Christopher Pepe

Christopher Pepe


Recent posts by Christopher Pepe

5 min read

How Spore-Infused Canola Oil Supports the Forest Ecosystem

By Christopher Pepe on Nov 2, 2021 10:00:00 AM

2021-blogpost-How Spore-Infused Canola Oil Supports the Forest Ecosystem

Last year I switched to grocery store canola oil to lubricate my chainsaw bar. I add Oyster mushroom spores into the oil so that they are dispersed while I cut. This method was developed by Paul Stamets of Fungi Perfecti and discussed in his book Mycelium Running. There doesn’t appear to be a commercially available product; however, by making it myself at close to the cost of conventional petroleum-based bar oil (~$15/gal), I improve my forest and should have some convenient forage this fall. I am still refining the process of infusing spores into canola oil, but if you are curious to try it, I’d be happy to swap notes.

Why vegetable oil?

Available since the mid-1980s, vegetable-based bar oil usage has grown more rapidly in Europe and is gaining adoption in the US. Workers’ occupational safety and health, and environmental protection are the biggest concerns caused by the thousands of gallons of petroleum-based bar oil that is left in our forests each year.

“Petroleum-based oils are known carcinogens and medical records show that they cause discomforting eczema and oil acne. In addition, prolonged exposure to petroleum-based-oil mist can cause irritation of the respiratory tract. Environmental damage caused by petroleum-based oil spills has had extensive attention from the media.[1]”

Whereas, canola oil “has excellent lubricating properties and some studies have shown up to 40 percent reduction in consumption without sacrificing bar-and-chain life.[1]” Again looking to Europe, we see that there are 80+ brands of vegetable-based bar oil in Germany alone. Austria has gone so far as to outlaw petroleum-based bar oil. Europe has even developed a standard (CEC-L-33-T-82) that measures the amount of oil that biodegrades over a 21-day period. Within that standard, products can contain some mineral oil additives. A popular choice in the US, STIHL BioPlus, degrades 93.8% in 21 days. Commercial vegetable-based bar oils cost about twice as much as petroleum products, which has hurt adoption. But with long-term environmental concerns and sustainability driving today's business decisions more than ever before, that additional cost will be more easily justified.

Canola oil is also a renewable product. It is worth considering that conventional agriculture relies on fossil fuels, and accounts for 10% of the US greenhouse gas emissions [2]. Canola-based bar oil is still seen as a net positive as it keeps the toxins in petroleum-based bar oil out of the forests, and we have the potential to change our agricultural footprint into the future.

Why mushrooms?

Saprobic mushrooms, the decomposers, are the cornerstone of returning nutrients back to the forest. Common native fungi include oysters and Turkey tail. As tree limbs and litter fall to the forest floor, saprobes reach up and consume them. Mycelium, the vegetative part of the mushroom, invades the tree litter, brings along water, and attracts insects that feed on the mycelium. Those insects attract birds and forest creatures to tear apart the rotting wood. The mushrooms start the process, decompose the most difficult tissues (lignin and cellulose), and invite the others to continue the job. This process converts wood back into the soil.

There are many functions that mushrooms serve in our world. Oyster mushrooms are known to feed on nematodes[4] and are effective water filters. They’re used by humans and other animals as food and medicine. Turkey tail mushrooms contain anti-cancer medicines, are aggressive decomposers, and protect against parasitic fungi. Many of our best medicines have come from mushrooms and many more are expected to be discovered, especially in the few remaining sections of old-growth forests. There are dozens of powerful mushrooms that humans have partnered with and countless more that we don't even know the value of yet. Perhaps they will share their stories someday.

Why use spore-infused canola oil?

Mushroom spores are everywhere. In fact, you have inhaled dozens since you started reading this article. Kathleen Stutzman, VFF’s Conservation Forester, gave me the sage advice that “the forest does not need you to be healthy.” Similarly, the mushrooms do not need me to find their way into deadwood. However, the choices that I make can help steer our forest in the direction I want it to go. By preferring some species, I can speed up decomposition and quickly build the thin soil on my rocky hillside. New research suggests that species like the Turkey tail will also ward off potentially destructive species like the honey mushroom[3], one of which is the largest organism to ever live on earth. While honey mushrooms likely serve a function in the forest, they also cause a lot of financial hardship for timber companies. The jury is still out on honey mushrooms in my opinion, but Turkey tail and Oysters mushrooms help decompose everything 3” and smaller that I leave behind, provide us food and medicine, and support the entire forest ecosystem.

In Conclusion

At Praecipio Consulting, our team consists of experts in the field to help and aid your team in meeting your goals efficiently and succinctly. To learn more about how we can partner with your team, visit our Consulting Services page to explore just some of the Solutions we can help implement. 

Not sure what exactly your team needs? Contact us today and we can talk with strategy would work best.

References

  1. https://www.fs.fed.us/eng/pubs/html/98511316/98511316.html
  2. https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/natural-resources-environment/climate-change/
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPeBYnGwo4Y
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBWzrlCBhCM
Topics: blog culture global-climate-crisis carbon-footprint green-team carbon-neutral social-responsibility
5 min read

A Carbon Neutral, Nature Positive Praecipio Consulting

By Christopher Pepe on May 4, 2021 11:09:00 AM

Blogpost-display-image_Praecipios green pathIn 2019 the Praecipio Consulting Green Team was given the goal of creating a carbon neutral future for the company as part of our Climate Action Plan. The Green team had already set its focus on Carbon, Human Health, and Sustainability. The net zero challenge was taken up with the goal of promoting those pillars. Praecipio Consulting has determined that the climate stabilization wedge of Proforestation best meets the company's environmental and human health goals. Our value "Maximize mutual benefit" is exemplified by the parcels that Praecipio Consulting has contributed to protecting. 

Finding our path

Praecipio Consulting initially rolled out a generous Green Stipend program to incentivize change in employees daily lives, and encourage others to do so as well. Through education and incentive we aimed to amplify the good that we could do. To reach carbon neutrality we would credit Praecipio Consulting for the carbon emissions that where eliminated by positive changes in behavior. Many employees improved insulation, installed new efficient windows, etc. Ultimately that program proved ineffective, however, it laid the groundwork for our future. The main issue was that the Green Stipend encouraged a holistic lifestyle change whose benefits were multifaceted, but the success of the program was only measured by the reduction in one's carbon emissions. The cost per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e, a standard measure used to model carbon footprint) was too high for the program to reach carbon neutrality on budget.

The Green team wished to retain the behavioral incentive component of the Green Stipend. Since inception, the Green team has delivered presentations via a monthly all hands State of the Business, on how we arrived at a climate crises, and more importantly, how individuals can change their behavior for a future that is reintegrated with the natural world.

Praecipio Consulting also needed to achieve its publicly stated goal of being carbon neutral in 2020 and beyond. One obvious solution was to buy carbon offsets from any number of sources. There are publicly available volunteer markets (also regulated markets for carbon intensive regulated industry but that does not apply to this type of business), as well as many afforestation companies that are replanting forests all over the world. Digging into each of these options ultimately made us feel that while we could check the carbon neutral box, it wasn't maximizing mutual benefit. Carbon exchanges offer very cheap credits with little insight into their source. Credits may come from a forest, or they may come from any number of other sources, some of which are of questionable utility to addressing climate change. Afforestation is a noble cause, and we support organizations involved in those activities like TreeFolks. However, a 1" sapling planted today will take decades to sequester any amount of carbon and we simply don't have that much time. We applaud these organizations, and will continue to fund them because we will need those trees in the future, however we felt we needed to do more now.

Proforestation

Since the 1600s the United States has cut most of its forests. Estimates vary, but it likely that at most 10% of our old growth forests remain and even in heavily forested areas there are surprisingly few undisturbed forests. Europe has achieved some of its carbon goals by purchasing wood pellets from the United States to power electric generation plants. Far too much of these wood pellets are made from clear cutting forests which removes carbon sinks and increases atmospheric carbon. This practice is considered carbon neutral largely due to an accounting error that there is little incentive in acknowledging.

Simply put, proforestation is a management practice where a mature forest is allowed to self-regulate. This is contrasted with active management for timber, biomass fuel, or other disruptive uses. The benefits of mature forest are many including habitat for native species, clean water, and obviously carbon storage. An important finding is that while a mature tree has a slower metabolism than a young tree, it still adds more biomass (mostly atmospheric carbon) than the younger, more vigorous whippersapling.

Because existing trees are already growing, storing carbon, and sequestering more carbon more rapidly than newly planted and young trees (Harmon et al., 1990; Stephenson et al., 2014; Law et al., 2018; Leverett and Moomaw, in preparation), proforestation is a near-term approach to sequestering additional atmospheric carbon: a significant increase in “negative emissions” is urgently needed to meet temperature limitation goals.

Each year a single tree that is 100 cm in diameter adds the equivalent biomass of an entire 10–20 cm diameter tree, further underscoring the role of large trees (Stephenson et al., 2014)

Human Health

Like all humans, Praecipians tend to find comfort, rest, and restoration when in the natural world. The human world is an amazing place filled with bright lights, sounds, and smells, that are largely ours (tho you are really Never Home Alone). The high intensity of the human world is especially draining. We can turn to meditative practices like church, yoga, and other mindful experiences to recharge, however, these are amplified when they occur in a natural setting.

Mature forests are magical and restorative places for humans to spend time. The practice of Forest Bathing has gained popularity, and the recent pandemic-induced shortage of any and all outdoor sports equipment has highlighted how people feel when they are in the natural world. Praecipio Consulting has focused on supporting forests in places that employees can enjoy and recharge. While the goal of keeping these forests wild and productive (with respect to ecological services, and not timber) they will be a refuge to Praecipians for many years to come.

Existing projects as of 2021 Q1

The following are significant proforestation and/or preservation projects that Praecipio Consulting has or continues to support. All are important ecological service providers with wild recreation opportunities. All had the potential to be used in an environmentally non-beneficial way and are now protected to continue to provide those services. The forests store 3 to 5 years of carbon emissions based on Praecipio Consulting's current operational model. Travel to customers was our largest segment of carbon emissions and the pandemic has eliminated that. If the post pandemic world is half as video-conference friendly that will greatly aid in our effort to reduce our carbon footprint.

Praecipios green path-table

Protecting existing forests is a powerful way to maximize the mutual benefit for all living things and promote a resilient and stable environment for life to thrive. At Praecipio Consulting, we pride ourselves of being a people-centered company, and we strive to do business while staying true to our values. Taking care of our planet is centered at the core of who we are.

