Cutting corners on testing turns SOA into DOA

December 27, 2011 Comments Off on Cutting corners on testing turns SOA into DOA

At WiseClouds, we help enterprises in many industries design, develop, test, and deploy Service Oriented Architectures (SOA). Over the years, we’ve observed a number of common traits among those SOA initiatives that have failed to live up to expectations. I’ll be describing these characteristics in a series of upcoming posts. For now, I want to highlight the dangers of trying to cut corners on SOA testing.

What do I mean by “cutting corners on testing”?

  • Unrealistic schedules: QA is a chronic victim of improbable, overly optimistic timetables.
  • Short staffing: In an era of tight budgets, QA professionals are the first people to get tossed overboard.
  • No load testing: It’s amazing, but many organizations will go into production without ever subjecting their services to even basic load testing.
  • No tooling: Many enterprises still run their tests by hand.
  • No training: Educational budgets have been slashed, and this is directly reflected in the poor quality of delivered software that plagues so many organizations.

It’s important to remember that testing services is fundamentally different than testing traditional applications. For GUI-based applications, user interaction is fairly constrained, but anyone can send anything to a service. This means that testing (of business logic, data, exception handling, and security) must be much more rigorous for a service. Furthermore, services are often composed into larger applications, which further complicates testing.

With SOA, services play a much more vital role than any given siloed application. This means that a single service failure can severely disrupt operations. Even if all services are running normally, poor Service Level Agreement compliance can jeopardize the whole SOA initiative.

So if you’re trying to deploy a SOA-based architecture, recognize that testing services will be a larger and more complex effort than you’ve ever experienced before. And plan (and budget) accordingly!

Use encryption and the cloud to shield your data at the border

December 21, 2011 Comments Off on Use encryption and the cloud to shield your data at the border

When you pass through customs (U.S. or elsewhere), your data is more vulnerable than ever before thanks to modern data forensics tools paired with raw computing power. Whether you want to protect your personal or business data, check out this informative guide from the Electronic Frontier Foundation about how to defend your privacy at the border.

Our lives are on our laptops – family photos, medical documents, banking information, details about what websites we visit, and so much more. Thanks to protections enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, the government generally can’t snoop through your laptop for no reason. But those privacy protections don’t safeguard travelers at the U.S. border, where the U.S. government can take an electronic device, search through all the files, and keep it for a while for further scrutiny – without any suspicion of wrongdoing whatsoever.

Banks poking around your Facebook account? Yet another example of the danger of combining Big Data with Social Networking

December 19, 2011 § 2 Comments

I suppose that if something can be done, it will:

Banks have been curious about using social media to gauge risk for at least a year, said Matt Thomson, VP of platform at Klout, which calculates “influence” based on a user’s social media activity. Determining creditworthiness is not a core product of Klout’s, he said, but banks have approached the startup to ask about it. He wouldn’t name names. “It’s really like the who’s who of banking,” he said.

All the more reason to carefully consider what you share, what you say, and who you connect with. Assume that if it’s out there, everyone will eventually have access to it.

Don’t proof-of-concept past the close

December 18, 2011 Comments Off on Don’t proof-of-concept past the close

“Don’t sell past the close” is a time-tested chestnut of sales wisdom. It refers to the reasonable recommendation that once you’ve attained agreement from your prospect that they’d like to buy, it’s time to stop selling – even if you have other good stuff to tell them about your product or service. Instead, the moment has arrived for them to “sign on the line that is dotted”.

As someone who has led sales engineering teams for many years, I’m here to tell you that this guideline makes sense when it comes to the proof-of-concept (POC), too. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many situations where this rule gets violated, and the outcome is usually unpleasant for everyone involved.

For example, several years ago I was assisting on a grueling POC. The client had given us a series of seemingly insurmountable challenges to overcome. But with the help of engineering, lots of caffeine, ruined weekends, and lost sleep we managed to successfully complete the POC. All that remained was the client presentation, which went off without a hitch, much to the apparent delight of our prospect.

At this point, all that was necessary was to ask for the order. But that didn’t take place. Instead, the sales rep asked if the prospect would like to see anything else from the POC. The prospect answered ‘No’. The question was asked again – not once, not twice, but three times. On the third re-try, our prospect mentioned that perhaps his European colleagues – who previously had nothing to do with the buying decision – might enjoy seeing what we had done. In fact, they might even have some ideas of their own. Imagine what happened next.

