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Enterprise Technology Is a Lot Like Rocket Science (Yes, Really)
Achieving customer success means understanding the problem, planning for the right outcome, and then delivering and tracking the results—not at all different from what a rocket scientist does.
Posted Jun 15, 2017
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Dad, are we on Mars yet? It seems like once a week we are reading about another milestone reached in the quest for commercial success in the space race. Private companies are launching spy satellites. Space tourism is here (although it’s still cost-prohibitive for all but a few). Mars missions are a reality and will happen in our lifetime. The industry is in a major state of flux, but it has clear goals, and it’s in the process of being disrupted at an ever-changing pace.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess that each of you could say the same about your business right now. You have probably seen the prediction that the S&P 500 will turn over by 50 percent in the next decade. Digital transformation is real, it is here today, and it is not going away.

That means your customer relationship job will be more reliant on IT than ever. And that reliance means you need to be able to understand how enterprise IT helps with your success—and the success of your clients.

That’s where the rocket scientist part comes into play.

Enterprise Rocket Science

Ensuring success in large-scale enterprise operations today is a lot like the space program. I know a bit about rocket development. For the first decade of my career I worked in the same buildings as Werner von Braun in the early days of rocket and missile technology development. Much more than a moonshot of the 1960s, enterprise technology today is similar to the more recent commercialization efforts of space by companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin.

Jim Longuski, in his book The Seven Secrets of How to Think Like a Rocket Scientist, breaks down these secrets in plain language: dream, judge, ask, check, simplify, optimize, and do. So rocket scientists trying to solve particular problems will brainstorm potential solutions, analyze them thoroughly for the best possible solution, simplify and optimize the solution to fit the problem, and then implement that solution.

Not so different from what you do, is it? That’s because at the heart of it, your job and the job of a rocket scientist are both service-oriented.

Internally with my executive team (and the company in general), I like to use the definition of customer success from J.B. Wood, CEO of the Technology and Services Industry Association: Customer success is a services effort with a sales result.” It takes a professional services project approach to deliver success in the enterprise. That means gathering requirements to understand how each customer actually defines success, planning for the right outcome, and then delivering and tracking the results. Not too different from a rocket scientist’s way of thinking.

But the “right outcome” is not just a successful project. The value of the entire sales effort is at stake. Customer success cuts across traditional organizational boundaries. (That’s why the CEO at my own company chose to create the position of chief customer officer as we have grown.)

New Technology

In the early days of space exploration, new branches of science were created to help solve problems. New materials that we take for granted today, like Teflon and lightweight composites, are a direct result of problems that space flight presented.

The same innovation is happening today. Businesses are building artificially intelligent systems that predict problems and can take action before any end user impact. Early IT pioneers proved that hardware can be made wildly more efficient by abstracting the various layers of the application stack with technology such as virtualization, containers, and micro-services.

Consequently, the volume of data now being generated far exceeds human capability to analyze. It requires machine interpretation, correlation, and analysis. Taking this further with technologies like the natural-language-equipped IBM Watson can provide unprecedented discoveries in efficiencies and should enable businesses to soon have cloudlike agility across the enterprise. 

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