Topics: praecipio-consulting blog culture environment corporate-responsibility green-team
6 min read

Leadership required when moving to Cloud and Digital

By Christopher Pepe on Apr 6, 2021 2:32:00 PM

Blogpost-display-image_Leadership required when moving to Cloud and Digital

2020 – What a change!

By now, every technology leader has torn up their plans and strategies as they began a ten-month tactical, fire-fighting effort to move their organization to virtual. In some cases, they were able to assist with changing how people performed their jobs, not just their staff but everyone, in which case they now joined the Digital Age.

CIOs further realized that moving to digital required a move to the cloud, and with it completely new ways of working that took advantage of the internet capabilities and bandwidth. Transferring your data center to a cloud service provider is no more going to cloud than moving your teams to Zoom makes you digital. Cloud requires a different mindset, skillset, and culture on how technology will enable your organization.

2021 is the year CIOs can own the Digital watercooler and change their role to being a Business Technology Officer, integrating software into every aspect of how their company performs tasks and services customers. But first, CIOs must address new ways of hiring, financing, and benefitting from technology, their people, their processes, and their IT. Accelerating the path to digital and cloud is the only way to remain sustainable, competitive, and compliant going forward.

The path has two main steps: funding and the creation of a new operating model

  1. The innovation funding model – iterative investments using VOI as the guide to obtain technology value sustainably

Before you decide on your cloud service provider (CSP) partner and how to migrate your applications, you will need to determine how you fund the migration to enable your organization to do work better, sooner, and safer. You need to separate the process of budgeting – a plan on what resources will be required – and funding, which is the action of providing those resources.

Current budgeting practices limit moving to the cloud and digital by:

  • Asking individuals to annually decide what they will need – and how would you know in this VUCA world?
  • Constricting work to be feature-focused but with no indication of what it will add to customer satisfaction or help staff perform better
  • Adding to technical and cultural debt with no strategy as to paying it off

The central dilemma of every executive board is how to plan, fund, and prioritize technology activities. The current best practice is not to use cost savings as a goal and instead let that be an outcome as you do things differently aided by software. You can prioritize by:

  • Application review
  • Moving from a Project mindset to a Product culture
  • Cost of Delay
  • Creating platforms for products
  • Decide on the WHY of moving to the cloud and digital, on HOW it will help, and WHAT tasks will accomplish your goals
    • Faster time to market
    • Reduction of manual activities
    • Making work more compliant
    • Creating workflows that provide agility and flexibility to meet customer demand, staff requirements, competitive threats, and external issues such as Brexit or COVID19
  • Get your entire workforce and significant suppliers to be part of the planning and allow them to focus and contribute to the proposed strategy

Shift-left! Think as your customer or staff and deeply analyze your applications, products, and services. Which ones are unique to you, and which ones could you source from a SaaS provider? Which ones do you no longer need? Now group the applications into product groups and allow your IT teams to create platforms (see next section) to service these groupings from the cloud.

Many organizations follow McKinsey's advice to create a FinOPS team of cross-functional product business leaders or at least a team comprised of IT, Finance, Risk, and HR. FinOPS will frequently negotiate with stakeholders to allocate resources (money, people, etc.) to continue the innovation or improve services. They will base their decisions on the value of investment towards the company. Frequently repeating and communicating this interaction creates the ability to pivot or stop work quickly, creating new behaviors, and embedding new disciplines on technology use.

FinOPS will rely on analytics, reporting dashboards with real-time data, and automated processes to make decisions visible and linked to business activities. Leaders will have to coach a new culture of moving from CAPEX funding to OPEX. This team will also introduce training to upskill the entire organization on how technology is applied and that by making use of cloud and digital, they will not lose their roles.

Where needed, a partner such as Atlassian and Praecipio Consulting can help you begin this journey of becoming a sustainable business, maximizing resources while reducing costs and making the entire process transparent.

 2. You have the funding model, and now you need the digital cloud operating attitudes, behaviors, and culture to achieve scalability, agility, and continuity

Can you answer these questions?

  • Which business workloads are most important to your company?
  • What are your goals by business line for the next quarter and year?
  • What are your obstacles to these goals?
  • What are your strengths for achieving these goals?

Taking the answers to these questions, review what activities you have planned in your IT department. If a user story or request is not helping solve a problem or achieve a goal, stop it. The FinOps should ask these questions monthly, which will influence resource allocation decisions for technology tasks. Visualizing findings to the company will illustrate the importance of product stories while embedding the capability of pivoting or stopping work, as necessary.

Your operating model will require:

  • A compensation model mapped to the technical activities that are not divisive
  • A full review of your applications mapped to the business lines
  • A map of the way data flows throughout your organization
    • What it entails
    • How it is used
    • Storage, archival, and continuity requirements
    • Security and access obligations
    • Tools that maintain the applications
    • A full list of proposed enhancements
    • Server, network, storage, and operating system supporting them
    • If provided to a specific location, why and how

Using this list, technology leadership needs to help the company move from a project model to a product model. Services must be led by an owner fully accountable for the resources and associated workload, including packaging software into chunks (platforms) that can be used interchangeably throughout the company.

FinOPS and the Product Owners can collaborate on which business domains would benefit most from enhancing the applications used to provide their services. Management can utilize the model to ensure that the right CSP is chosen for each platform. As you mature, you can empower your development teams to decide the best CSP for designing and deploying platforms, be they SaaS or containers. At the beginning of your journey, the strategy should be to communicate the intent and collaborate on the outcomes.

