to provide DCIM. There has to be a very careful analysis of what type of a licensing model you're going to actually use within your environment to ensure that the type of functionality you're trying to achieve is interoperable with existing management tools. [Learn more about DCIM.]

Wibrew: Today, clients have a huge amount of choice in terms of how they provision and obtain their IT. Obviously, there are the traditional legacy environments and the converged systems and clients operate in their own cloud solutions.

Or maybe they’re even going out to external cloud providers and some interesting dynamics that really do increase the complexity of where they get services from. This needs to be baked into that converged solution around the interoperability and interfacing between multiple systems. So IT is truly a business supporting the organization and providing end-to-end services.

Organizations struggling

Carman: Most organizations are really struggling to introduce DCIM into their environment, since at this point, it’s really viewed as more as a facilities-type tool. The approach from different DCIM providers varies greatly on the functions and features they provide in their tool. Many organizations are struggling just to understand which DCIM product is best for them and how to incorporate into a long term strategy for operations management.

So the services that we brought to market address that specifically, not only from which DCIM tool will be best for their environment, but how it fits strategically into the direction they want to take from hosting their digital services in the future.

Gardner: Steve, I think we should also be careful not to limit the purview of DCIM. This is not just IT. This does include facilities, hybrid and service delivery model, management capabilities. Maybe you could help us put the proper box around DCIM. How far and why does it go or should we narrow it so that it doesn’t become deluded or confused?

Wibrew: Yeah, that’s a very good question, an important one to address. What we’ve seen is what the analysts have predicted. Now is the time, and we’re going to see huge growth in DCIM solutions over the next few years.
DCIM alone is not the end-to-end solution.

DCIM has really been the domain of the facilities team, and there’s traditionally been quite a lack of understanding of what DCIM is all about within the IT infrastructure management team. If you talk to lot of IT specialists, the awareness of DCIM is still quite limited at the moment. So they certainly need to find out more about it and understand the value that DCIM can bring to IT infrastructure management.

I understand that features and functions do vary, and the extent of what DCIM delivers will vary from one product to another. It’s very good certainly around the facilities space in terms of power, cooling, and knowing what’s out on the data center floor. It’s very good at knowing what’s in the rack and how much power and space has been used within the rack.

It’s very good at cable management, the networks, and for storage and the power cabling. The trend is that DCIM will evolve and grow more into the IT management space as well. So it’s becoming very aware of things like server infrastructure and even down to the virtual infrastructure, as well, getting into those domains.

DCIM will typically have work protectabilities for change in activity management. But DCIM alone is not the end-to-end solution, and we realized the importance of the need to integrate it with the full ITSM solutions and platform management solutions. A major focus, over the past few months, is to make sure that the DCIM solutions do integrate very well with the wider IT service-management solutions to provide that integrated end-to-end holistic management solution across the entire data-center ecosystem.

Great variation

Carman: With DCIM being a newer solution within the industry, I want to be very careful about calling folks DCIM specialists. We feel that we have a very great knowledge of the solutions out there. They vary so greatly.

It takes a collaborative team of folks within HP, as well as with the client, to truly understand what they’re trying to achieve. You could even pull it down to what types of use cases they’re trying to achieve for the organization, which tool works best and in interoperability and coordination with the other tools and processes they have.

We have a methodology framework called the Converged Management Framework that focuses on four distinct areas for a optimized solution and strategy for starting with business goals and understanding what the true key performance indicators are and what dashboards are required.

It looks at what the metrics are going to be for measuring success and couples that with understanding organizationally who is responsible for what types of services we provide as an ultimate service to our end user. Most of the time, we’re focusing on the facilities in IT organization. [Learn more about DCIM.]

Also, those need to be aligned to the process and workflows for provisioning services to the end users, supported directly by a system’s reference architecture, which is primarily made up of operational management tools and software. All those need to be supported by one another and purposefully designed, so that you can meet and achieve the goals of the business.
IT infrastructure, right up to services of a business, end to end, is very large and very, very complex.

