Updated: 1 day ago
In this episode of the Precursive Perspective podcast, guest Chris Bunch, Chief Operating Officer of CTS, talks to Jonathan about the evolving world of services, and how consulting is changing.
CTS are the largest dedicated Google Cloud partner in Europe, helping customers to differentiate by utilizing not just Google’s technology, but also their culture of innovation and sustainability.
Some key learnings include:
The power of meeting in the office
What changes can be observed in the world of consulting
The upcoming trends in the services industry
The importance of an agile methodology
Listen to Chris’ podcast here.
Jonathan: Hi, everyone, welcome along. It's Jonathan Corrie from Precursive, obviously. Welcome back for those of you tuning back in. Welcome along if you're joining us for the first time. In these conversations, we explore a range of topics centered around the changing world of SaaS, B2B, professional services, customer success and all things in between. I'm very lucky because I get to talk to a lot of interesting and, frankly, smarter people than myself on a weekly basis now, which is fantastic. One of the key things that we have been exploring under the banner of this outcomes era topic is really the way that professional services and services delivery is evolving and what's driving some of that change. So today I am delighted to be joined by Chris Bunch, who is the COO of a business called CTS, which is Europe's largest dedicated Google cloud partner. Welcome along, Chris. How are you, sir?
Chris: I am very well, thank you. The sun is very briefly, at least, shining in the northwest of England today, so, yeah, very well.
Jonathan: Indeed. And you've recently moved to a new part of the UK, I understand.
Chris: I have, I have. Up to England's green and pleasant lands and what I'm reliably informed is God's country in the northwest, rather than the smog-choked cities and suburbs of London.
Jonathan: What I've learned about anyone who's based in the north is that every single region in the north is in fact God's country. My friend from Birmingham also claims that Birmingham is indeed God's country. But shout out to everybody north of the Watford Gap. Thanks for taking the time to join us. Can you give us a little bit about the scope of your role and a bit more about CTS and then maybe give us a little bit of your background in your career prior to that, if you don't mind.
Chris: Yes, indeed. So, as you say, COO at CTS, we're a cloud computing consultancy and managed service provider specializing in Google cloud technologies. So high level, that is, technologies called Google Cloud Platform, or GCP as it's more commonly known, which is the infrastructure and platform side of what Google do, and a product called Workspace, which is Google's collaboration, offering more on the software as a service side. I've been part of the CTS team for about ten months now and worked in consultancy more broadly for about 17, 18 years or so prior to that, Pre CTS, and right at the beginning of my career, I was in the exciting world of ERP software implementation and then moved into cloud computing in 2011 as part of a scaling startup leadership team. We grew that company about 100x during the time I was there. And I was very, very much converted to cloud computing as a concept, as a theme, I guess, a passion of mine, which ultimately led me to CTS in 2020 in the middle of the pandemic, which seemed like a perfect time to go looking for a new job. So I'm one of the directors responsible for the delivery side of the business, so the services side, everything from scoping and designing solutions through to implementing them, and then the managed services thereafter, looking after them, and more broadly, bringing some lessons, I hope, about scaling and growing companies and some of the things that we did right previously and some of the things that we did wrong. Basically, I'd say I am passionate about technology, how it can solve problems for people and businesses. And I like the intersection that consultancy provides with quite a broad range of client organizations. And I get bored very easily, which is why I like growth companies. But consultancy, I find, provides such a broad mix of organizations. You can't get bored if you're talking to a hotelier one day and you're talking to a hospital the next day, and I love that mix and variety that it brings.
Jonathan: Yeah. I mean, you've got, what, more than 200 people now globally across the UK. Utrecht as well, right?
Chris: Yeah, exactly. Main offices, although that is, of course, somewhat less relevant now in the UK, in three major UK cities, and then in Utrecht in the Netherlands as well. But actually, the pandemic’s enabled us to broaden the net a little bit and start hiring the odd person in North America. There's a few in other parts of Europe now as well.