FinOPS also needs to be cloud-savvy. The pricing and SLA options are numerous and complicated. You need to ensure that what you choose is the right decision. You also need to affirm the best path for migrating your application and data to the CSP. Should you port it as it is (provides little benefit), rewrite the application, switch the workload to a SaaS provider? Remember that the avoidance of technical debt, adding to cloud migration's complexity, must be avoided.

There is no shortcut or other option to having Product Owners. You cannot interject a translator or business analyst between what people call the business and your IT. You are all part of the same company, and technology needs to be owned by the business area that provides that service. Further, the people that support these services need to feel that they also own and contribute to these services. This change in attitude and behavior will reduce incidents, increase innovation agility, and enhance your employees' satisfaction, who will feel empowered to see their contribution to the business goals.

The cloud offers the capability of completely altering the way you use technology. Do you need a new instance or environment? Build it, use it, dismantle it, and all within a few minutes at a minimum cost. The software lifecycle of products will be a combination of IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS, depending on the services' platform. Data lakes can share information across the company powered by analytic and reporting tools that would not be accessible to you unless you are quite large.

Security and continuity are other strengths of the cloud as you adopt the framework used by your CSP. Using IAM and Zero-trust security concepts will ensure that you do not become front-page news. Product Owners will have to maintain the governance model required and test it as part of any software change using DevSecOps practices. Scalability, both up and down, is another cloud and digital feature, enabling you to offer new products that can sense and respond to demand.

Are you worried about regulations? Globally FinOPS and Product Owners are finding that regulatory bodies, such as the Bank of England, are moving to the cloud themselves and more than willing to help ensure that their mandates are provisioned accordingly by your CSP. Even if you use a hybrid approach of more than one CSP, which leadership needs to consider, the governance and management models exist via SIAM® to support cloud and digital operating models' best strategies.

The business product operating model is not to become vendor dependent but instead use microservices and containers so that you can migrate your applications as needed to another CSP or a different offering with little effort. This abstraction mode offers the best efficiency in technology enablement. The FinOPS and Product Owners will help to create the loose guardrails to be used by your staff and IT teams as they develop software provisioned products and workloads of your business

In summary

Done correctly, the number of technology instances and applications you currently maintain will decrease but not the requirement of technical skills. Your business flexibility behaviors should be to create agility via innovative use of software, cloud, and digital. Done correctly, the time to market and lower technology costs will be your outcomes. Let all of your organization be involved in the migration strategy as you join the Digital Age, and if you need help, Praecipio Consulting is here for you.

Topics: blog efficiency finance plan saas cloud culture digital-transformation leadership frameworks
8 min read

Transitioning to SaaS: Pizzas and Pitfalls

By Christopher Pepe on Dec 29, 2020 1:14:00 PM

Blogpost-display-image_The Gotchas of SaaS blog

What is SaaS (Software as a Service)?

COVID-19 has changed the world in many ways, accelerating the pace in which the digital transformation has upended traditional modes of working and living. Whatever your organization was planning to do in 2020, whatever 5-year plan you had, is no longer valid. No matter what sort of business you are, your dependence on technology has escalated. You have probably built the services in the table below or at least run them on your infrastructure, managed by your IT teams.  COVID-19 has forced you to ask the question: do I still need to run and manage this service internally, or can I save money and time by letting someone else perform this service for me?

Traditionally in-house Managed Services

Human Resources and Payroll

Web-based services

Customer support

Internal communications

Finance reporting, accounting, and invoicing

News and knowledge sharing

Project Management

Enterprise Data and Service management

Security

Sales and Marketing

 

The definition of SaaS by the East Sussex Council highlights what software is achieving today as businesses move towards a digital future: "SaaS is the focus for innovation and investment for major system providers and is specifically designed to meet the needs of an agile and mobile workforce, enhancing self-service business processes and significantly improving the use of management information. (Cabinet Office report for East Sussex council)".

Another view to help the discussion comes from Albert Barron using pizza as a stand in for software, with this fun visual of how the transition to SaaS changes from "You do IT" to "They do IT for you". 

Screen Shot 2020-12-05 at 10.03.18 AM

There are caveats that you need to be aware of such that your experience with a SaaS provide is valuable to your organization and customers: it's vital to go through these with your team before making decisions.  The rest of this article explores these and if you have any questions, please let us know.

1: Security, Risk and Data

Your data is now their responsibility!

  • Who in their organization has access to it?
  • How is it backed up and does that comply with your regulatory bodies?
  • Where is the data stored and does that contravene any local laws?
  • If they have an issue, what is their business continuity plan and how does that align to yours?
  • If they are compromised, what processes will they enable to let you know, but more importantly, protect your customers?
  • Will they agree to participate in your business continuity tests and decide on their role in a business continuity event?
  • Will the transference of data from you to them be exchanged safely and securely?
  • What will it cost to perform the data transfers and tests?
  • What level of access will your staff receive? Even if they assume responsibility for an activity, you are still accountable to require some level of access over time.
  • What defense does the vendor offer against hackers, and is this an extra-tiered service or part of the basic package? If extra, you might want to look elsewhere.
  • What processes need to change within your organization to enter, use, modify, delete, backup or restore information and have you been trained by the vendor appropriately?
  • Your data is now their responsibility. How portable is it if you want to switch?
  • Does the vendor support MFA
  • Do they allow penetration tests?
  • What policies have you introduced to manage your data in the SaaS provider cloud?
  • If the SaaS vendor changes the schema or worse-cancels it, what impact will that have and are you contractually protected?

