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To Future Proof or Not, That Is the Question

Some companies aren’t very good at planning for the unexpected, because it’s … well, it’s unexpected

To be, or not to be" is the famous opening phrase of Hamlet's well-known soliloquy in Shakespeare's play Hamlet. In the soliloquy, Hamlet questions the meaning of life, and whether or not it is worthwhile to stay alive when life contains so many risks and hardships. He concludes that the primary reason people stay alive is due to a fear of death and the uncertainty of what lies beyond. Now what does this passage in Hamlet have to do with future proofing a business or monetization? Many organizations grapple with unknowns as well. "Do I just focus on the past and not worry about the pain of the present and the future? Change is scary; risk is even scarier, so I can't be bothered thinking about what is possible." For many, their envisioned business never comes as fear of change impacts their ability to define their future. Instead their business is defined very precisely for them by what a billing system can deliver within the box. What seemed like a non risk suddenly becomes life or death for the business.

Recently, I blogged about the need for service providers across industries to think seriously about what is possible and the variety of business models, pricing plans, discount schemes, and loyalty programs they might be able to deploy now and in the future. Yes, I wrote "might", not "will need." This is important as it goes against the grain for many companies.

"Why should we buy a system that has all that capability?" asks the financially prudent C-level manager. "We might only use 70% of it!"

"Because," says the operations and product management team, "we don't know which 70%. No one does."

"Well let's wait until we know what we need. Then we can buy the system we need."

The worker bees are waving their arms in the air. "Actually we need some of that ‘future' stuff now, because we have said ‘no' so many times that people have stopped asking. Do you know how long it takes to make a decision around here? We'll have to go through a whole bidding cycle, negotiate terms, and get board sign-off. It takes forever!" they complain. "That's no way to be responsive to shifts in the market. We need a system now, so we are totally familiar with it and then we can handle anything - right as it comes along."

Another says "I'd like to respond to competition. I'd like to be able to try things and drive the market, not always be driven by it."

The executive is conciliatory. "Ye of little faith. We've already talked to our peers over at ... you know, our current billing system."

"Yes?" says the team, fearing the worst.

"Well, they say they can build anything we need when we get to the point of needing it. So no need to worry."

Here's the reality. Some companies aren't very good at planning for the unexpected, because it's ... well, it's unexpected. In other cases, the 'no's' were based on the cost and risk associated with billing and were actually glimpses to what the future could be. Instead, when it's time to think about a new billing environment, they define their requirements entirely in terms of the problems of the past. They ignore the possible opportunities of the present never mind the future, because no one wants to sign off on a future need as a firm requirement.

However, there are some companies who get it, who really know that they need: a system with a built-in range of flexible and configurable functionality that can handle any billing need they can throw at it. (Or, more accurately, that they can define, and then throw at it). Companies need a billing system that places authority and responsibility with people in customer operations, billing, and product management.

Excellent. Business requirements can be written down, couched in those terms. Vendors can make their pitches.

This is when we see an interesting difference in selling approaches. For our part, at MetraTech, we strive to describe, explain and demonstrate how our system can meet those challenging requirements, no matter how off the wall they might be. If you can imagine it, we can bill for it. I'm sure other companies are just as diligent in their efforts to meet the stated business requirements.

Then there's the other approach. Instead of providing evidence of ability to meet the requirements, all efforts go into convincing the client that those requirements are just a bit over the top and they should simplify them. "Hardly anyone does that today. What makes you think you'll really need that?"

When we look at what is being offered by those vendors, and the cut-down requirements that they admit to being able to meet, we observe something interesting. The business requirements now match what the system can deliver. What a coincidence. The question of to future proof or not is also answered. Not only will it not support the future, it barely supports the present.

- See more at: http://www.metratech.com/blog/2013/6/18/to-future-proof-or-not-that-is-t...

More Stories By Esmeralda Swartz

Esmeralda Swartz is VP, Marketing Enterprise and Cloud, BUSS. She has spent 15 years as a marketing, product management, and business development technology executive bringing disruptive technologies and companies to market. Esmeralda was CMO of MetraTech, now part of Ericsson. At MetraTech, Esmeralda was responsible for go-to-market strategy and execution for enterprise and SaaS products, product management, business development and partner programs. Prior to MetraTech, Esmeralda was co-founder, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at Lightwolf Technologies, a big data management startup. She was previously co-founder and Senior Vice President of Marketing and Business Development of Soapstone Networks, a developer of resource and service control software, now part of Extreme Networks.

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