It would be nice if we could be experts at everything — and I mean everything.

At work we use lots of tools to help us be more productive and to help us towards our business goals.  Most of us use cell phones, email, word, excel, intranets, applications like CRM/ERP, scanners, printers, tablets, etc.  And if you’re in the growing camp of people who are working remotely, you have even more tools that you need to work with.  Tools are great because they make your life easy — or at least they are supposed to.  But as anyone knows you end up playing system administrator on more days that you would like.  Knowing how to address technical and product issues is great for the minority of folks who have a knack for technology and the time to learn it but most people just want it to work and don’t have the time.

Take your cell phone.  You really don’t need to know all the technology behind how the cell phone works — you just want it to work in the way you want it, when you want it.  Same with Excel.  It’s great to know how to use it, but for most applications, you may not need to know how to program it using the API’s.  That’s not to say that there aren’t uses for people who know how to write an iphone application or how to write complex scripts in Excel to process data.  While there are many ways to skin the cat, one could divide people who use tools in several ways.  There are the creators/configurators, the maintainers and the users.

  • The users are the end-users who utilize the tool on a day-to-day basis.  They gain benefit by using the system.
  • The maintainers are the people who administrators who make sure it is working in the way that the end users want it.  They may make sure it is always running and turn the knobs and dials to address changes to the system to reflect the changes to the environment or the opportunity to be captured
  • The creators/configurators are the people who may do the set up and configuration of the tool.  They may also make the major changes to an already running system.  They typically have deeper expertise than a maintainer and understand best practices.  These are the folks you like to have in charge when you need to make a big change.

For consumer products, the first two are the same person.  Sometimes all three. Tools designed for consumers strive to be so simple to use that you don’t need help. For tools used in business, particularly ones with a modicum of complexity, the three categories are often held by distinctly different people.  CRM tools like salesforce.com fall into this category.  End users are typically sales, marketing and support personnel.  Maintainers are usually a dedicated sales operations person or an IT engineer.  Creators/configurators may be consultants specializing in these technologies and have had the benefit of seeing many multiple implementations. 

As a business executive, you need to understand what you need.  In massive organizations, you may need to have a creator/configurator in-house just because of scale and volume.  Some organizations, with very simple needs may not need a creator/configurator at all.  Most organizations fall somewhere in between with either a part-time or full-time administrator with targeted assistance from consultants to help with proper set up or optimization of an already existing environment.

It’s interesting to see how many companies struggle with the maintainer-only model.  They often hack  up a configuration that gets them going but find over time that the system they created is unscalable, burdensome for new employees and inflexible to handle the changing needs of the organization.  Not only does it cause suboptimal procedures, it also makes it much harder to unwind what was done from a process standpoint.  Not to mention the all important data.  Once organizations reoptimize their environment, there is often a data migration process that must ensue.  Sometimes it can be painful.  Still others never get off the ground, with end-users rebelling because the system just doesn’t make sense to them.

Every place there is an addressable pain or opportunity, there is a market.  Consultants offer “Quickstarts” to help people get on the right foot immediately.  They are a great bang for the buck because you start with the right practices and procedures from day one.  “Optimizations” are often “restarts”, where things have drifted enough that the system needs to be reconfigured.  Optimizations are common and are also a big bang for the buck.

One customer said it well.  “I don’t need to be an expert at salesforce.com, but I do want to reap the benefits of using salesforce.com.”  He has his day job which is to leverage his company’s core competencies to sell his company’s product.  He astutely knows that salesforce.com expertise is not a core competency of his company.  That being said, he’s all for gaining the full benefit of using salesforce.com.