2: SaaS Vendor Performance

The perception and experience of your staff and customers are now based on the SaaS provider's performance.

  • Did you create a clearly defined view of expectations supported by metrics and examples? Do you know bad from good from great service?
  • How did you explain to your customers and staff that you were now going to use a SaaS provider? What was the reaction?
  • What happens if your customers complain? What happens if your customers leave you because of a SaaS performance?
  • Is it contractually clear under what circumstances a complaint can be made, the timeframe it must be addressed and any penalties that could be applied for non-conformance?
  • Who does the customer or staff call if there is an issue? Your teams or the SaaS provider?
  • What level of support do they provide and how will you test that the service is delivered as expected?
  • What messages do you receive in case of a data entry issue or general performance issue?
  • Do you have regular performance and improvement meetings with the vendor?
  • If you want a new feature based on customer feedback, is the SaaS provider responsive?
  • If the SaaS provider changes their product procedures, what will be the impact on your customers? Can you pilot the changes? If you do not want the new procedures, can you leave the SaaS provider?

3: Vendor lock-in

SaaS vendors bet that once you let them perform an activity, that you will remain a customer for several years. In other words, you are locked-in to their practices, processes, support, improvements and remediation and so are your staff and customers.

  • How does the SaaS vendor recruit, train and keep their staff? You do not want a constantly changing workforce and there are examples where 30% of a SaaS workforce changes every 90 days.
  • You might have saved money by not having to hire or train your staff, but what will you do with the knowledge they possess?
  • Contractually obligating certain staff to remain until the transition is complete is best practice.
  • Your IT is now their IT. If you want to benefit from the latest technology and they do not support that product then you are stuck. Make sure your contract allows for changes or even cancellation if needed.
  • If the vendor changes their price, what protections have you contractually initiated to ensure that you should remain with that vendor? How will you prove value over time?
  • COVID-19 has seen a number of vendors have issues causing them to default on a service or even go out of business. How will you protect yourself in case this happens to your provider? 
  • SaaS vendors price in three main ways: by user license, by use, by feature. Make sure that you have chosen the model most appropriate for your needs and that if your work model changes, then you can move to another tier without penalty.

4: SaaS requires an internet connection and belief the cloud is secure

  • What if something terrible happens to your web servers? Do you have backups of your metadata? You might want to consider using third party backup services such as SpanningBarracuda, and Backupify.
  • If you have communication issues from your office, what is your backup to ensure that the SaaS service remains accessible?
  • If your staff are working from home and they have issues, then how will they continue to work until normal service is restored?
  • Can your staff download data to their home office? If so, this is a security and perhaps even a compliance risk. How will you know?
  • If they invoke contingency, does this place your business in a location where you
  • What is the web page loading time? How complicated is the page to read or use?
  • If data is transferred to other applications to complete the journey, can this be monitored for security and improvement?
  • Is the SaaS service usable across a variety of mobile devices or internet browsers?

5: Integration into your other software

SaaS implies that all of the technology required to perform a service is now under the control and management of the vendor.

  • How easy is it to transfer their data into your systems such as corporate finance?
  • What happens if they make a change to a schema that you were unaware of and this damages your data or causes you lost time to introduce new ways of addressing their change?
  • Everyone performs regular maintenance activities and how will this be coordinated?
  • If you use multiple SaaS vendors (Accounting and Sales for example), how will you keep them in sync with each other and any internal applications you maintain?
  • How do you test that interoperability remains as expected?
  • What is the impact to your business continuity of multiple SaaS providers?
  • If a vendor has an issue, how will that impact other vendors you rely upon?
  • Will you require 3rd party to help you integrate their software with yours? This can be costly.
  • Not every vendor follows standard APIs, protocols, and tools, so the impact to your business practices should be piloted prior to accepting the SaaS provider.

6: You may have to change your business practices to use the SaaS

  • This is a culture change for your staff. How will you prepare them?
  • What training and documentation will you receive and is it sufficient?
  • If something requires customization, is that even possible or practical? Many SaaS vendors will only allow this if a significant number of customers also request that feature.
  • How will you ensure that other business practices can pivot based on competition, compliance or performance needs?
  • How will you ensure that the SaaS provider supports all of the ways your customers want to interact with you? Browsers, mobile technology, VPN, etc.?
  • What and when is their maintenance window? How does that impact your business customers? What happens if a change goes awry?
  • What information do you receive on incidents related to you? Is it in a format that your ITSM tools can read and archive?

SaaS is a brilliant technology capability that can benefit your organization. You must closely manage them if you are to remain in business, service customers safely, and receive the expected cost benefits. Ensuring that you have a way to mitigate this list of caveats will ensure that your experience is as valuable as possible. Letting go of services you have built in-house can be hard, and moving to a SaaS model can be intimidating: have no fear, Praecipio Consulting is here to help. Contact us for any questions you might have of successfully transition to a faster, more efficient way of doing business.

