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In Today’s Marketplace, It’s All About Going Above and Beyond

In order to stay competitive in today’s marketplace you truly have to go above and beyond the call of duty.   From a customer service perspective, this means doing things to best serve the customer at all times.

When I hear examples of  great customer service I like to share them.  What follows are two examples that  are truly inspiring.

Each year, for Christmas or her birthday, my 81-year old mother’s best friend Ms. Ruby, who is 92 years old by the way, always contacts me for gift ideas.  Since Ms. Ruby is not accustomed to e-commerce and doesn’t drive, she still calls up area department stores directly to order whatever she wants to purchase.  Typically the stores very graciously have the purchases mailed.

Just the other day Ms. Ruby ordered a gift from Nordstrom in Annapolis only to discover that the sales person lived near her.  Much to Ms. Ruby’s delight, the sales person offered to drop the gift off on her way home from work.  Yes, you heard that correctly, the Nordstrom sales associate personally delivered the gift herself — and within a 6 hour time-frame

Ms. Ruby has also had similar experiences with Trader Joe’s when ordering gift cards.   Upon her first call to the nearest Trader Joe’s (some 45 minutes away) she learned that an employee also lived nearby.  She too  provided Ms. Ruby with door-to-door service by actually delivering the card to her home and has done so subsequent occasions.

Talk about going above and beyond…

As we have highlighted before, there are a number of organizations that truly ‘walk the walk’ when it comes to service.  These stories are a shining light and reinforce that it is often the individual employee who goes above and beyond.

As a provider of custom web application solutions, we don’t have the luxury of being able to drop off a purchased good at a client’s office, though we do take a similar approach of going above and beyond – even if it means working through the night to ensure that the launch of a web application is successful – to make sure our customers are has happy as Ms. Ruby.

Do you have any inspiring customer service stories to share?

Posted by: Diann Turner, Director, Business Development, NetLink Resource Group


Harvey Keitel’s “The Wolf” from Pulp Fiction: Sometimes We Also Serve As IT Clean-Up Guys

One of the most entertaining performances in Quentin Tarantino’s classic film “Pulp Fiction,” was Harvey Keitel’s portrayal of “The Wolf,” who served as a highly effective and professional “clean-up guy” after Vincent Vega (played by John Travolta) made a major tactical error with his gun.

While the world of IT is much different (and, luckily, safer) than the criminal underworld portrayed by Tarantino in this film, I sometimes find that we play a similar “clean up” role with major IT projects started by previous consultants that tried to implement a customized web solution, but made their own tactical errors and veered seriously off course.

The goal of this post is not to tout how much more effective we are than other web solutions providers.  There are many consulting firms that can deliver quality projects on time and on budget, and it would be disingenuous to suggest that all of our projects have been flawlessly implemented.  Instead, I would like to share my insights, based upon 20+ years of managing IT projects (mainframe, client-server, and web-based), on some of the main reasons why efforts tend to go awry.

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1) Poor definition of the project requirements — Both IT and business people seem to understand the need for properly defining requirements, yet it is often the main cause of why projects fall short of their purpose and go off-track.  I believe the project manager/lead consultant needs to have the skill set to start with high-level goals and engage the project sponsors/subject matter experts (SMEs) to dig into the details at a level necessary for the development team to provide solutions that meet the needs of the project.

It’s also important to document what comes out of this interaction so that both the sponsors and IT team have a common document everyone can understand and use throughout the project.  The project’s level of complexity should dictate the level of detail needed for the requirements/specifications to be an effective document to make the project a success.  And the document should be updated throughout the project so it represents the most current version of what the sponsors want and the IT team should deliver.

2) Lack of a descriptive, usable project plan — Like the requirements, the project plan should be written to the level of detail needed for the project sponsors and IT team to understand what needs to be done, when, and by whom.  It too should be a living, breathing document that is constantly evaluated and updated according to the latest requirements and information learned from the ongoing effort.

We have been asked to step in on projects that are off-course where the project plan was created at the onset of an effort and never revisited, as if its sole purpose was to provide the client with a document to reassure them that a plan would be followed, for the sake of getting the business.  The plan ended up sitting on a virtual shelf somewhere and the IT team went off in their own direction, without concrete deliverables or timelines that the client could track.

The purpose of the project plan is to use it as a tool for managing the effort.  It should set the expectations of the sponsors and the IT team for what remains to be accomplished to ensure the effort is on track.  If it’s not used this way, it’s a sure sign that the project is headed for problems.

3) Providing solutions to the client too late in the project — It’s fine to espouse the virtues of an iterative process on a project, but it’s another thing to have the discipline to actually adhere to it.  The basic tenets of our approach are “interact and iterate.”  The requirements and project plan require a significant amount of interaction, while the development effort needs to break up deliverables into reasonable pieces to allow for iterations of the solution to be evaluated by the client as early as possible.