Jonathan: Yeah, your business caught my eye because I think you'd won some awards in the public sector space right? For Google in not too recent times.
Chris: Indeed. So, yeah, we were popping the champagne recently, having picked up a couple of partner awards from Google. One for our ability to implement workspace in large enterprise organizations, which is less of a technology project and more of a change management project, because you're really trying to change in a positive way, the way that people are working and ripping out, usually a Microsoft solution, but in many cases, some even more legacy offerings. And on the public sector side, we’re doing some really interesting technology projects, mainly around large volumes of data, so working with hospitals on machine learning technologies to streamline patient-doctor interactions. So rather than a doctor, people with the worst handwriting in the world, taking unintelligible notes that no one can ever read and no one can get any value from. Using some of the Google's tech to transcribe the contents of those conversations, log them in an indexable, searchable way, highlight keywords, and then you suddenly got actually a source of data that's much more searchable and usable and saves the doctors a lot of time and efforts and energy. So all kinds of interesting big volume of data projects going on in the public sector.
Jonathan: Interesting. Funnily enough, one of my first roles was sourcing people for the NHS IT program way back when. It was when they were trying to bring together various networks and they had a lot of outsourcing businesses involved. It was a bit of a disaster at the time, but it sounds like the solution that you've got was what they were trying to build back then, but failed miserably to do so. Unsurprising that Google was able to find an answer, which is good to hear. I think we were talking just before we started really about some of the things that are changing in the world of services delivery and consultancy. Given your background, you've got a lot of tenure in this marketplace, how have you seen the world of services evolve over the last years?
Chris: I think in some ways it feels like a huge amount has changed. I was reflecting on this a little bit this week over dinner with a few colleagues. But in others, actually at its core, very little has changed, still people buying skills, advice, expertise to help them solve problems, albeit the technology has changed and evolved. But the things that have changed, I’d probably start with the people and culture side of things. I'm sitting here today in jeans and a very casual shirt. If I'd dressed like that when I went to my first job, I would have been fired and sent home for not wearing a suit and a tie. It's indicative, I think, of the evolution of culture to be a bit more people-centric versus perhaps the somewhat more rigorous days, and even the Deloitte’s and the PwC’s of the world are evolving into that model as well. And obviously it's not just clothes, it's things like remote and distributed teams were much, much less common. If you weren't on site billing with a customer, you were expected to be in the office for the most part. You wouldn't be sitting at home. I think that has been a big change. And it's linked to generally a focus on the employee realizing that actually if you can attract and retain and motivate the best people, then you're going to get some better customer outcomes. I think businesses have probably become a bit more savvy in that regard. Externally, I think perhaps expectations are maybe a bit higher in terms of what you're going to bring as a subject matter expert to their organization. And I think that's probably years of people being burned by large professional services engagements with some of the large global systems integrators whose names I perhaps won't mention.
Jonathan: Or maybe you already have!
Chris: I think people are a bit more savvy to what they're buying and they have a high expectation of what you're going to bring. I think on the process side, the general trend is that the pendulum has swung back a bit more to businesses, I think trying to upskill in-house. So using consulting skills to help to train and enable their teams and augment and help to get things done. Like most patterns in business that will swing back the other way at some point. I don't think it will happen in the near term, but it almost certainly will. But those big seven year outsourcing contracts that the likes of IBM would have been signing a lot once upon a time, you see significantly fewer of those now. I think consulting businesses are forced to be much more flexible in terms of their ways of working. We might love Agile as a methodology for implementing something, but not all of our customers will do, so even if it would be logically a good fit for the problem that's trying to be solved and you can't force it. We can explain what we think is the best model, but ultimately we then need to be flexible and work with the customer. That ties a little bit to what I was saying a moment ago about outsourcing. Some people will want you to take ownership of something completely end-to-end and own it from start to finish, but many won't. They'll want you to come in and work with them and augment their team, and you need to be able to be flexible in terms of how you engage with the customer. On the technology side, I think much more SaaS. There's software everywhere, good software. One time in the mid 2000s, a real core part of my role was going out, talking to clients about the absolute peak at which they would use their servers and helping them to size the server hardware they were going to buy to run these ERP applications. That's not a thing anymore. People are just buying it as SaaS and they're paying a monthly or yearly subscription of some kind, and all of that hardware data center commodity activity, somebody else's worrying about that. I also think SaaS generally, not just Google Workspace, but lots of different tools that drive better and more efficient collaboration that's enabled more distributed ways of working. I do also think it's probably encouraged people to be somewhat worse at picking up the phone and just sorting out a problem very quickly and efficiently.
But broadly, the pros would outweigh the cons on that. And maybe finally, I would say that within the ecosystems, I think there's much more opportunities for boutique consultancy. It's not just about the big vendors. And actually, in many cases, companies will be looking for a very specialized, very focused boutique provider that has knowledge in the area that they require. Going back to my point about augmentation, rather than a massive systems integration project, which in my current, of course, massively biased role as someone who leads a boutique consultancy, that is good news.
Jonathan: But bias is 100 % allowed on this show, so that's good, and a very rich and thorough answer. I just want to unpack a couple of those things. I think one, the piece that you talked about, I call that more, we see that a lot, which is this orchestrated workforce planning where you're looking to mobilize both internal assets, people, and leveraging external partners to upskill or fill gaps. I think companies have become much more comfortable with that. I'd be interested in your thoughts on who you see coordinating that on the customer side, maybe as we talk through that. Another piece that resonates a lot is you talk about this idea that people have been burned by maybe the consulting businesses or the large systems integrators, which is interesting. We see something similar in our market. One of the products that we sell is a PSA solution. It helps companies improve services delivery. In that particular market, some of the larger vendors are more like what I would describe as traditional, ERP-orientated PSA. They come from a world where things are a bit more static, they were less agile. We're actually seeing, talking to people is they just have this belief that those types of tools are really clunky and we're having to re-educate them. I think there's an element of that definitely happening both for product because of SaaS, but also for services businesses. We're not like PwC or we're not like IBM, we're not going to do this. We're actually boutique, we're more agile, and this is how we're going to deliver, so a lot of that definitely resonates. Just diving into one thing, which is you've talked about remote. You're in a business with more than 200 people, you're the COO. Very curious to hear your experience about what has changed with regards to managing this type of consulting business in this new remote reality?
Chris: Yeah, I'm in a fortunate position like a lot of technology businesses, I suppose, that we work with public cloud as our core business model and literally the business was founded around collaboration software and Google Workspace, called Google Apps back in the day, that helps distributed teams to work together. It's literally the software that Google built for its business to help a distributed organization to work together. And also I think we're quite fortunate that economically we're spread across lots of different industries. Although we work with people in and around hotels and hospitalities and travel, who've clearly been impacted by the pandemic, actually. We’ve got plenty of customers in the worlds of e-commerce, public sector, financial services. They’ve all done quite well, actually, so it's been a good, strong period of growth. In terms of things that have changed and have been challenging, I think initially, certainly March 2020 into April 2020, I was worried about sales and I was worried about how people would build relationships and how they would articulate value propositions, really understand requirements both in the sales cycle and in a delivery engagement, a classic project kick off. How would you make it work? And actually, it's been very positive, much more so than I thought. I think because there's essentially been no alternative. All the organizations that always said, “you must be on site for this sales meeting”, or, “you must be on site to deliver this engagement”, they didn't have that option, people adapted and actually have seen some quite creative ideas and people breaking up meetings in very lively ways so that there's a little game part way through such that people aren't just sitting there looking at a screen for hours on end. I like that human ingenuity. So it's worked out better than I was expecting. I still think that we and other businesses could have advanced themselves faster. I just think people connect better in person. And if we've been able to take a few more people out for dinner, breakfast, lunch, etc. Then we could have perhaps got probably the same outcome, maybe, we could have got there a lot faster, is probably how I think about it. We've had to put a lot of thought, like most businesses, into how to keep people engaged. You live in a world now and technology has always been, or at least in recent years, it's been a very hot market for talent. It's a great time to be a technologist, but the pandemic suddenly enables that even more, and you can get a job anywhere in the country, maybe even anywhere in the continent, and in some cases, anywhere around the globe, depending on how flexible the business is and the service you're providing to them. How do you keep people engaged? How do you inspire them in a remote world? How do you get them excited about the business and not have just endless people sitting back to back on video calls? How are you going to make sure that you're thinking about people who've got a good chair and a desk to work from if they're forced to work at home, so they're not all going to have horrible spine injuries. How are you going to make sure that you're encouraging them to get out, get some fresh air and exercise? So I think that's probably been the biggest challenge for lots of businesses. It's probably also a really big opportunity. People get that right, that balance of work and efficiency, but also purpose, motivation, bit of fun, if that fits in nicely with your company culture, then I think there's a real opportunity there to recruit and retain the best talent, which ultimately is what you need in a consulting business.
Jonathan: There's a couple of interesting points there you make, I think, because we've had some other folks who run consulting businesses or senior in consulting organizations. One of them, we were talking about something you mentioned, which was this, the expectations around that delivery and what that would look and feel like, and would it be as effective? It's interesting because some of the feedback that I've heard is not dissimilar to yours. It's like it's gone better. For example, we're spending less in T&E, so we can invest that in other ways in technology. The capacity planning elements of it is perhaps even a little bit easier in some respects because, for example, we're not taking three days out of a week because you've got a day aside for travel, but we might be splitting up meetings across the week, which is quite nice. The point that you made, though, around the employee engagement, how much of that employee engagement do you feel is, because like you say, if you're on back to back video calls, it's mind numbing, right? You tap out. How much of that employee engagement do you feel is driven by maybe the peers versus the managers versus the leadership community? Because I feel like it's something that as a collective, you have to work at. Is that something you guys have experienced?
Chris: Yeah, very much so. I think it's all levels of people who contribute to that. I was in the office this morning. I didn't need to be there, but it's a good thing to do. Had a few face to face meetings with some people, probably solved some problems more quickly than we would have done. Otherwise bumped into a few people just in the lift chatting to them about things that are going on. I attended quite an interesting webinar actually from PwC a few months ago. One of their UK leadership made the point that as a leader, if he's not in the office, then no one will talk to him from the general business population. His direct team, of course, he's talking to all the time. But the general people in the organization, they're not going to put 30 minutes in his calendar to have a chat. But if he's in the office, they'll come and say hello and he'll ask them what they're working on and he'll learn something about the business and possibly see opportunities to improve things or to do more of something, that's amazing. People always talk about the serendipitous coffee machine conversations. I guess it's a bit cliché, but it's also an actual fact. I've literally spoken to several people I've never spoken to before this week because I happened to bump into them while we were getting a drink.
Jonathan: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I was in the office yesterday, we had an all day session. We had our commercial team, we had our head of services come in and talk to some of the commercial team about their experience, both prior to working in our business and working here now and about this world of services. I was just looking at people's faces. You can just see how people take in information. And that point you make, we got to go out for dinner last night, and I sat next to someone who I don't sit next to or I don't see that much. She'd just come back from New Zealand. She spent four months in New Zealand, actually. But she'd just come back and you can't replace that. So I think there's that happy medium, right? I think being able to be at home and just blitz through work that you might need to get done and then going into the office and actually accepting that you might go out for a coffee for an hour, but that's all right. You know what I mean? It's not unproductive time. It's good for you.
Chris: That's it. That's where we've settled, is essentially to leave people with the decision, if they want to come to the office, then great. Obviously, we'll organize team meetings, we're having a party for the entire company next week, in fact, for the first time in a very long time. There will be testing before and after, we’re getting all that organized, of course. But I'm looking forward to it, it's the first time. This is a small company, a fun culture, and just getting people together and having some fun is something that we've missed. Actually, I think one of the things that many companies probably forget is they've hired so many people during the pandemic, you need to encourage the teams and the leads of all the different units that actually it's okay to spend a bit of money. Get your team together, bring them together in small groups and solve some problems and have some fun. You don't need to worry about it. To your point, everyone's spending less proportionally on real estate. Well, they are, depending on the flexibility of their contract or they will be in the future as their businesses grow. So why not reinvest some of that in making sure that you're building teams properly?
Jonathan: Cool. Something that we talked about, that I talk a lot about on this show and with others is what we see is this emergence of… not a new form of service delivery, but really the changes in customer demand and the speed at which things are changing results in customers and companies needing to make changes more quickly, whether that's growth orientated or organizational change or cost savings. And so as a result of that, we see consulting businesses and product companies like ours needing to be able to deliver value more quickly to customers. So there's an expectation that this thing that we're going to buy, we're going to get our hands on it, and it's going to help us to change perhaps more quickly than it has in the past. And so we call that this high velocity services environment, this high velocity services delivery. And I'm curious to know whether you see some of that in your space and whether you feel like that's part of some of the trends that are going to continue to evolve over the coming years in the world of services.
Chris: Yeah, definitely. And the words you use there are very apt. One of our more popular offerings is literally called high velocity migrations. And it's all about getting people into Google Cloud very quickly. Agility has always been a bit of an overused term in the IT industry, bit of marketing hype. The ERP company I worked for years ago was using that term until 2003 or so, probably a little bit earlier. But actually, this is arguably one of the most important things that a business can do is do things quickly, because somebody else will be doing it faster if you're not. Yeah, we really try and focus on that, not just with the migrations proposition, but with everything we do. Our story is linked to that, we are specialists in a particular area. We can come in, get this done quickly and we can do this in three months. And sometimes you see senior decision makers, metaphorically at least falling off their chair because they're expecting it's going to take one to two years to get it done based on their prior experiences with some of the larger multi-hundred-thousand person organizations. I 100 % agree that people want things done quickly and that is the right thing to do because in every industry there's a challenger… something, whether it's a challenger bank or a challenger ERP platform, it doesn't really matter. There are organizations that are moving fast, delivering new services, new features quickly and you have to stay with that pace. General trends, I think one of them probably links back to what we were just saying actually around the pandemic and getting people back together. Some people won't like it, but I think they will get back to degrees of onsite work again in the future. I think it's the way the world works. I don't think it will be quite as extreme as it was. And on a personal level, I think if we can get that balance right, I'm looking forward to a bit of travel, seeing some people in person and then delivering some work on site with our customers. I think we touched earlier on about the trend around just people treating their employees properly, not PwC’s. I used them as an example again earlier, but I'll use them again, not forcing people to come back to the office. Who would have thought that some of the biggest consultancies on the planet would have been saying, “yeah, sure. Flexible, hybrid working, we'll absolutely embrace that.” And I think that talent war, a lot of that, people will realize it has to focus around culture of the organization, not just salary and the kind of work that people are involved in, but culture and are you really investing and believing in people? I think there's going to be a lot of automation. I think RPA, the robotic process automation, as it's known is almost certainly going to have quite an impact in the services environment. Companies like UiPath, who always seem to be at the top of the Gartner quadrants in that kind of space, should really be being used to strip out some of the mundane work from all manner of businesses. But there's lots of that in professional services.
Jonathan: You're speaking my language and one of our clients calls it “we automate to be human”. Prior to Precursive, they had people that was taking them three hours to do a timesheets, for example. Literally everyone hates doing timesheets. He would say, If someone likes doing timesheets, they've got serious social problems. The idea of automation to simply give people back more time is, like you say, it's a little bit like that agility piece. Sometimes it comes across as branding, whereas in reality, when you see it crystallized, it's much more meaningful. Digital transformation is a funny one. That for me was one of these hype straplines that was around for a long time, and a lot of people are like, What does that actually mean? It feels like it's a pitch for a McKinsey and this type of thing. Then you've seen over the last 18 months, Oh, wow. Okay, well, that's digital transformation. That's why we actually need to be able to do stuff digitally. This links to what I wanted to go on and talk about, which is this outcomes era. I would imagine you guys, from what I understand about how you help your clients, there's a lot of focus around how can you use technology to create a culture of innovation? How can you modernize your business? How can you empower people and organizations through technology? Talk about what are the types of outcomes that manifest in your world that your customers want to achieve.
Chris: It varies a little bit with the client. The larger end of the client base, so think Futsi100 type scale, I would say more typically, people tend to buy what would commonly be called time and materials. By that, I mean time, usually. They are literally buying days of people with particular skill sets to help them accelerate their project or their program. We're augmenting their teams. To your point about hybrid teams, there's often other suppliers or independent contractors in the mix as well. Generally, they're not buying a fixed outcome from us. Mostly the driver there is partly it's big and complicated and they think it's going to take too long to do the discovery initially to then generate that fixed outcome. Partly it's a difficult thing to buy from the boutique providers. You need to bring in multiple specialists to get to your outcome via a partnership. As the customers get a little bit smaller in size, or indeed it's just the work’s a bit more standardized, it’s very likely there's a fixed price. The high velocity migrations piece that I mentioned earlier on is almost always fixed price, fixed outcome. This is a data center exit. Essentially somebody's got a data center, either owned by them or leased from someone. They want to get out of it, move into the public cloud for all the right reasons. And there will be a fixed cost, bit of discovery work up front to work out what they've got, which is partly so we can fix price a really quick migration afterwards and partly to help the customer understand what they've got because most people have got no clue what they're running in their environment. Generally, I'm supportive of fixed price as long as there is sensible time to scope it, access to the right stakeholders. I've never been a fan, you see it in some organizations of really scoping things very tight, very lean, knowing that you're going to change request the life out of it over the course of the project. I think it slows things down and potentially damages your customer relationship. Equally, I'm not a fan of, and it does happen in smaller companies, I'm sure CTS has certainly done this over the years as they're growing and taking massive risks on a finger in the air estimate with a fixed price. Maybe you're going to get there, maybe you're not because you need this to be a success for both parties for it to be a successful project and successful engagement. But yeah, certainly things that are reasonably well understood, people are absolutely looking to buy an outcome and I love giving it to them. It's a great simple sales proposition to turn up and walk somebody through a series of steps that says, “Here's what we're going to do, here's what it's going to cost, here's what we're going to provide, here's what we need from you. Here's how long it's going to take, let's go”. I like that a lot.
Jonathan: Yeah, we're quite fortunate in our area in the sense that, like you say, in your world it can vary quite a lot. I mean, we're quite fortunate in our area. I think there's probably a handful of outcomes that we deal with. We have one in the world of SaaS, it's all about time to value because companies are spending so much on customer acquisition, increasingly on customer success, which is what I wanted to talk about to you next about the world of customer success. In consulting, you've got this air gap in the middle, which is the implementation. And if that's taking more than 90 days these days, then you're probably out of step with the market. So there we see it's very much like, how can we drive that? I think the world of consulting, interestingly, in terms of outcomes is changing. Many of our clients have actually reduced, for example, their utilization targets. So one company said that we're going to bring it down, we're going to focus on productive utilization, because what they'd worked out was that by having these super high targets, they were churning people and the ramp time for new people, the disruption was impacting the quality and the output of the work. So we’re like, let's reduce it, let's focus on productive work. Focus on outcomes with clients. Quality of work goes up. We don't need to be acquiring all these new customers because we can just grow our share of wallet in the marketplaces with existing clients. I think that speaks to how you talked about the world of consultancy evolving. I talked about customer success. This is obviously something which is very prevalent in the world that I work in, which is in software. We are seeing it, though, emerge in the world of consultancy quite a lot. I'm curious to know if you guys see that as well and if it's something that you're investing in, whether you're investing more in a CS type strategy at all.
