Experts in Everything

28 April 2017

I have been involved in the Cloud Industry Forum (CIF) recently; an excellent industry group that discusses, (and influences policy on) the cloud industry, whatever that is. In this context, cloud is an IT set of tools across the broadest possible definition that deliver IT functions as a service.

At a recent CIF meeting, there was a discussion on the accounting treatment of cloud projects. Much of the marketing and sales collateral associated with Cloud products delivers a message that pushing things into Operating Expenditure will solve the problems of every client, and no-one likes Capital Expenditure. I am no accountant, and just about managed to follow the discussion based on my rudimentary “bluffers guide to Finance”; the upshot of which was all clients have different preferences. If you are interested in this topic in depth, please let me know and I’ll introduce you to some real experts at Deloitte. These guys know their stuff.

It struck me in this discussion however that “cloud” has such wide-ranging implications that it is no wonder that adoption rates are still relatively low. Clearly that is changing quickly, but being led primarily by the technology industry rather than the broader business community.

And this phenomenon drives a more interesting debate about the skills you really need to be a successful cloud sales person. I am probably doing no-one a disservice by saying that most current cloud sales people are technical by background, most know their way round a server room or a headline technical architecture, and are generally supported by pre-sales guys, who could chef up a detailed technical design for a cloud based IT service with a client.

Technology, however, as this is just one facet of the industry; we are rapidly approaching a point where it is the least important. Based on today’s marketing literature, we are trying to get sales people to have a point of view on the following things – beyond technology:

  • General Data Protection Regulation – the impact of new legislation on data storage and consent.
  • Data Sovereignty – the physical location of data for differing classifications of data, for different industries.
  • Specific industry regulation such as PCI:DSS, MIFID2, FCA/PRA Guidance etc.
  • HR impacts of migration of service workload from the IT team to a cloud provider.
  • Business Continuity Planning and Risk Management.
  • And from the recent CIF forum, balance sheet treatment of cloud project costs.

Clearly, very few (if any) sales people have the depth or training to comment or even learn a pre-rehearsed opinion on these highly complex areas. And probably more relevant is that if they ventured into this space, and got caught offering advice on these areas, they could end up in significant hot water from a regulatory or advisory framework perspective. It’s a minefield.

Now sales people being the beasts they are, love to “help” support a sale. If asked for an opinion, in my experience, they will offer the answer the customer wants to hear followed swiftly by “when will you sign?”. Whereas, this could push a client towards a decision on a project without considering an informed opinion – to the grave impact of someone who was in that conversation.

The realities of our industry are that the front-line sales guys of most providers are technically competent, and experienced in the world of IT. If you are looking to procure services that could potentially have an impact of something beyond the IT world, please ensure you seek rock solid professional and accountable advice before concluding anything. Finance, HR, Legal, Marketing, Compliance and Security; all teams that will potentially be affected by a move to a cloud based service. Don’t rely on the IT sales community to comment, completely ignore their views, and only trust someone who can professionally comment. Otherwise, be prepared to accept the consequences.

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