When you don’t do that, the time it takes for you to deliver services to your end user lengthens and costs money. When you have separate tools that are not referencing single points of data, then you’re spending a lot of time rationalizing and understanding if you have the accurate data in front of you. All this boils down to not only cost but having a resilient operations, knowing that when you’re looking at a particular device or setup devices, you truly understand what it’s providing end to end to your users.

Wibrew: If you think about the possibilities in the management of facilities, the IT infrastructure, right up to services of a business, end-to-end, is very large and very, very complex. We have to break it down into small or more manageable chunks and focus on the key priorities.

Most-important priorities

So we look at the trans-organization, work with them to identify to them what their most important priorities are in terms of their converged-management solution and their journey.

It’s heavily structured around ITSM and ITIL processes, and we’ve identified some great candidates within ITIL for integration between facilities in IT. It’s really a case of working out the prioritized journey for that particular client. Probably one of the most important integrations would be to have a single view of the truth of operational data. So it would be unified asset information.

CMDBs within a configuration management system might be the very first and important integration between the two, because that’s the foundation for other follow-on services until you know what you’ve got, it’s very difficult to plan, what you need in the future in terms of infrastructure.

Another important integration that is now possible with these converged solutions is the integration of power management in terms of energy consumption between the facilities and the IT infrastructure.
These integrated solutions can be more granular, far more dynamic around energy consumption.

If you think about managing the power consumption of things like efficiency of the data center with PoE, generally speaking, in the past, that would be the domain of the facilities team. The IT infrastructure would simply be hosted in the facility.

The IT teams didn’t really care about how much power was used. But these integrated solutions can be more granular, far more dynamic around energy consumption with much more information being collected, not just at a facility level but within the racks and in the power-distribution units (PDUs), and in the blade chassis, right down to individual service.

We can now know what the energy consumption is. We can now incentivize the IT teams to take responsibility for energy management and energy consumption. This is a great way of actually reducing a client’s carbon foot print and energy consumption within the data center through these integrated solutions.

Gardner: Aaron, I suppose another important point to be clear on is that, like many services within HP Technology Services, this is not just designed for HP products. This is an ecumenical approach to whatever is installed in terms of product facility management capability. I wonder if you could explain a bit more HP’s philosophy when it comes to supporting the entire portfolio. [Learn more about DCIM.]

Carman: HP’s professional services we’re offering in this space are really agnostic to the final solution. We understand that a customer has been running their environment for years and has made investments into a lot of different operational tools over the years.

That’s a part of our analysis and methodology, to come in and understand the environment and what the client is trying to achieve. Then we put together a strategy, a roadmap of different products, that will help them achieve their goals that are interoperable.

Next level

We continue to transform them to the next level of abilities or capabilities that they are looking to achieve, especially around how they provision services and help them become, at the end, most likely a cloud-service provider to their end users, where heavy levels of automation are built in, so that they can get digital services to their end users in a much shorter period of time.

Gardner: I realize this is fairly new. It was just on Jan. 23 that HP announced some new services that include converged-management consulting, and that management framework was updated with new technical requirements. You have four new services organized with the management workshop, roadmap, design implementations, and so forth. [Learn more about DCIM.]
So this is fairly new, but Steve Wibrew, is there any instance where you’ve worked with some organization and that some of the really powerful benefits of doing this properly have shown through? Do you have any anecdotes you can recall of an organization that’s done this and maybe some interesting ways that it’s benefited them, maybe unintended consequences?

Data-center transformation

Wibrew: The starting point is to understand what’s there in the first place. I’ve been engaged with many clients where if you ask them about inventory, what’s in the data center, you get totally different answers from different groups of people within the organization. The IT team wants to put more stuff into the data center. The facilities team says, “No more space. We’re full. We can’t do that.”

I found that when you pull this data together from multiple sources and get a consistent feel of the truth, you can start to plan far more accurately and efficiently. Perhaps the lack of space in the data center is because there may be infrastructure that’s sitting there, powered on, and not being utilized by anybody.