Chris: Yeah, very much so. Very much so. I think as a general rule in the industry, maybe even the world in some cases, I think people forget their existing customers. It is one of the most stupid things you can do. I spent my life talking to our sales team saying, look, there is no easier customer to sell to than somebody that's already buying something from you. From a pure sales acquisition cost, why don't you do it? The answer is people are always off chasing the new shiny thing. In some cases, it's not even about selling something, it's just about protecting your existing revenue streams, making sure your customer is getting value from the relationship and value from the services and that they feel emotionally, which is a big part of any buying process, that we care about them as a supplier. Like many things that are very important, it's not the most complex thing in the world to do, but it does need the right kind of people. They need the right empathy about them. They need to be quite structured because you need to define touch points all over different levels of the organization, people need different levels of contact and insight and information. You have to monitor it. You have to report on it. And if you do it well, which requires discipline, it requires experience, it requires structure, you have to adapt it to your customers. Coming back to our point earlier about being flexible, all customers are a little bit different. You need a bit of a shell framework that you can then apply to different organizations. It makes a massive difference. Massive difference. And if you're running a consulting business, as many people listening to this would be, you really want to be protecting and growing your existing base as a real core primary action. I think more often than not, people spend too much time thinking about, “how am I going to chase down my new logos that I'm going to put on my next board slide and talk about these new names?” Because everyone likes that exciting thing in sales. But actually, there's probably more opportunity working with your existing customers and making sure that they're having a great experience with the services they're buying today, that they understand all of the services that they could be taking from you, and indeed to ask them what services that they would like that you don't provide. I just think people fail to talk to their customers more often than not. I Agree with your sentiment that it's a trend in professional services, definitely for smart organizations, it has to be.
Jonathan: Yeah. I think a lot of the times in customer success in the world of SaaS, you're trying to capture these, we call them value snippets. What's the change that you've driven? I think in that world of consultancy, sometimes you've got a scope of a project, it's project orientated, and you deliver that and then it's like, Okay, well, that went well. Okay, are there additional pieces of work, which is potentially a natural flow of conversation. But I think almost CS in consultancy will come to evolve into something around the documentation of value because there's a disconnect between the impacts that you drive that you know about and then the impacts that the market knows about that you actually share, or indeed that the customer realizes themselves. They're like, oh, wow, we didn't actually realize that it had this much impact because we weren't tracking it three months or six months later. Things were just better. I think it's going to be a really interesting space. Final thing, then. For those listening, we've been introducing this topic of choice for everyone, our guests. It's been brilliant because there are some great ones coming through. Chris, here's the topic of choice. Is procurement the tail wagging the dog? It's like an exam question, discuss. Tell us what you mean by that.
