This column, sixth in this series, showcases IBM's best practices in building business intelligence customer loyalty. This column's objective is to showcase best practices so that you may integrate them into your own IT environments.

Karen Parrish, vice president of Business Intelligence Solutions, shares how IBM lays the foundation to earn customer loyalty. "When it comes to solving customer problems, no one can do what IBM can for it's customers."

IBM's overpowering dominance as a leading IT solutions provider is helpful in its goals to earn BI customers' loyalty. A legacy of technical innovation, a broad network of partners, an industry focus to deliver solutions, and a multitiered account coverage strategy are all focused on delivering customer value.

For IBM customers, the question is whether you are leveraging these tools and resources. For non-IBM customers, this is a reference point to determine if these best practices can be imported into your environments.

Customer needs that earn loyalty are described in the March issue:

  1. Minimize turnover to preserve communications and improve accountability.
  2. Share IT's intense focus on solving customer problems.
  3. Collaborate across multivendor teams.
  4. Employ R&D to build strategic advantage.
  5. Optimize multitrack communication channels.
  6. Leverage executive communications, a powerful tool.

Minimize Turnover to Preserve Communications and Improve Accountability

"Working with the same team preserves communications and holds them accountable for business results. Better decisions are made in less time." - Director of Business Intelligence

Figure 1: Multitiered Account Coverage Model

IBM has a multitiered account coverage model, which maintains continuity of customer communications at multiple levels. For large enterprise customers, an IBM managing director (MD) is the executive contact for top chiefs of the customer, in others, a client executive serves the same function. He or she is a tenured, technology-savvy executive committed to serve in this position for three years. The charter is to safeguard the customer's interest while growing IBM's strategic value to the account. Often, the MD serves as a gatekeeper rather than an IBM sales executive, fencing account contacts from those product pitches of which he/she is not convinced can help the client. They represent the client to the IBM community and navigate IBM on behalf of the client's (see Figure 1).

Figure 2: Continuity in Hardware and Software Divisions

The next tier of continuity is IBM's several hardware and software divisions. We will look at the BI Solutions team from the software group. This team, works through the MD and the client team. It is responsible for the customers' business intelligence needs. The BI team has its own experts (see Figure 2).

Coordination of experts requires project management skills and teamwork. Client executives and teams excel at scoping problems, finding alternative paths and setting the right expectations. They are assisted in this process by tools, training and a connected management process. Continuity is never a question with IBM. The entire team marches together.

Questions

  • How well do your IT teams understand vendor coverage models?
  • How well can your top IT vendors describe your three-year technology plan?
  • What kind of credibility do your top IT vendors have with your executives?
  • Can vendor visibility to top executives help your mission?

Share IT's Intense Focus on Solving Customer Problems

"Every instance where IT provides input to business teams is an opportunity to either build trust or to lose credibility." Senior IT Project Manager.

"My entire team is focused on solutions," said Karen Parrish. IBM responds to solving problems at different levels. Strategically, it maintains an intense focus on internal team resources and collaboration to deliver what the market needs. Tactically speaking, the infrastructure and process work well already.

Level I: IBM's Business Intelligence Council - proactive planning and internal focus. IBM's BI experts integrate server, storage, software and virtually all aspects of networking, communications and security infrastructure. Each infrastructure group resides on IBM's BI Council. The systems and technology (server, storage) group, software group, research and business consulting services meet regularly to evaluate the solutions roadmap relative to customer inputs. These priorities are dynamic and are shared with user groups and customers at the annual BI conference (BI Customer Solutions Summit) under nondisclosures.

Level II: IBM's BI ecosystem of partners. IBM's BI team has cultivated a strong army of business partners to provide the newest innovative tools and applications functionality. Along the full spectrum of BI tools, integration, quality, analysis, reporting and applications, IBM has deep technical and testing/validation relationships. These add value to customers by making available preconfigured, performance-profiled, compatibility-tested solutions.

IBM recently launched Balanced Configuration Units, matched server-storage-software systems, configured and optimized for performance. Providing these tested, validated systems replaces guesswork with confidence and reduces risk of low performance or over-buying.