It’s a fact that we’re redundant. I’ve had many situations where, in pulling together a consistent inventory, we can get rid of a lot of redundant equipment, allowing space for major initiatives and expansion projects. So there are some examples of the benefits of consolidated inventory and information.
DCIM is the only tool poised to become that backbone between the facilities and IT infrastructures.

Gardner: As we look a few years out at big-data requirements, hybrid cloud requirements, infrastructure KPIs for service delivery, energy, and carbon pressures? What’s the outlook in terms of doing this, and should we expect that there will be an ongoing demand, but also ongoing and improving return on investments you make, vis-à-vis these consulting services and DCIM?

Carman: Based upon a lot of the challenges that we outlined earlier in the program, we feel that in order to operate efficiently, this type of a future state operational-tools architecture is going to have to be in place, and DCIM is the only tool poised to become that backbone between the facilities and IT infrastructures.

So more-and-more, with a lot of the challenges of my compute footprint shrinking and having a different requirements that I had in the past, we’re now dealing with a storage or data explosion, where my data center is all filled up with storage files.

As these new demands from the business come down and force organizations onto new types of technology infrastructure platforms they haven’t dealt within the past, it requires them to be much more flexible when they have, in most cases, very inflexible facilities. That’s the strength of DCIM and what it can provide just in that one instance.

But more-and-more, the business is expecting digital services to almost be instant. They want to capitalize on the market at that time. They don't want to wait weeks or months for enterprise IT to provide them with a service to take advantage of a new service offering. So it's forcing folks into operating differently, and that's where converged management is poised to help these customers.

Looking to the future

Gardner: Steve, when you look into your crystal ball and think about how things will be in three to five years, what is it about DCIM rather and some of these services that you think will be most impacting?

Wibrew: I think the trend we're going to see is a far greater adoption of DCIM. It's only deployed in a small number of data centers at the moment. That's going to increase quite dramatically, and this could be a much tighter alignment between how the facilities are run and how the IT infrastructure is operated and supported. It could be far more integrated than it is today.

The roles of IT are going to change, and a lot of the work now is still around design, planning, scripting, and orchestrating. In the future, we're going to see people, almost like a conductor in an orchestra, overseeing the operations within the data center through leading highly automated and optimized processes, which are actually delivered by automated solutions.

Gardner: I benefited greatly in learning more about DCIM on the HP website. There were videos, white-papers, and blog-posts. So, there’s quite a bit of information for those interested in learning more about DCIM. HP Technology Services website was a great resource for me. [Learn more about DCIM.]
Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor: HP.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

CIOs think proliferation of IT applications is overwhelming businesses and threatening competititve edge

The tangled web of applications within international organizations is getting more and more complex, putting strain on the IT department and stunting digital transformation. This comes from a study of over 1,000 CIOs and senior IT decision makers by Capgemini, a provider of consulting, technology, and outsourcing services.

According to the report released today, over the last three years, the number of IT decision makers who believe their business has more applications than it needs has increased from just over a third (34 percent) to nearly half (48 percent). Just 37 percent believe the majority of their applications are mission critical. Nearly three quarters (70 percent) believe at least a fifth of their company’s applications share similar functionality and could be consolidated, and a further 53 percent believe a fifth should be retired or replaced.

Apps bloat is a huge problem. Especially when the apps are non-mission critical, or context rather than core applications. We may very well be at a tipping point, because new mobile apps and more use of SaaS and clpoud apps forces a rethinking of an organization's entire applications strategy and approach. In order to modernize successfully, enterprises may need to first identify and cull out extraneous applications.
A well-rationalized applications landscape suddenly becomes a much bigger, strategic imperative for the whole company.

This isn’t just an IT problem, but a business problem. The study revealed that 60 percent of senior IT decision makers believe their department’s most valuable contribution to the company is introducing new technologies. A significant number have already implemented cloud computing (56 percent), mobility (54 percent), social (41 percent), and big data (34 percent) solutions.