Chris: First up, because I don't want to get hunted down and shocked by the myriad of procurement people that I speak to on a weekly basis. This is not me saying that there's no value in procurement. There is. Making sure that you're matching requirements to suppliers, you're ensuring diligence, protecting the company from too much risk, making sure the business is not just giving massive contracts to their mates like a UK government conservative minister might choose to do so. All good stuff makes sense. I've worked with some great procurement people over the years that actually can make the process enjoyable, bring a bit of fun into it, rather than a time-wasting battle, just a grind. And there are still, I think, far too many of those grinding battles. What I really mean by this is I'd like people in a procurement function, and it applies to most functions, but we're talking about procurement at the moment, to think about what is the purpose? Why do they exist? What is the reason for that team to be there? They should be thinking, how am I adding most value to the business? Almost never will the answer be by dramatically slowing down the speed at which my business can buy and consume software or services from organizations that they're trying to buy from? I really want to encourage people to question, why am I doing it this way? Is it how it's always been done? Which is a terrible answer for anything, but it's often the case. Perhaps in some cases, it's a fault of how they're incentivised and how they're targeted at. They know that you get the best deal by dragging things out for months over on end because eventually people just capitulate because they want the misery to finish. But if they could try and think about the opportunity cost of the services not starting for several months or the software not being in place for several months, or the software not being in place for several months, and actually, if they could get it done quickly, would that in itself add more value to the organization? I sit on a lot of calls and I quite often find, you've got to be polite talking to paying customers or potentially paying customers, but I think it's not 1980. You don’t need to destroy your supplier and then come away thinking, “that was great. I really beat them up”. You need and you want, I suspect in most cases, a trusted partnership that should span many years if you're choosing your suppliers right. And if you don't want that, you're probably not buying from the right people to begin with. I think people need to let the small things go. You're negotiating a 60-page contract. Maybe you don't need to argue over some of the really fine definitions and the small print you want to focus in on data privacy liability, big ticket items. I definitely think there should be probably different incentive models based on business KPIs for people in procurement, making sure they understand that risk versus the benefit that they're providing to the business through the work that they're doing. There needs to be some element of speed in there for me and people really understanding, because I think often, procurement is a bit of a black box and it exists. People know it has a certain remit and it goes into procurement. In some organizations, if that's a large bank, that could be gone for months, literally months. And all the while, Monzo has released 50 new features today while your procurement team have been saying, You can't buy this product yet. It's going to help you.
Jonathan: This is an interesting story that I heard from, used to do some work with GE years ago. And GE in the Jack Welch era had an approach to talent development, which was rotating people between departments. And what they did was, and this links to the procurement thing, they rotated their procurement and their sales teams. And so the GE procurement team spent time with the pursuit team within GE, which was a large sophisticated sales organization. And what they discovered and learned was that the best salespeople would parallel process. So they get to a point in the deal cycle and then they have swim lanes or paths where you have the business value stream and then the procurement stream, for example. So you have this procurement piece and the procurement people picked up, they were like, this is how we should be buying. When we get to a point in a purchase, we should be coming in earlier and then we parallel process that with the decision making so that it's not linear, so that we're not holding it up for x number of months because they realized that in doing so in this particular division of GE, it would cost them a lot of money. That certainly resonates. Another point which I think you mentioned that you'd seen elsewhere is there's this pent up emotion where you get to that buying point. I guess if the procurement piece has been strung out, the post sale implementation, that can get very emotionally fraught because people really want to get their hands on the product or the service then, can't it? And it's being delayed.
Chris: In many cases, you're putting unnecessary pressure on people to hit deadlines because in many cases there are. You need to get out of a deadline or you need to get off a certain piece of software, whatever it might be. And by dragging that out, you are absolutely putting your team under significant pressure. That's ignoring the pound value associated with the opportunity cost. And if people don't understand what that is, perhaps they shouldn't be buying the thing in the first place. I just think we've all just settled into this mindset of this is how it's always been done. And that's just what we expect. I guess my message is, I'm encouraging people to challenge it a little bit. And I think your GE example is probably a really relevant one because the ultimate solution here at a macro level is getting procurement closer to the business whilst maintaining some independence, of course. But that's the key, I think, that they really understand the business and the business understands them. And as a result, they'll do a better job rather than as an isolated silo.
Jonathan: Cool. Well, listen, thank you ever so much for your time. It's greatly appreciated because I know how busy you are. Thank you for joining. And for those tuning in, you will find obviously many more shows on our Spotify channel, also on the website, alongside various new pieces of content from Precursive, our Traditional Services is Dead Playbook, with contributions from Sage, from Infosys, and of course, from Cognite. Head over to Precursive.com. for more information on any of that. And Chris, once again, thank you ever so much for taking the time to join.
Chris: Pleasure. Thank you, Jonathan.
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