To help you avoid unhappy endings like these, in a future post I’ll offer some humble suggestions about smoothly transitioning from the POC to the sale.

If you’d like to learn more about technical sales and sales engineering, click here.

Winning sales engineer trait #1: A competitive spirit

December 12, 2011 § 2 Comments

I’ve spent many years working as a sales engineer (SE) and then later leading sales engineering teams. Throughout my career, I’ve observed seven personality traits that separate the run-of-the-mill SE from the superstar. Since SEs are the great unsung heroes of the sales process, you definitely want to staff the best-of-the-best for this critical position. In this installment, I discuss why the most effective SEs possess an unyielding but properly targeted competitive spirit.

In a crowded market, the technical sales process is cutthroat: every deal is a brawl. Even though sales commission is typically only a small percentage of their overall compensation, the ideal SE takes a deep, personal interest in winning. This translates into a willingness to do whatever it takes to demonstrate the technical superiority of your offering. This might mean late nights configuring your solution or answering RFPs under tight deadline pressure. It also likely includes providing ad-hoc training to potential users and impressing executives of the need to choose your technology.

Unfortunately, I’ve encountered many SEs that are either too relaxed (“Why should I knock myself out? The product sells itself!”) or too competitive with their peers (“Why does that sales rep make twice what I do when I did all the hard technical stuff to win the deal?”). Incidentally, as an SE manager I found it easier to motivate the tranquil folks to step it up a bit than to get the SEs with commission envy to focus on their jobs.

Want to read more about technical sales and sales engineering? Click here.

Technical marketing mistake #3: Cramming too much information into a single piece

December 10, 2011 § 1 Comment

At Think88, we enjoy helping our customers overcome all sorts of technical marketing challenges. In the first post of this series, I summarized some of the most common oversights that we encounter. In today’s installment, I explain why it’s so easy to fall into the trap of overstuffing your marketing collateral.

First, it’s important to realize that there is no single culprit for this predicament. Instead, there are at least five reasons why we see excessively large content:

  1. Messaging issues. If your narrative is unclear, your collateral will reflect this unfortunate state of affairs: it may take 15 pages to say what could normally be conveyed in five. On top of that, it’s not uncommon to run across bloated pieces that somehow manage to contradict themselves!
  2. Budgets. Money is always tight, and there may not be funds available to create a complete collection of well-designed, focused pieces. In response, many companies have tried forcing a single document to cover all the bases. For example, I frequently come across technically oriented whitepapers that must somehow incorporate high-level customer success stories aimed at executives.
  3. No marketing roadmap. I discussed this common problem in an earlier post. In short, not having an overall plan inevitably leads to reactive, poorly conceived content. And badly planned materials tend to be oversized.
  4. Tight schedules. In today’s world of overstretched marketing teams trying to produce content to help drive sales, it can be alluring to merge two or more disparate pieces in order to hit aggressive deadlines.
  5. Lack of a methodology. Each piece of technical marketing collateral should be the end result of a logical, well-defined set of procedures. Failing to follow a consistent approach almost always results in content that’s double or even triple the size of what was specified. In fact, I’ve even seen White papers that were originally sized at six pages balloon to nearly 30 pages!

Regardless of the specific cause, the end result is inflated, poorly conceived material that wastes time and money. What’s worse is that these investments fail to pay off and win you new business.

The 7 habits of highly effective sales engineers

December 8, 2011 § 9 Comments

Selling complex technology frequently relies on the efforts of the technical pre-sales team. Surprisingly, given the importance of this role, it seems that every company has a different name for these professionals. Some of the most common titles include:

  • Sales engineers
  • Systems consultants
  • Sales support analysts
  • Systems engineers

I’ve been a sales engineer, and I’ve led my share of sales engineering organizations. Based on many years of experience, I’ve found that there are very few people out there who possess the special blend of talents necessary to flourish in this challenging but potentially lucrative job. Here’s a list of those traits along with links to posts about each one:

  1. Competitive
  2. Technically skilled
  3. Inquisitive
  4. Confident
  5. Articulate
  6. Diplomatic
  7. Self-directed

Many sales engineers spend a considerable amount of time working on proof of concept (POC) tasks. If you’d like to learn more about this aspect of the job, be sure to check out some of my other blog entries.

If you’re curious about other technical sales and sales engineering subjects, click here.

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