However, without a modernized applications landscape, IT lacks the bandwidth to deliver competitive advantage through these technologies. Little wonder 76 percent believe rationalization is important to realizing their company’s objectives.

“On the surface, a badly organized, overloaded and out-dated applications landscape sounds like a minor irritation for the IT team, absorbing bandwidth and wasting money, but ultimately not a problem that should keep the wider business up at night,” said Ron Tolido, CTO Application Services Continental Europe at Capgemini. “But in a world where all facets of an organization are starting to embrace digital transformation -- and are dependent on the quick deployment of mobile, social, Big Data and Cloud solutions for competitive advantage -- a well-rationalized applications landscape suddenly becomes a much bigger, strategic imperative for the whole company.”

New versus old

The study also contains evidence that, while Western organizations are creaking under the strain of outdated, unused legacy applications, developing markets are benefiting from their relatively fresh, young IT landscape. Countries like Finland and Norway report below-average levels of understanding between business and IT (just 64 percent and 69 percent respectively believe the relationship is ‘satisfactory’), an encouraging 92 percent of respondents in Brazil, India, and China report a satisfactory understanding between the two. So supporting old legacy platforms only to keep older non-critical apps running has a multiplier downward effect on productivity and keeps costs artificially high.

The findings of Capgemini’s 2014 Application Landscape Report are based on a survey conducted in 12 languages with 1,116 CIOs and top-level IT decision makers in companies of various sizes from a wide range of industries. With a global emphasis, the report covers 16 countries, with 73 percent of respondents from developed economies (Australia, Europe, USA) and a further 27 percent from fast developing countries (Brazil, China, India).
While Western organizations are creaking under the strain of outdated, unused legacy applications, developing markets are benefiting from their relatively fresh, young IT landscape.

The findings are also derived from work done by Capgemini’s Wide-angle Application Rationalization Program (WARP) CoE. WARP is Capgemini’s framework for application rationalization and IT transformation. The Center of Excellence for WARP, over the past 4 years, has catered to over 150 clients and analyzed more than 30,000 applications, thus providing key industry benchmarks for critical IT metrics.

For more information, see the full Application Landscape Report 2014 along with assets including executive summary, infographic, and videos.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Case study: How Dell converts social media analytics into strategic business advantage

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor: Dell Software.

The next BriefingsDirect business innovation case study examines how Dell has recognized the value of social media for more than improved interactions and brand awareness. Dell has successfully learned from social media how to meaningfully increase business sales and revenue.

The data, digital relationships, and resulting analysis inherent in social media and social networks interactions provide a lasting resource for businesses and their customers, says Dell. And this resource has a growing and lasting impact on many aspects of business -- from research, to product management, to CRM, to helpdesk, and, yes, to sales.

To learn more about how Dell has been making the most of social media for the long haul, BriefingsDirect sat down with Shree Dandekar, Senior Director of Business Intelligence and Analytics at Dell Software. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: Businesses seem to recognize that social media and social-media marketing are important, but they haven’t very easily connected the dots in how to use social media for actual business results. Why?

Dandekar: It’s not that businesses don’t realize the value of social media. In fact, many businesses are looking at simple, social media listening and monitoring tools to start their journey into social media.

The challenge is that when you make these investments into any kind of a listening or monitoring capability, people tend to stop there. It takes them a while to start collecting all the data on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter. It takes some time for them to make some meaningful sense out of that. That’s where the dynamic comes in when you talk to an enterprise business. They’ve really moved on.

So, there are several stages within a social media journey, the very first one being listening and monitoring, where you start capturing and aggregating data.

From there, you start doing some kind of sentiment analysis. You go into some kind of a social-media engagement, which leads to customer care. Then, you go into questions like social return on investment (ROI) and then, try to bring in business data and mash up that together. This is what’s known as Social CRM.

So, if you say that these are the six stages of social-media maturity model or a social-media lifecycle, some of the enterprise businesses have really matured in the first three or four phases, where they have taken social media all the way to customer care. Where they are struggling now is in implementing technologies where you can derive an actual ROI or business value from this data.