Another demonstration of integrated IBM expertise and partner collaboration is the Basel II compliance solution for primary banks. IBM optimized its own banking data model, then built templates to compile and populate DB2 tables while validating data and quality in collaboration with Ascential software (now acquired by IBM) and Informatica software. The solution resides on IBM's balanced configuration unit (p-series servers, IBM disk storage-DB2). The solution is certified (tested, validated) to work with commonly used tools by customers for reporting, IBM business partners, Cognos, Business Objects, MicroStrategy and Fair Issac's risk engine. IBM expects to launch such end-to-end tested, validated, certified solutions every couple of months.

To address customer issues, IBM's problem escalation processes ensure tactical results and resources meet customer needs.

Questions

  • Do your teams have visibility into vendor processes that can help you?
  • Who are key team members who could benefit from insights into vendor priorities?

Collaborate Across Multivendor Teams

"We expect vendors to work across the 11 other IT partners we have in our environment. " - Senior MIS Manager

IBM partnerships span virtually every aspect of the IT spectrum. Partners seek IBM collaboration to reach a loyal and well-managed customer base. They are highly responsive to the need for resources to fix account problems.

IBM's commitment to partners is in the form of technical collaboration. The examples above illustrate IBM's partner collaboration and teamwork practices.

Questions

  • What dynamic works best for your team of IT partners?
  • Do your project managers manage the project or do vendor teams drive the direction?
  • How do you evaluate what benefits your mission most?

Employ R&D to Build Strategic Advantage

"We need our technology partners to have skin in the game. They can show value by investing in R&D and developing features we need." - IT Director

Engaging the right resource in IBM to solve the customer's problems is the client team's responsibility. They usually maintain a 3 year plan for the clients - budgets, technology and resources. When the client team engages the BI team to solve problems, they absolutely respond.

IBM's BI center of excellence, proof-of-concept testing and collaboration to develop specific solutions are designed to help solve customer needs before they become an issue for the customers' production environment.

In fact, a formalized program, "First of a Kind," is designed to do just that. Client teams with unique new needs can take their ideas straight through to the research team to spawn a new architecture, connectivity or functionality. At a minimum, such efforts solve one customer's problems. At best, a new set of functions emerges that may be productized.

An example of such an application is something that might be on the cutting edge such as radio frequency identification tags and integration into the BI system.

Questions

  • Do you see this as an opportunity to collaborate?
  • How do your teams propose such opportunities for evaluation?
  • How aggressively can you pursue such collaboration?

Optimize Multitrack Communication Channels

"Today, we employ a variety of strategies to work with our IT partners." IT Manager

"No one does this better than IBM. Our Client team model enables us to engage not just IBM resources, but also mobilize partner teams. It is a proven model," said Karen Parrish.

Meetings with the clients are an on-going part of the performance and account management measurement system. To ensure technical deliverables are on schedule, they assign lab advocates to drive quality and the schedule. They identify and engage the technical experts. They monitor deliverables committed and delivered on schedule. With so many touchpoints for the customer, problems don't go unaddressed.

Questions

  • How do you track benefit from strategic vendor meetings?
  • What criteria do your teams apply to measure success of commitments?

Leverage Executive Communications, a Powerful Tool

"What we need from IT vendors' executives is continuity of sponsorship." - IT Director

Again, IBM executives are assigned to the accounts at multiple levels. Executive customer liaison is a powerful leverage for customers. Nearly all executives are assigned five to six accounts that they communicate with regularly.

Questions

  • Do you have a strategy to build a strategic shared vision with the key vendors' executives?
  • How many members of your team have earned the trust to negotiate commitments?
  • Are mutual commitments transferable if executives change? 

Critical Thought

The large IT leaders can serve as strategic partners who make the difference between merely running successful enterprise and establishing global leadership. Leveraging their investments in R&D can be the major differentiator in revitalizing the infrastructure and selecting tools for competitive advantage. Are you investing in the relationship for which there may be no standard ROI formula?

Note: This best-practices series is BI Results' industry contribution to revitalize the enterprise by leveraging IT. To maintain objectivity, we accept no fees for this series.

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