Topics: plan saas digital-transformation
5 min read

How Your SaaS Provider Contributes to the Customer Experience

By Christopher Pepe on Dec 16, 2020 1:44:00 PM

Blogpost-display-image_SaaS Requires Delightful Customer Service

SaaS Providers & Customer Service

The year 2020 has forced organizations to consider how they service customers and enable staff to do their work by having them reconsider the benefits and value of their current technology practices. 

Look at the fun visual below: most businesses use a combination of managing their own data centers and software or by using cloud-based facilities. Software as a Service (SaaS) allows a provider to perform a service on their technology. You pay for the provider's expertise and convenience to maintain the servers, networks, security, software, and the upgrades or changes. No more cooking as you always eat out!

pizza as a service

SaaS providers now perform almost any main business functions: HR, Accounting, Sales, Finance, Communication, Coding, Marketing, Websites, and more. The cost benefits dazzle the eyes but consider that when you allow someone else to perform a business function that the customer still sees you.

At a restaurant, if the service is terrible, you never return to that restaurant. In the eyes of your customer – you are the restaurant! Therefore, how you interrogate the provider before deciding to use them and how you monitor and respond afterward is paramount to your business's success.

The rest of this article offers insights and tips to ensure that your relationship with a SaaS provider does not ruin the relationships with your staff and customers.

Training

  • Transitioning to SaaS changes your workflow – how will you be trained, and what documentation will you receive?
  • Are any other vendors impacted, which will also require training, and who pays for this?
  • Your products will require integration with the SaaS provider, so how will you train them?
  • How will changes to the SaaS provider service be addressed?
  • Do customers require new FAQs?
  • If someone has a question, do they go to an internal team, the service desk, or the SaaS provider?

Know Your User

Before you move a service to SaaS, you need to define the user of that service. Deep dive:

  • What is the user of this service in terms of ability, technology, the reason to use the service, expected benefits from their view, and dislikes?
  • What is the journey of that user as they use the service? Where will there be issues?
  • How can the SaaS provider mitigate these issues? How will you know that problems are occurring?
  • What messages can you provide the user to help them on their journey or if they get stuck? Can the message be personalized?
  • What can you automate for the users, such as renewals, reminders, or upsells, or anything to make the journey more enjoyable?
  • Can users form part of your test team to improve the journey's flow or provide feedback on proposed changes before go-live or to develop future releases?

IT Service Management

ITSM is the practice of allowing technology to benefit someone. It is a required business set of processes that engender better, faster, safer technology applications that deliver value. Initially the IT domain, Enterprise Service Management (ESM), is now commonplace as organizations take advantage of the cloud, SaaS, or move to digital products.

Not long ago, more technology services supported a single department, with only Finance reaching out across all areas. Now technology services are so integrated into your work that a change in one place impacts the entire organization and could disrupt your customers. ITSM processes and tools can help by:

  • Logging all incidents or requests, no matter who sees them, the SaaS provider or your teams.
  • Merging the incident and request data for performance reporting, improvement actions and decision-making. Daily integration is best practice.
  • Helping to determine how long it takes for incidents or requests to be resolved or some sort of communication is issued to the customer? Lack of service will increase customer churn, and they might disparage you in social media.
  • Creating alerts for monitored services.
  • Obtaining historical information to ensure that improvements are of value.
  • Enabling user support via live chat, AI chat, easy to find widgets, easy to read FAQs, and reporting on these interfaces' satisfaction.
  • Acquiring your customers' level of satisfaction and does this match to the XLAs (Experiences Levels Agreement) with your provider.
  • Informing support staff on offers as refunds or incentives during disruptive events or poor service.
  • To know when to follow up with customers that require special care.

Metrics of SaaS

At some point, your customers will have issues that highlight your value stream or service pipeline's weaknesses. The tools that you use to monitor, alert, investigate, and respond to these issues can be improved by agreed metrics that make sense, such as the ones below:

  • How fast do customers receive a response?
  • What do they feel about that response?
  • How fast are incidents or requests resolved?
  • What is the lifetime value of a customer?
  • What is the cost of servicing a customer?
  • What is the cost of acquiring a customer?
  • What is your customer churn?
  • What is the total investment of SaaS over your customer value or cost?
  • Is there a group of customers that benefit more from a SaaS provider than others allowing you to decide how best to service those customers?

Final thoughts

The economy of tomorrow will be fully customer (user) centered. SaaS, cloud, digital and ESM will enable your products and services to become more individualized. Your SaaS provider has little value to you if the user journey is full of bad service. Your goal is to leverage the provider to retain and attract customers and staff. Thinking about how this will happen, setting clear expectations, expectations, documenting service examples with metrics in the contract, testing and monitoring service delivery, and having active conversation with your SaaS provider will ensure that the customers' experiences are delightful.

If you are looking for ways to improve your customer experience through technology and digital transformation, let's chat!

Topics: atlassian blog saas cloud hosting customer-experience
3 min read

Community-driven Pollinator Garden at Bristol Elementary School

By Christopher Pepe on Dec 15, 2020 4:33:00 PM

Blogpost-display-image_Pollinator Garden for Elementary school

It took a village to create this natural space for children to explore.

garden

Parents discussed the joy of the Bristol Elementary School's (BES) Forest Fridays and how our kids thrived outdoors (the year before one student formed a petition, gathered signatures, and lobbied the administration for more outdoor recess time). Parents and school administration began meeting to remove hurdles to students being outdoors. The focus of the effort became:

  1. Outdoor classroom space to facilitate classroom based learning outdoors
  2. Natural playscape to encourage engaging with and observing the natural world
  3. Water management during the spring thaw and freeze cycles

During a training session, Four Winds, a community-based natural science education organization, announced a mini-grant program to improve area schools. We felt a pollinator garden was the most achievable project to increase the diversity of the playground landscape without adding much maintenance overhead. Four Winds agreed and BES was awarded the grant.