Listening and monitoring

Whereas, if you look at some of the small businesses or even mid-sized companies, they have just started getting into listening and monitoring, and the reason is that there are not many tools out there that appeal to them.

I won’t name any specifically, but you know all the big players in the social media listening space. They tend to be expensive and require a lot of reconfiguration and hands-on training. The adoption of social media in the small-sized business or even mid-sized businesses has been slow because these guys don't want to invest in these types of tools.

By the way, here is another big differentiator. If you look at enterprises, they don't shy away from investing in multiple tools, and Dell is a great example. We have a Radian6 deployment, social-media engagement tools, and our own analytic tools that we build on top of that. We tried each and every tool that's out there because we truly believe that we have to gain meaningful insights from social media, and we won't shy away from experimenting with different tools.

Mid-sized companies don't have the budget or resources to try out different tools. They want a single platform that can do multiple things for them – essentially a self-service-enabled social-media intelligence platform.

If I start with listening, I just want to understand who is talking about me, who my influences are, who are my detractors, what are my competitors talking about, and whether or not I can do a quick sentiment analysis. That's where I want to start.

Gardner: Dell has been doing social media since 2006, so going quite a ways back. How important is this to Dell as a company and how important do you think other companies should view this? Is this sort of a one-trick pony, or is there a lasting and expanding value to doing social media interactions analysis?
Dell was built on the value of going direct to consumers and the blog had to communicate and live by those same values.

Dandekar: In addition to leadership from the top, it took a perfect storm to propel us fully into social. In July 2006 when pictures and a report surfaced online out of Osaka, Japan of a Dell laptop spontaneously combusting due to a battery defect (which happened to impact not just Dell, but nearly every laptop manufacturer), it was a viral event of the sort you don’t want. But we posted a blog titled “Flaming Notebook” and included a link to a photo showing our product in flames – which caused some to raise an eyebrow.

I will pause there for a second. How many of you would do that if something similar happened to your business? But Michael Dell made it crystal clear: Dell was built on the value of going direct to consumers and the blog had to communicate and live by those same values.

This is 2006, when the internet and the true value of blogging and everything was just becoming more relevant. That was a turning point in the way we did customer care and the way we engaged with our customers. We realized that people are not only going to call an 800 support number, but are going to be much more vocal about it through sources like social media blogging on Twitter and Facebook.

That's how our journey in social media began and it’s been a multi-year, multi-investment journey. We started looking at simple listening and monitoring. We built a Social Media Command Center. And even before that, we built communities for both our employees and our customers to start interacting with Dell.

Idea Storm

One of the most popular communities that we built was called Idea Storm. This was a community in which we invited our customers to come in and share ideas product improvements they want. This community was formed around 2007. To date, there have been close to 550 different ideas that we got from this community that have been implemented in Dell products.

Similarly, we launched Employee Storm, which was for all the employees at Dell, and the idea was similar. If there are some things in terms of processes or products that can be changed, that was a community for people to come in and share those ideas.

Beyond that, as I said, we built a Social Media Command Center back in 2010. And we also stood up the Social Media and Communities University program. We started training our internal users, our employees, to take on social media.

Dell firmly believes that you need to train employees to make them advocates for your brand instead of shying away and saying, “You know what, I'm scared, because I don't know what this guy is going to be saying about me in the social media sphere.”

Instead, we’re trying to educate them on what is the right channel and how to engage with customers. That's something that Dell has developed over the last six years.
Social media has become a core part of our DNA, and it fits well because of the fact that our DNA has always been built on directly interacting with our customers.

Gardner: You’ve taken a one-way interaction, made it two-way, and then expanded well beyond that. How far and wide do the benefits of social media go? Are you applying this to help desk, research, new products, service and support, or all the above? Is there any part of Dell that doesn't take advantage from social media?

Dandekar: No, social media has become a core part of our DNA, and it fits well because of the fact that our DNA has always been built on directly interacting with our customers. If a customer is going to use social media as one of their primary communication channels, we really need to embrace that channel and make sure we can communicate and talk to our customers that way.

