Note: this Blog is an independent perspective of Frank Casey based on past industry experiences.
Frank Casey is a 30-year veteran of the IT industry. He has been a senior executive at several large, global technology companies including OnX, Sungard and Comcast. He was most recently the CTO of OnX Enterprise Solutions, when we did this interview. Prior to that, he spent over 12 years at Sungard Availability Services, where he led the initial launch of their managed IT services and introduced and built their product management function, specializing in designing outsourcing and private cloud customer solutions for clients. Casey has been responsible for Services, Product Management, Data Center Management as well as Digital Applications and has helped to launch/manage next-generation data center technologies around the world.
With this background, Casey is intimately familiar with the needs of technology companies – especially Managed Service Providers. We recently met with Casey to get his opinion on how CPQ solutions can help technology companies. Our conversation was wide ranging; so much so that it even included a Star Wars reference! Below is a summary of our conversation.
Have you previously employed CPQ technology? If so, how was the experience? And if not, what are your expectations?
During my time with Sungard, we never had a complete CPQ system. We had been sending out quotes manually and suffice it to say, it was nothing short of inconvenient. Not just because the process took up a lot of the organizations’ time that could have been invested in improving other activities, and more importantly, engaging more customers/winning more business, but also because we were simply exhausting our resources in a process which could, in fact, be executed far more efficiently, had we summoned up the courage to shift to a more automatic system.
As far as expectations go, I am expecting to see more companies realize how badly they need to get away from manual, spreadsheet-based quoting practices – what I call a “Quote to Crash” approach. I think over the next few years more and more companies will be looking at CPQ solutions to alleviate this pain.
In this day and age, companies need a system that can integrate easily. There is so much data going back and forth, in and out of all systems, an ideal system would consistently integrate with service management tools on the back end (i.e. serviceNow) and will fetch information such as history of the products sold, inventory status etc. from other systems.
Where do you think companies go wrong in their CPQ implementation journey?
When they fail to establish communication, I believe. Traditional systems like spreadsheets and databases like Oracle, that date back to 2003, could only communicate so much, hence their demise. At Sungard, for example, we had 4 disparate back-end systems and almost zero communication between them. Additionally, solution engineers would have to spend a lot of time planning and designing the front end. This could take upwards of 90 days which extended an already long sales cycle to 6+ months. This was a code-red situation for me. In my opinion, anything that takes more than 30 days is over-engineered and doesn’t produce optimal outcomes.
Where companies go wrong with CPQ is they try to replicate their existing quoting process into the new system. Don’t do that. CPQ helps you be different so don’t approach the implementation using existing mindsets.
What do you think affects a business’s performance the most?
At the end of the day, it all boils down to trust. Do you trust your people to sell and do the right thing, or do you have to account for every single thing single-handedly? A lack of confidence and faith in your people can adversely affect not just the business, but also you, as a professional and as a human being. You also have to have trust in the data you are given – that the prices are set so that you make a profit, that the hours of support are properly sized. All in all you have to trust the data you are being given.
What would you advise companies to do in order to ensure flawless operation?
The most important thing, I believe, is for you to have a clear vision of what your outcome should look like. Starting with the end in mind will help you focus all your efforts in the right place. Secondly, I cannot stress enough the importance of getting feedback and input from users. Communicating with them helps you gain some perspective, and using the information obtained to make improvements in your system/operations allows you to better evaluate your performance and stay ahead of your competitors at all times. IT professionals doing the implementation often don’t have the political capital to inform the executives about the level of difficulty they will face, or the amount of time it is going to take to implement the back end processes, hence the communication gap, whose effects will, sooner or later, show in the outcome. So much so that even developing the business rules and/or working on UX disregarding, overlooking or failing to implement any feedback from customers (existing or potential) may just cause the entire system to collapse.
I usually always refer to JEDI mind tricks when speaking in this context – it implies that you can achieve almost anything if you put your mind to it.
How would a senior leader like you have benefited from a CPQ solution? Are there any particular problems you could solve if you had one?
One of the critical issues today, pain points, if you will, is lack of executive buy-in. It is important to help the users/sales realize and learn how these 3 departments weigh in, that is:
- Sales First
- Product Development Next
- and Marketing Last
Once all 3 departments are on-board, you will be able to build in impact to go back to the CEO with:
- Reduced sales cycle
- Faster implementation terms
- Time to revenue
A CEO prioritizes faster time to revenue recognition more so than risk reduction – that, I suppose, comes a little later down the line. I am positive that, with the increased overall efficiency that CPQ technologies promise, we’re all hoping to see a fair increase in revenue, greater than 30%, perhaps.