Four Winds Nature Institute is a non-profit organization advancing the understanding, appreciation, and protection of the environment through community-based natural science education and research. 

While the beloved playground boasts a vast flat area with many play structures there is not much natural diversity. Our goal has been to rewild the playground and celebrate seasonality with an ever-changing display of flowers and foliage made of native plants. This project would establish a naturalized island that will promote native plants and pollinators, as well as cultivate creative play. The students can watch the garden evolve, watch the insects, birds, and other life that thrives there, and to be a part of it themselves.

I would like to thank our vendors, who were easy to work with, generous with their time, gave us favorable pricing, and donations. All of our plants came from Full Circle Gardens. Sarah helped build our plant list, added in several plants as donations, and delivered them for free. Great communication and coordination made working through the pandemic a non-issue. Our mulch and top soil came from Livingston Farm, nearly half of which was donated to this project. Without the generosity of our vendors we could not have built the garden that we had envisioned. Thank you.

I would also like to thank the school administration for their support and commitment to our community. This effort began with principal Kevin Robinson who was an enthusiastic supporter of our parent driven efforts. That was handed off to Thomas Buzzell who is a strong advocate for outdoor play and its many benefits on behavior and development of children. With the community, he is building a collective vision of the future of play at BES. No job too small, Tom has even offered to hand water the fledgling garden. Joel Fitzgerald has also been a strong advocate for this project and playground improvements including a student driven project to build an outdoor classroom. Sheila Gebo was kind and patient while shepherding me through vendor management and financial operations. And of course thank you to Four Winds for funding this project and encouraging us along the way. I would also like to thank the other parents that have given their time and energy at every phase of this project. Finally, a special thank you to the Urban girls for their hard work in installing the garden on a sweltering summer day. Thank you all, and those that were not named. Without your help we would not have completed this project.

IMG_6516

There were a lot of hot dry days between delivery and installation. Sam was a big help in keeping the plants happy.

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The Urbans came out in force for installation day!

Topics: blog environment do-good green-team social-responsibility education
7 min read

SaaS Management can be SAFe®

By Christopher Pepe on Dec 11, 2020 2:30:00 PM

Blogpost-display-image_SaaS can be SAFe Blog

SaaS is the future

2020 has caused the world to work from the internet. Whatever you used to do in your own data centers can now be performed by vendors, be they cloud or software service providers, better, faster, more securely, and at less cost than you.

The diagram below indicates the trajectory of change from traditional to SaaS (software as a service). Learning how to manage SaaS providers is the new skill that must be learned and introduced into your strategy.

Screen Shot 2020-12-05 at 10.03.18 AM

The hardships of this year have also proven that you need agility in your 5 year plan so that you can change along the way.  The capability to pivot based on circumstances is the other new capability of an organization moving towards a digital and VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) future. You have to be agile, not just in IT, but the way you think, act, and react. Leadership has to manage and accelerate this change in culture and behavior, which means scaling new ways of working enabled by technology is the new management paradigm.

Allowing a SaaS provider to manage a core function such as Marketing, HR, or Sales is the norm, freeing you to concentrate on creating unique services that benefit your customers and save time for your staff. 

Scaled Agile Framework SAFe®

No matter what blend of Agile that you are using (Scrum, Kanban, DevOps, AgileITSM, XP, TDD, BDD, etc.), you will need to spread these practices across your business. New ways of working, constant improvement, collaboration, and the elimination of siloes, benefitting from technology, be it your own or others, is the only way to survive. 

Accomplishing this change means a dramatic, and in some cases, drastic, alteration to how things are currently performed:

  • You keep your program office but lose your project mentality
  • Product and Service Owners are the new organizational role with accountable budgets and teams
  • Agile Budgeting replaces annual budgets, and the same occurs to annual reviews as constant and consistent feedback is provided top-down
  • Multi-year contracts are swapped for partners that facilitate your agility
  • The use of technology to keep you in business enables every aspect of your business
  • Staff are not made redundant but instead acquire t-shaped skills
  • Customer focus and shifting left from their request or needs drives your product strategy

Organizations need guidance to make these types of change successfully. Enter Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®).  The diagram on their website visualizes the breadth of their philosophy and impact on an organization. 