We have a big channel through where we interact with all the leads that come in through Salesforce.
Taking that relationship to the next level, is there a way I can smartly link the Salesforce leads or opportunities to someone's social profile? Is there a way I can make those connections, and how smartly can I develop some sales analytics around that? That way, I can target the right people for the right opportunities.

Creating linkage

That's one step that Dell has taken compared to some of our industry competitors, to be very proactive in making that linkage. It’s not easy. It requires some investment on your part to take that next step. That's also very close to the sixth stage that I talked about, which is social CRM.

You’ve done a good job at making sure you’re taking all the social media data, massaging it, and deriving insight just from that. Now, how can you bring in business data, mash it up with social data, and then create even powerful insights where you can track leads properly or generate opportunities through Twitter, Facebook or any other social media sources?

Gardner: Shree, it seems to me that what you’re doing is not only providing value to Dell, but there is a value to the buyer as well. I think that as a personal consumer and a business consumer I’d like for the people that I am working with in the supply chain or in a procurement activity to know enough about me that they can tailor the services, gain insight into what my needs are, and therefore better serve me. Is there an added-value to the consumer in doing all this well, too?

Dandekar: The power of social media is real-time. Every time you get a product from Dell and tweet about it or say you like it on Facebook, there is a way that I can, in real-time, get back to that customer and say I heard you and thanks for giving us positive or a negative feedback on this. For me to take that and quickly change a product decision or change a process within Dell is the key.
The power of social media is real-time.

There are several examples. One example that comes to mind is the XPS 13 platform that we launched. The project was called “Project Sputnik.” This was an open-source notebook that we deployed on one of our consumer platforms XPS 13.

We heard a lot of developers saying they like Dell, but really wanted a cool, sexy notebook PC with all the right developer tools deployed on that platform. So, we started this project where we identified all the tools that would resonate with developers, packaged them together, and deployed it on the XPS 13 platform.

From the day when we announced the platform launch, we were tracking the social media channels to see if there was any excitement around this product.

The day we launched the product, within the first three or four hours, we started receiving negative feedback about the product. We were shocked and we didn’t know what was going on.

But then, through the analytics that we have developed on top of our social media infrastructure, we were able to pinpoint that one of the product managers had mistakenly priced the notebook higher than that of a Windows notebook. The price should not have been higher than that of a Windows notebook, and that’s why a lot of developers were angry. They thought that we were trying to price it higher than traditional notebooks.

We were able to pinpoint what the issue was and within 24 hours, we were able to go back to our product and branding managers and talk to them about the pricing issue. They changed the pricing on and we were able to post a blog on Engadget.

Brand metrics

Then, in real time, we were able to monitor the brand metrics around the product. After that, we saw an immediate uptick in product sentiment. So, the ability to monitor product launches in real time and fix issues in real time, related with product launches, is pretty powerful.

One traditional way you would have done that is something called Net Promoter Score (NPS). We use NPS a lot within Dell. The issue with it is that it is survey-based. You have to send out the survey. You collect all the data. You mine through it and then you generate a score.

That entire process takes 90 to 120 days and, by the time you get it, you might have missed out on a lot of sales. If there was a simple tweak, like pricing, that I could have done overnight, I would have missed out on it by two months.

That’s just an example, where if I had waited for NPS to tell me that pricing was wrong, I would have never reacted in real-time and I would have lost my reputation on that particular product.

Gardner: How extensive is your listening and analysis from social media?

Dandekar: Just to cite some quick stats, Dell has more than 21 million social connections through fans on Facebook, followers on Twitter, Dell community members, and more across the social web.

We talked about customer care and the engagement centers, and I talked about those six stages of the social media journey. Based on the Social Media Command Center that we have deployed within Dell, we also have a social outreach services team that responds to an average of 3,500 posts a week in 14 languages and we have an over 97 percent resolution rate.

We talked about Idea Storm and I had talked about the number of ideas that have been generated out of that. Again, that’s close to 550 plus ideas to date.

