I am very tired and not making much sense. Yesterday I had a very strange day, I am unsure as to whether a red eye flight is the first morning flight or an overnight one, or if it’s not a red eye flight, it could just be a pink eye flight? At any rate, I hopped on an early flight down to London to go and participate in a focus group. Not particularly strange in itself, but the strange thing was it was one of my biggest partners asking me to participate. It’s already well known; that I have opinions and am not afraid of expressing them, what was unknown to me is that some people do actually want them!…

Cisco have gone through the recession like we all have, they’re making changes, optimising their offering and making significant changes to their business. What’s unusual for a giant American behemoth is they’re actively asking a select number of partners globally what they can do better to make things easier to do business with them and how can they improve. When I’ve worked in businesses in the past, we’ve done customer satisfaction surveys and faked an interest in this type of work around the time an auditor was watching, unusually Cisco seem very keen on hearing what I have to say and what my customers have to say as well as other partners and their customers.

Microsoft have never asked me my opinion on anything really, nor have Dell, however we gladly use their software and hardware as part of our solutions. I once flew over Dublin to Dell at my cost for a number of meetings with their senior managers, to get our opinions heard, push our agenda and get them to improve. Essentially, we’re still dealing with the same inefficiencies and issues from them today as we were several years ago. Nothing changed.

I just accept these days, that big companies will work like big companies and make very little effort for lowly ol’ me. You may notice that the Unleashed supplier portfolio is based on the technology of our suppliers, rather than their size or strength. Innovative products have led us to companies such as new US start-up’s such as Scale Computing and the ultra-new Simplivity and made Unleashed a UK leader in hyperconvergence, hyper-converged infrastructure or fabric computing (one day the industry will pick a term for what it is!). Similarly our experiences with new companies have also allowed companies new to the UK to do business with us such as SpectorSoft and PHD Virtual. This has given Unleashed a very unique and innovative solution portfolio.

I frequently wish that the big boys would listen to us and take us as seriously as the new providers do, because I know our feedback could make them better – after all my feedback is ultimately coming from one place – our customers! Now I can’t say the same about Cisco. They fully admit, with their size, heritage and transnational nature, they may not be the easiest company to deal with. However, they do want our feedback and they seem genuinely enthused about the process of improvement, which in turn has got me all enthusiastic. It remains to be seen if change will come of the programme they have initiated, however, they have invested heavily and have a rather excellent (and it’s rare I give praise being Northern) facilitator from silicon valley heading up the work globally. They have promised feedback to partners after the process is complete too.

The initiation of the process of engaging with partners and airing the problems and even talking about them is a breath of fresh air in itself, when dealing with larger tech companies. However, coming back to my title – in small companies it’s generally the case that you have the opportunity to change anything, modify your offering and make things better all the time. Directors of small and medium sized businesses are often their own worst critics and it’s in general what pushes their organisations forward, much like myself, I might add.

Without seeming as if I’m doing any Dell-bashing – their kit has been by my side in all aspects of my IT career, and I won’t be changing my habits any time soon – unless they really drop the ball on the quality of their equipment. Their major problem is not the rather nice and proactive people we deal with on a daily basis, but the fact that their managers unlike Cisco’s haven’t yet admitted that there is anything or even a need to improve. This to me is a risky strategy as despite my love of Dell servers, Cisco has their own range now and from what I’ve seen so far is quite impressive, it’s only a matter of time before PC Pro gives the Cisco kit a glowing review and they’re propelled further into the mainstream.

I certainly hope that Dell will eventually see the merit in running a programme like what Cisco have done, but certainly my flavour of the month has firmly swung to Cisco’s door and the new products and modifications to existing ones that they’ll be bringing out this year based on our feedback I am very hopeful are set to impress.

However, I think every manager and director should head the lesson – there is always something that can be done better and improved and to ignore this fact you can easily let a competitor silently creep up on you with a competing product or service. The secret to business improvement is also very easy – ask your customers.