Solution Consulting @ Sun

I just met with a large customer up here in Virginia. The rep I was with spoke of a colleague who has an amazing ability to sell complete solutions (not just a collection of parts). He delivers Solution Proposals with the not so subtle expectation that they will not be broken down into component parts with line item veto authority on the part of the customer. Somehow we need to bottle that sales behavior... The benefit of a proven solution w.r.t. cost, risk, complexity, support, etc, is self-evident. Too often, I believe, Sun's field is conditioned to (or we've conditioned the customer to think that we) offer solutions as strawmen that we expect will be hacked up and put back together (with many pieces left on the garage floor).

Client Solutions (read: Professional Services from Sun and our Partners) needs to be part of the total Solution Package. And we need to present the package with the clear expectation that we'll assist in the design, test, deployment and on-going mgmt/support, be committed to our customer's success, share in the risk, etc. But that the solution stands as a whole... If the customer simply wants a miscellany of parts, then we'll need a note from their mom :-) (eg: the CIO) that they understand the increased risk to their project's cost, timeline, and ultimate success. That they are "skiing outside the boundary area".

I've noticed that about half of the customers I deal with have senior techo-geeks on their staff. They often go by the title "Architect". Often they are far from it... but they've been there forever, and they are often brilliant technologists that can integrate "creative" solutions from random piece parts. In fact, this is how they thrive and how they (think they) sustain their value add... They become threatened by and obstacles to a solution sale in which the integration work is done for them. Somehow we need to figure out how to make these "technical grease monkeys" feel comfortable with a custom automobile that comes from Detroit already well tuned and ready to run. Sun can't survive being in the auto parts business.  We need to leverage their brilliance and secure their vote of confidence. There is an art to getting folks like this to "come up with an idea" that you already have :-) If they become the "owner" of the reference architecture (upon which the proposed solution is built), and still get to play with the technology and learn new techniques, and they can still look like they came up with the idea, then I think we can get past that common roadblock.

However, I think there is a development gap in Client Solutions that we have an oppty to address... We have a lot of people who can talk the talk... but we have fewer people that have actually implemented complex solutions such as N1 SPS, Trusted Solaris based SNAP solutions, Retail-oriented SunRay POS gigs, comprehensive ITIL compliance audits, strategic BCP consultation, etc... This is a natural fallout of the fact that most of us came from the pre-sales side of the merged Client Solutions organization. As we become even more successful in securing solution architecture and implementation gigs, we'll need to step up and hit the ball out of the park - not just talk about being able to do it. I encourage everyone to get as much hands on experience as possible with our strategic solution offerings. I know I'm doing that with N1 SPS, SOA, and Sol10. I know we're all are ramping our skills. That's goodness. Thankfully, I think it is easier to engage partners and teach (or remind) bright technical pre-sales "SEs" how to architect and implement solutions, than it is to teach implementation gurus the inter-personal skills and acumen needed to talk to CIOs about business value and relevance.


If you want the techno-geeks to accept your 'complete solution' you need to gain their confidence first. I have seen installers reading the man page for rm, and mixing up / and \\ in their paths, this does not inspire confidence. Neither of those examples was from a Sun engineer, BTW. ;) You must also avoid the blame game. In a complex environment, vendors will often point the finger at each other. This requires the techno-geeks to troubleshoot your 'complete solution' in order to provide evidence of who is really at fault. It would go a long way towards gaining techno-geek acceptance if you could give your support oganization the incentive and experience to help with these kinds of problems. Sun is better off than most companies, it has products that run end-to-end. JES is nicely modular, the pieces work well together, apart, and with 3rd party software. Your Solution Architects seem to be pretty competent, in my experience they work the solution into your environment and don't just shove the whitepaper recommendation down your throat. Sun Engineers could use a lot more practice on implementation though, and cross-training them with other non-Sun products (like Networking, Telephony, and Microsoft) would be a real plus.

Posted by J DeFer on January 13, 2005 at 11:27 AM EST #

Thanks for the insights! I can't debate anything you said, as I agree 100%. Thanks for the thoughts on JES, our Architects, etc. I hope we (and our partners) exceed your reasonable expectations in future interactions. Feedback like this is a big part of the process.

Posted by guest on January 14, 2005 at 06:56 AM EST #

The Techno-Geek is part of our live as CSO (the pre-sale side). I actually find life more colourful when dealing with them. Dealing with the executive level is easier, no doubt, but it's not as interesting.

Posted by Iwan Rahabok on January 18, 2005 at 12:51 AM EST #

you make good points. but the problem is so many "solutions" aren't solutions at all. end up disappointing everyone

Posted by James Governor on January 20, 2005 at 11:59 PM EST #

Hi James. I agree that the term "pre-built solutions" is an oxymoron. Real solutions to real problems are custom jobs (in the sense that some degree of tweaking needs to be applied). Every problem has a unique set of requirements, constraints, expectations, political sensitivities, etc. However, having properly understood the scope of the problem, having collaborated with the customer in the process of evaluating alternatives, having leveraged prior art and proven patterns as much as possible to eliminate risk... then the solution ultimately presented will not come as a surprise and will have a high degree of confidence that it will satisfy the customer's needs. Having undertaken that level of effort to offer a complete package, it is not unreasonable to expect the package to be accepted intact, and not as a grab bag of interesting piece parts that the customer picks and chooses from in their redesign.

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Posted by john on July 07, 2005 at 12:25 AM EDT #

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