The purpose of providing solutions in smaller portions, modules, “chunks”, etc. is to mitigate the risk that the IT team has missed the mark and ensure they are in sync with the needs of the client.  The only way this will be accomplished is through good initial planning and identifying which portions of the system will be delivered and when, based upon the project plan.
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Over the last seven years of managing client efforts at NetLink, we have sometimes been asked to step in and play the role of “The Wolf”, e.g. “IT clean-up guys”, for projects that have gone awry.  Fortunately, none of the efforts we’ve undertaken for our clients have required this form of outside intervention.

I would attribute this to the use of our project approach, the NetLink Adaptive Process™. But, more importantly, it’s the discipline to adhere to the execution of the process that determines the outcome of an IT project.  And following the process for your project is much more preferable than having to call in “The Wolf” to clean it up.

Posted by: Steve Short, President, NetLink Resource Group

Successful IT Implementations: It’s All About The Details

The age-old expression “the devil is in the details” speaks to the sheer fact that if details are overlooked, bad things often happen.

In the business world, the details can be the deciding factor between success or failure.  You may recall that many banks during the peak of the housing boom fast-tracked mortgages and ignored many vital details during the lending process that hurt both the lenders and the prospective homeowners.

NetLink recently sponsored a BWI Business Partnership event where David Marriott, COO of Marriott International’s Americas Eastern Region, spoke and cited “attention to detail” as one of three reasons why his organization has been so successful over the last 70+ years.  It’s probably no coincidence that we have been fortunate to count Marriott among our clients for more than 10 years, because we embrace this same perspective.

When it comes to successful IT implementations, it’s not the devil that’s in the details, but that the details hold the key to bringing custom web applications to life that meet and exceed expectations.

We actually have a methodology for managing our client engagements called The NetLink Adaptive Process that mitigates many common risks of IT projects.   The core tenet of this process is focusing on every key detail throughout the implementation.  This, combined with taking an “iterative” approach whereby we follow a concise step-by-step process for projects, ensures that superior solutions are delivered to clients within schedule and budget commitments.

Conversely, as many clients have complex requirements and needs, turnkey web options – which we dare say are not often “detail focused” – may only partially address these needs.  Customized solutions typically are required to meet complex goals.  This is where the implementation details mean everything for ensuring that a complex web application aligns with the client’s business goals.

So, if it is true that the “devil is in the details,” then that is a devil that organizations should embrace wholeheartedly.  We have been using this same detail-oriented approach since 1996 to truly deliver the promise of web solutions.

Posted by: Steve Short, President, NetLink Resource Group

Web-Based Technology is the True Enabler for Distributed Organizations

The industrial revolution paved the way for traditional office life where the average worker would “clock in” for work in a centralized office much like they would at a factory.   As we are embarking on the “ingenuity economy” the old mindset of working in a central location will potentially become a thing of the past, and creativity and innovation supported by distributed employees and partners will be the new norm.

Beyond what is happening in more forward-thinking Silicon Valley start-ups, many organizations are already embracing distributed environments where employees, partners, vendors and clients are dispersed in different locations.

A key component to bringing this “virtual work reality” to life are web-based technologies and applications that allow for enhanced communications and business processes that make these organizations highly productive, efficient and effective.

The right web-based software applications and tools allow companies to share the right information with vendors, satellite offices, home-based employees, franchisees, individual brick-and-mortar locations and beyond.   And because data is centralized, applications can provide incredibly powerful reporting tools that senior management can access, giving them insightful data on sales and marketing efforts, customer preferences, operations, and a multitude of metrics to improve their decision-making capabilities.  The result is improved profitability, where revenues can be increased and operating costs decreased, thereby improving the bottom line from both sides of the equation.

Cutting-edge start-ups aren’t the only ones to benefit from web technologies that enhance their business.  We have developed many such web-based software applications for one of our Fortune 500 clients, a global lodging company that has been in business for more than 70 years.  An example is a custom web application that automated their workflow for managing the requests of sales promotions at their many hotels throughout the US.  This has saved a great deal of time for their corporate support staff responsible for overseeing the process, gave regional sales managers insight into the marketing efforts of their hotels, and provided senior  management with metrics for monitoring promotional activity for all of their hotels.

From global organizations with locations throughout the world to virtual companies with employees spread out through the U.S., web-based technology serves as the critical enabler for businesses to be more effective and ultimately prosper.  And, regardless of what product or service your organization provides, the goal should always be to improve productivity and profitability – no matter where you are located.

Posted by: Steve Short, President, NetLink Resource Group