SAFe® is a continually changing set of practices that has blended the technology, people, and business practices into a competency-based model: 

  • Leadership based on agile and lean: empowerment, self-organization
  • Team and Technical Agility: No defects, use of cloud & internet, open-source, SaaS
  • Behavior-Driven Development (BDD): products based on the people use them
  • Test-Driven Development: code, infrastructure, people feedback in short cycles
  • Agile Product Delivery: small changes made often, usually daily
  • Lean Portfolio Management: if it is not helping someone, then you don’t do it, constant improvement, reduced technical and cultural debt
  • Lean Governance: common or standard data models, budgets are based on the value of outcomes and funded accordingly, guardrails guidelines both corporate and regulatory, business continuity and sustainability is a daily way of acting 
  • Organizational Agility: long-term goals but very short-cycle plans capable of pivoting based on breaching a KPI or OKR (Outcome based vital indicators)
  • Continuous Learning Culture: effort is rewarded, management changes to a coaching model from a telling model, relentless improvement is mentored, innovation is the goal

SAFe® is the most ambitious version of this framework's scaling technology, leadership, financial, and organizational practices. It supplies examples, training, templates, and a worldwide community of practitioners. It is not for everyone. It is not a program of introducing Safe® that will make it successful for you but instead a multi-year effort of scaling the way your business does things at every level into a new model. 

SAFe® helps you avoid and overcome these engrained practices:

  • Budgets by department or project become funding for products and services
  • Prioritization of new features or services is based on value of delivery and cost of delay
  • Creating your own software is replaced by using open source or SaaS
  • Data used and kept by your business is standardized for ease of maintenance and change to new services as needed
  • Mapping the way you work end-to-end and ensuring any changes are not localized but instead improve the flow of work and data is the new program office structure.
  • Change Approval Boards or freezes are stopped because you trust the testing and release process that has been enhanced and automated. 
  • Design thinking is encouraged to solve problems
  • Design thinking underpins making things as small and as standard as possible such that any part of your business can use it or improve it
  • Everyone is thinking about what can I do to make things better, do things faster and safer, and how can I save effort or time or money

SAFe® Benefits

  • Increase the velocity of change: ways people work and the software that supports these changes
  • The software lifecycle of Demand-Approve-Develop-Integrate with other code-Unit Test-Performance Test-Submit to Live Approval-Go live is replaced with Experiment-Develop-Test-Go live
  • SaaS + Cloud + Digital is the technology trilogy whereby owning your own technology is discouraged (still allowed where regulatory mandates leave no other option)
  • Complex projects requiring months or effort are replaced by an understanding of what a new service or feature or technical update will provide a customer or staff member and therefore, this is what is created and deployed
  • Technical stability is more critical than new service introductions (think of your customers and how angry they get when things go wrong)
  • Feedback, monitoring, alerting are the trilogy of information collaboration and coordination (no silos)
  • Legacy infrastructure or technical debt is mitigated by using cloud services aligned with your work and customer practices. Technology underpins the way you do things and not just there because!
  • Training on SAFe® culture and practices is top-down and extends to your external suppliers
  • Project Management is now Agile Product Management, coordinated across products and services instead of merely helping a department or team
  • Prioritization based on what it fixes, how it meets a regulatory demand, what outcomes it being in terms of value and customer satisfaction, or how it helps staff perform a function

Doing SAFe® means:

  • You are willing to release small chunks of change daily versus large pieces that might wait months before going live
  • You can monitor the impact of that change in terms of issued caused or customer satisfaction
  • If an issue ensues or satisfaction is not as expected, then you can easily roll-back the change with minimal effort or impact (go back to the way things were before)
  • New skills of negotiating or always thinking of enhancing products via technology are taught in a variety of formats such as hackathons, formal training, a partner working, and management coaching
  • Operating and Strategy long-term plans are replaced by short-term vision plans that are customer and market-centric
  • Centers of Excellence or Software Factories are created aligning how people working based on data and technology mapping exercises with the approved practices of the organization, which encourages:
    • Standard tooling for Enterprise Application/Service Lifecycle Management 
    • Standard data and artifact repositories
    • Use of SaaS providers for core activities
    • Always on testing, monitoring, and alerting across the value chains

A train yard is a frequent analogy to explain software factories and centers of excellence. You need a standard gauge rail for all trains to use, and an aligned place for trains to be monitored and dispatched. This allows trains to move safely across the landscape, delivering people to their locations. Your organization needs to establish the same kind of software delivery practice. This model is what SAFe® uses to foster the fast and safe distribution of technology via an engineered flow of work.

SaaS Safe® tips

  • Create a vision of why SaaS and Safe® are being adopted, underpinned by training
  • Change the language used top-down from project to product
  • Have metrics that make innovation for customers or staff the prime target
  • Developers develop and operations keep things up is the most prominent IT silo. Break this by making product teams that own their product or service.
  • Technology metrics of Defect Rejected Ratio, Detected Defects, Change Time compared to Market release, Value of Delivery versus Effort are viewed on product boards
  • Create fun programs of change such as Kill the CAB, which force the introduction of standard technology components for use by any aspect of the business
  • DevSecOps is not an option but a mandatory requirement: you have to test at every opportunity and use security practices and tools to keep your business safe and compliant
  • Automate what you can as often as you can, but only if this improves the quality and speed of work

SaaS is the way of allowing someone else to perform a function via the use of their technology. Carefully avoiding vendor lock-in will make SaaS a credible option for your business. The transition to remote working has opened up a world linked by technology, and your organization needs to do the same by scaling the thinking and practices of technology to everything you do. SAFe® is a framework proving your business a set of rules that promotes scaling Agile, Lean, and DevOps across your organization. It is a radical alteration of your culture that will take time and leadership to embed successfully.

Whether implementing SaaS, SAFe® , or just generally digitally transforming your company, Praecipio Consulting can help!

Note: SAFe® is a Registered Trademark via ©Scaled Agile, Inc.

Topics: scaled-agile saas safe agile

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