Mobility, Transformation and the as-a-Service Model

By Jim Haviland
Topics: Device as a Service (DaaS)

Mobile Thought Leaders discussions on the role of out-sourcing, managed services, and more recently, the as-a-Service models of finding help for their initiatives has often been highly influenced by fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) rather than a rationalized approach to deciding whether things belong in-house or other models need to be considered.

And the bias runs bother ways.  Members often tells stories of a leadership change leading to an executive decision to change direction (either to bring things back in house or to outsource).  What follows is often a disaster or a process twice as long as planned because suddenly a staff used to one model has to shift to another. Or sometimes there is simply a revolt, and nothing moves forward, except perhaps the leadership moving on.

MTL held an MTL Online event to provide some accumulated guidance and experience-sharing on the role of xaaS technology services in supporting mobile and digital transformation initiatives – and the places where in-sourcing or other models may be more effective.

Bob Burkhart is a long-time MTL member and was able to represent the oft-told story of Nationwide Insurance’s mobile-first transformation. Bob and his team had an executive mandate and budget but still faced numerous challenges and made their share of mistakes that provide great insights for the rest of us.

Chad Nordby, joined the panel from Vox Mobile.   His long resume includes a view of technology services on massive scale and global reach, having completed projects that included hundreds of thousands of endpoints and solutions that covered more than 30 countries. These are not the kind of projects where you go it alone.

The discussion was hosted by the Chief Strategy Officer for Mobile Thought Leaders, Jim Haviland, who travels the world working with MTL members and sponsors on building mobile and digital transformation programs and trying to sort out what goes wrong.


A Brief History of Outsourcing

The panel reviewed the evolution and problems with each of the outsourcing models.  All agreed that no model is perfect or appropriate for all the stages of a company’s growth or, more importantly, through the life-cycle of initiatives.

Figure 1: The evolution of concerns about outsourcing models

Mr. Burkhart pointed out that the xaaS model was an imperative for enabling agility and managing risk when starting out on a new initiative but pulling services back in can be anything but graceful, even when economics or changing needs dictate that it is necessary.  Each panelist agreed that having relatively solid metrics and goals and an agreed-upon approach to the economics was important to managing the process.


When to Choose XaaS

There are some specific drivers that make the xaaS approach more beneficial to an organization, specifically:

  • When the risk of uncontrolled costs outweighs the need to cost optimization – especially in early stages when the scale is smaller.
  • When the scale of your project can or will change quickly or in unpredictable ways
  • When you need special expertise or skills (or maybe just some experience).
  • When complexity or unknowns could sink the project
  • When the newness of what you are doing creates anxiety in your organization or there is someone culturally opposed to the change.

As an example, a trucking company recently contracted with Vox Mobile to help deploy a new tablet-based app into their trucks.  There is a deployment schedule with a number of phase-gates for performance and user feedback. At full scale, the configuration, deployment and support operation are significant, but it might take a year to get there.  The value of the solution is significant, especially compared to the difference in cost between what the client calculated they could do it for in-house versus working with someone externally who had done this part many times before. By hiring Vox deployment-as-a-service along with some managed services for infrastructure and end-user support, they can focus on the most important part: the app.


Drivers The Problem(s) How to Decide
Cost You need Risk Reduction and Agility –       Determine loaded cost

–       Project into the future

–       Bring it back once the risk is gone

Scale You don’t know how much you need –       Rough calculations of best and worst case

–       Bring it back if it is too small to be efficient aaS

Expertise Internal Experience too limited to be reliable –       What do peers have in place?

–       Start with 3rd parties

Complexity You don’t know what is needed for a full solution? –       See Expertise, is this a new function?

–       Look for the “unknown unknowns”

Culture History or structure make a good outcome unlikely –       Early in your Digital Transformation

–       Stuck in a “in-source” culture


Nationwide’s Transformation

During the event Bob Burkhart shared some of the details of the Nationwide story.  Perhaps most interesting were the themes and lessons that he drew from the 6 years (and counting) of driving mobility and transformation.

  • Minimum Viable Product (MVP) & Iteration work: Nationwide took an agile approach to their solutions, launching new solutions quickly with minimal features and then iterating, adjusting, and adding quickly. This taught the whole organization to think about software and solutions differently and know that they could participate in a meaningful feedback loop.
  • How to get and give feedback: The alignment between IT and the business was only as strong as their ability to understand each other’s thoughts and concerns and to constructively participate in the feedback loop.
  • 3 Keys: Education, Marketing, and Communication: Perhaps the biggest challenge for IT was the realization that the value of their work would not be realized unless they developed skills around marketing to their users, educating on an on-going basis, and developing strong bi-directional communications strategies with other departments.
  • Pain points are not the whole story: Early on, new solutions would often (usually) fall short of all the hopes and aspirations of the stakeholders and users. It was very important to not focus on what was wrong but to educate the business on the process of making things better, together.


Your Role is Changing (Not Going Away)

All the panelists shared stories about the shift of internal roles, away from “keeping the lights on” to analysis, solution design, and program management.  xaaS-model services tend to be the richest with mineable analytics data and the very best services provide data-driven, actionable insights. In general, the staff that used to just keep projects going can shift their attentions to making them better.

Figure 2: Usage patterns of apps helped one company shift to development investment from laptop refresh

The real change for MTL members is that they feel that they are moving up the value chain.  They are more engaged with users closer to the places where IT creates value. There are less and less jobs where you can contribute without digging in and understanding the business well enough to provide guidance and protect it from risks.

Figure 3: Analysis of authentication requests helped improve user experience

Hear the full conversation and gain access to the content here: