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"But, what do you DO?"

"But, what do you DO?"

December 21, 2007 0 Comments

My grandfather's curiosity makes him seem younger than his 90 years. After the war, he, an immigrant in NY, became, among other things, a tailor. For the past 10 years or so, each time I've visited, at some point the conversation would turn to my job, and he would pointedly ask, "But, what do you DO?" I didn't quite understand his emphasis on "do." So, I'd respond that I travel, talk to people, listen a lot, and ultimately advise customers and our field on ways to move opportunities forward. I'd give examples. In return, I would get a confused look and a repeat of the question, "but what do you DO?"

Finally, one day in exasperation he says, "When I went to work, I made clothes. When you go to work, what do you DO?" Now, that was awkward... you see, I don't really DO anything. I'm an enabler. I'm more like a carrier of a disease than a tailor. I travel around picking up experiences in one place and leaving them in another.

I know... fascinating. But, SOA What?

Well, we just had our annual sales meeting here at Progress. And, coming off a great year, we Actional people were pretty popular. I was delivering the Actional message to a group of new employees - which I consider the 2nd most fun thing I get to do all year - and they kept asking, "what's the business benefit of Actional?"

What's the business benefit of Actional?

I'm not going to answer that here. Suffice it to say that my answers left the people in the room last Sunday somewhat unsatisfied. They wanted something tangible to take to their prospects--something that would quickly and dramatically get their attention and priority. I gave them talking points that they could use to start conversations, but nothing that would turn people's heads. The whole thing got me thinking...

Can an enabling technology have a direct business benefit?

Notice the word direct. I think an enabling technology enables business benefits. But, it requires some deeper understanding of the business situation, and then the application of technology expertise to that situation in order to achieve some tangible benefit.

An example will help. Actional has a large number of travel and hospitality customers. We help them optimize their delivery of product across various channels. Using Actional, these companies are able to differentiate service levels by customer, channel, and dynamically based upon, among other things, immediate local market conditions. In one case, a company has saved millions of dollars on hardware investment by better utilizing their shared infrastructure. They optimize their SOA infrastructure based upon "business level SLA," rather than blindly adding capacity. In short, they more closely coupled their "business" with their "infrastructure." These benefits apply equally well to any services business, and in my opinion will be a critical differentiator in the coming years.

If you look at the benefits I just described, you might think we compete with a highly customized point-of-sale system, or some reservation system, and probably a bunch of other things, however, as much as people want the "soundbyte", it's simply not the case. We don't really do anything tangible for these companies, though we are a key part of their enterprise infrastructure for delivering a highly differentiating service. I think there was a Dupont commercial that summed it up quite well... "we don't make your business systems, we make your business systems better."

Once my grandfather realized I didn't actually "DO" anything, he was able to start to understand what I accomplished. Perhaps we need to look at enabling software the same way?

david bressler

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