Then, we talked about the Social Media and Communities University. That’s an education program that we have put in place, and to date, we have close to 17,000 plus team members who have completed the social media training certification through that program.

Social-media education

By the way, that’s the same module that we have started deploying through our social media professional services offering, where we’ve gone in and instituted the Social Media and Communities University program for our customers as well.

We have had a high success rate just finding some of the customers that have benefited through our social media professional services team and also deploying Social Media Command Center.

Red Cross is a great example where we have gone and deployed the Social Media Command Center for them to be much more proactive in responding to people during the times of calamities.

Clemson University is another example, where we've gone and deployed a Social Media Command Center for them that’s used for alternate academic research methods and innovative learning environments.

Gardner: Tell me a little bit about Dell's SNAP.

Dandekar: SNAP stands for Social Net Advocacy Pulse. This was a product that we developed in-house. As I said, we have been early users of listening and monitoring platforms and we have deployed Social Media Command Centers within Dell.
It takes a long time to get to that ease of use ability for anybody to go in and look at all these social conversations and quickly pinpoint to an issue.

The challenge, as we kept using some of these tools, was that we realized that the sentiment accuracy was really bad. Most of the times when you take a quote and you run it through one of the sentiment analyzers, it pretty much comes back saying it's neutral, when there’s actually a lot of rich context that’s hidden in the quote that was never even looked at.

The other thing was that we were tracking a lot of metrics around graphs and charts and reports, which was important, but we kind of lost the ability to derive actual meaningful insights from that data. We were just getting bogged down by generating these dashboards for senior execs without making a linkage on why something happened and what were some of the key insights that could have been derived from this particular event.

None of these tools are easy to use. Every time I have to generate a report or do something from one of these listening platforms, it requires some amount of training. There is an expectation that the person who is going to do that has been using this tool for some time. It takes a long time to get to that ease of use ability for anybody to go in and look at all these social conversations and quickly pinpoint an issue.

Those are some of the pain points that we realized. We asked, “Is there a way we can change this so we can start deriving meaningful insights? We don’t have to look at each and every quote and say, it's a neutral sentiment. We can actually start deriving some meaningful contact out of these quotes.”

Here is an example. A customer purchased a drive to upgrade a dead drive from a Dell Mini 9 system, which originally came with an 8 GB PCI solid state drive. He took the 16 GB drive and replaced the 8 GB drive that was dead. The BIOS on the system instantly recognized it and booted it just fine. That’s the quote that we got from one of the customer’s feedback.

Distinct clauses

If I had run that quote through one of the regular sentiment analyzing solutions, it would have pretty much said it's neutral, because there was really nothing much that it could get from that it. But if you stop for a second and read through that quote, you realize that, there are a couple of important distinct clauses that can be separated out.

One thing is that he’s talking about a hard drive in the first line. Then, he’s talking about the Dell Mini 9 platform, and then he’s talking about a good experience he had with swapping the hard drive and that the BIOS was able to quickly recognize the drive. That’s a positive sentiment.

Instead of looking at the entire statement and assigning a neutral rating to it, if I can chop it down into meaningful clauses, then I can go back to customer care or my product manager and say, “Out of this, I was able to assign an intensity to the sentiment analysis score.” That makes it even more meaningful to understand what the quote was.

It's not going to be just a neutral or it's not going to be a positive or negative every time you run it through a sentiment analysis engine. That’s just one flavor.

You asked about sentiment gravity. That’s just one step in the right direction, where you take sentiment and assign a degree to it. Is it -2, -5, +5, or +10? The ability to add that extra color is something that we wanted to do on top of our sentiment analysis.
I can really mine that data to understand how I can take that and derive meaningful insights out of that.

Beyond that, what if I could add where the conversation took place. Did it take place on Wall Street Journal or Forbes, versus someone’s personal blog, and then assign it an intensity based on where the conversation happened?

The fourth area that we wanted to add to that was author credibility. Who talked about it? Was it a person who is a named reputed person in that area, or was it an angry off customer who just had a bad experience. Based on that, I can rate and rank it based on author credibility.

The fifth one we added was relevance. When did this event actually happen? If this event happened a year or two back, or even six months back, and someone just wants to cite it as an example, then, I really don’t want to give it that high rating. I might change the sentiment to reflect that it's not that relevant based on today’s conversations.

If I take some of these attributes, sentiment, degree of sentiment, where the conversation happened, who talked about it and when and why did that conversation happen and then convert that into a sentiment score, that’s now a very powerful mechanism for me to calculate sentiment on all these conversations that are happening.

That gives me meaningful insights in terms of context. I can really mine that data to understand how I can take that and derive meaningful insights out of that. That’s what SNAP does, not just score a particular quote by pure sentiment, but add these other flavors on top of that to make it much more meaningful.

Make it usable

Gardner: Have you considered productizing this and perhaps creating a service for the smaller companies that want to do this sort of social analysis and help them along the way?
We also want to make sure we’re bringing tools to market to service those mid-market companies as well.

Dandekar: We’re still working through those details and figuring out as we always do the best ways to bring solutions to market, but for us, mid-market is our forte. That’s an area where Dell has really excelled. For us to be in the forefront of enterprise social media is great, but we also want to make sure we’re bringing tools to market to service those mid-market companies as well.

By the way, we have stood up several solutions for our customers. One of them is the Social Media Command Center. We’ve also stood up social media professional services and we offer consulting services even to small- and mid-sized companies on how to mature in a social media maturity cycle. We are also looking at bringing SNAP to market. But if you’re talking about specific software solutions, that’s an area that we’re certainly looking into, and I would just say, “Stay tuned.”

Gardner: We’ll certainly look for more information along those lines. It's something that makes a lot of sense to me. Looking to the future, how will social become even more impactful?

People are increasing the types of activities they do on their mobile devices and that includes work and home or personal use and a combination of them, simultaneous perhaps. They look to more cloud models for how they access services, even hybrid clouds. It’s stretching across your company’s on-premises activities and more public cloud or managed service provider hosted services.

We expect more machine-to-machine data and activities to become relevant. Social becomes really more of a fire hose of data from devices, location, cloud, and an ever-broadening variety of devices. Maybe the word social is outdated. Maybe we’re just talking about data in general?

How do you see the future shaping up, and how do we consider managing the scale of what we should expect as this fire hose grows in size and in importance?

Embarking on the journey

Dandekar: This is a great question and I like the way you went on to say that we shouldn’t worry about the word social. We should worry about the plethora of sources that are generating data. It can be Facebook, LinkedIn, or a machine sensor, and this fits into the bigger picture of what's going to be your business analytics strategy going forward.

Since we’re talking about this in the context of social, a lot of companies that we talk to -- it can be an enterprise-size company or a mid-market-size company -- most of the time, what we end up seeing is that people want to do social media analytics or they want to invest in the social media space. Some of their competitors are doing that, and they really don’t know what to expect when they embark on this journey.

A lot of companies have already gone through that transformation, but many companies are still stuck in asking, “Why do I need to adopt social media data as part of my enterprise data management architecture?”

Once you cross that chasm, that’s where you actually start getting into some meaningful data analytics. It's going to take a couple of years for most of the businesses to realize that and start making their investments in the right direction.
It's going to take a couple of years for most of the businesses to realize that and start making their investments in the right direction.

But coming back to your question on what's the bigger picture, I think it’s business analytics. The moment you bring in social media data, device data, the logs, sources like Salesforce, NetSuite -- all this data together now presents the unified picture using all the datasets that were out there.

And these datasets can also be datasets like something from Dun and Bradstreet, which has a bunch of data on leads or sales, mixing that data with something like Salesforce data and then bringing in social media data. If I can take those three datasets and convert that into a powerful sales analytics dashboard, I think that’s the nirvana of business analytics. We’re not there yet, but I do feel a lot of industry momentum going in that direction.
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