Steve Kahan, VP of Marketing at The Planet
Regardless of what the economy is like, it's important for business owners to get the most out of every aspect of their organizations. Gauging the effectiveness of the more fundamental aspects of a business is fairly straightforward. Dig out the sales figures and set about improvements; look at your expenditure figures and seal the leaks; review purchasing policies and establish more cost effective alternatives, etc., etc. All standard practice in businesses large and small, but in an environment where every cent counts, how does a company establish IT effectiveness? Until recently, only larger organizations had the facilities to draw effective IT comparisons and determine areas that need improvement. This meant that SMBs -- the backbone, heart and spleen of any economy -- were essentially out in the cold fending for themselves.
February 17, 2009 changed all that with the launch of the Information Technology Effectiveness Index, or ITEI. The brainchild of Steve Kahan, VP of Marketing at The Planet, ITEI is a free online benchmarking tool that uses a methods-based framework to compare the effectiveness of a company's IT systems against companies in the same industries and peer groups. A diverse group of major organizations (including HostSearch) have formed a consortium to support the initiative. We ask Steve Kahan how ITEI works, how SMBs can benefit from it, and what outcomes are expected.
- HOSTSEARCH: Steve - thanks for meeting us like this. Given the launch of ITEI, I know you must be busy, so we appreciate you giving us your time.STEVE KAHAN: Thanks, John. The ITEI Partnershipis off to a good start. In particular, the partners, including your own organization, who have joined us represent a great cross-section of companies all committed to helping small- and medium-sized businesses achieve their business goals.
- HOSTSEARCH: First of all, why don't you tell our visitors a little about yourself and your role within The Planet?STEVE KAHAN: I am the vice president of marketing and product management at The Planet. This covers a wide area, including managing our broad product portfolio and the related lines of business, the Web site and Intranet, public relations, the blog and customer communications.
- HOSTSEARCH: How long have you been with the company?STEVE KAHAN: I joined The Planet in September 2006, about two months after Chairman and CEO Doug Erwin was appointed to lead the company. I actually worked with Doug at another company, so this was a terrific opportunity to work with him again.
- HOSTSEARCH: So, tell us a bit about the background to ITEI. I understand you came up with the idea.STEVE KAHAN: The hosting industry is an evolving business, and we see it continuing to mature and emerge into the mainstream business environment. Here at The Planet, our primary focus is on the SMB market, so in the past 2-1/2 years, we've grown our portfolio to offer the new products and services our customers have told us are important to their grown and success.
Unlike other organizations where I've had access to extensive research, it became clear that the traditional market research organizations were focused almost exclusively on enterprise-size organizations. I was frustrated because I knew there was an opportunity but no companies were focusing research here. That's when I started thinking that The Planet wasn't alone and that others would be equally as interested in identifying emerging opportunities through some core research.
- HOSTSEARCH: If ITEI was the solution, what was the problem?STEVE KAHAN: When I joined The Planet, we offered dedicated servers. That was the product set. Over time, as we invited customers in for visits, we listened carefully - even reading between the lines - to find out what was important to them. We've made significant enhancements to our products to meet their requirements, today offering customers the power to choose from the broadest range of products in the industry. But we know there is more we can do with the right research.
That's how we decided to form an industry coalition to get our own research. The survey was developed in concert with two of our partners - Kennesaw State University and Yankee Group. We knew other companies who focus on small- and medium-sized businesses faced the same issues, so we identified some of those organizations and approached us about joining us. The response has been great. Even better, there's no charge.
Participants who take the survey get an immediate grade when they complete the survey, and they can also receive expanded recommendations if they so choose. At year-end we'll issue an annual report on the aggregated data, and for no charge they can also sign up to get this valuable information.
- HOSTSEARCH: HostSearch is providing support for this initiative, and you have a number of other very high profile partners. Who else is onboard?STEVE KAHAN: The ITEI Partner List is stellar. Of course as you mention HostSearch has joined us. We also have Small Business Trends; SmallBizTechnology; Nine Lives Media Inc.; SMB Nation and Microsoft. I also mentioned Kennesaw State University and Yankee Group.
- HOSTSEARCH: The whole thing is directed towards SMBs, isn't it?STEVE KAHAN: Absolutely. They're our core target for the ITEI.
- HOSTSEARCH: How does an SMB get involved in all of this? What do they have to do?STEVE KAHAN: It's really easy. There's a 12-question survey that takes just 10 minutes to complete. All they have to do is visit the ITEI Web site at www.iteffectivenessindex.com and take the survey.
- HOSTSEARCH: What happens after they take the survey? What would a participant receive?STEVE KAHAN: Participants who take the survey get an immediate grade when it's completed, and they can also receive expanded recommendations if they so choose. At year-end we'll issue an annual report on the aggregated data, and for no charge they can also sign up to get this valuable information.
- HOSTSEARCH: ...and how will that help them make their IT more effective? I mean, what would they do based on what they receive?STEVE KAHAN: First of all, the survey offers prescriptive guidance about how to improve their results. In the coming months, when we have a critical mass of people who take the survey, we'll also have comparative data by customer segment, so survey participants can compare themselves with their industry peers. We expect the research results will help many fund some of the projects that are critical to the business, based on the comparative peer data they'll be able to get.
Many of these small companies often don't realize that they don't have to go it alone . There are resources that offer precisely the help they need. The survey provides an evaluation with information that helps them decide which areas offer the most meaningful impact for their businesses.
- HOSTSEARCH: So, once a company has optimized its IT, what happens then? Is that it, or are you expecting companies to come back to the survey and continue honing their IT effectiveness?STEVE KAHAN: An effective IT infrastructure provides a huge competitive advantage for any company, SMBs in particular. With today's online businesses, Web sites are their entry point to the world, so there's a level competitive playing field. SMBs can compete on equal footing with their bigger, better-funded competitors. The ITEI will provide the additional data and background to equip these companies to do just that. Plus, they'll receive relative peer data so they compare their IT infrastructures with companies like their own.
- HOSTSEARCH: What changes can a company expect after taking the survey and implementing effectiveness strategies?STEVE KAHAN: With today's difficult economic climate, budgets are tight across the board. Despite the environment, IT requirements aren't going away. In fact, I'd venture to say they're getting even more complex since more companies rely on online resources to do business. For instance, at The Planet, we offer servers on monthly contracts so customers don't have to invest in expensive hardware, software and 7x24x365 support. If they have anticipated business spikes, they don't have to buy hardware - we're a phone call or e-mail away.
Our ITEI Partners have terrific Web sites that offer consultative advice and resources for their readers. I would encourage anyone to take a look at what they're doing to get good information - they have awesome insights for SMBs.
- HOSTSEARCH: Now, as we have said, you have a lot of big players supporting this initiative. So, I guess one question a lot of people are asking is who is going to have access to the data it generates?STEVE KAHAN: John, that's the best news. People who take the survey receive guidance based on their responses at no charge, along with our annual report. Just like The Planet, our ITEI Partners are looking to build better, more responsive businesses to meet the needs of their SMB customers. There's a mutually beneficial relationship for partners and participants. Partners can take a look at the trends to tune their own businesses. By the same token, survey participants receive a free report with prescriptive guidance on how to manage their IT infrastructure, along with comparative data on how they fare with other SMBs and their peers.
- HOSTSEARCH: What are those with access to the data going to be able to do with it?STEVE KAHAN: We expect they'll take advantage to learn from the aggregated data, evaluating the products and services they currently provide to help their own core audiences, just as we expect to do.
- HOSTSEARCH: This is filling quite a gap, isn't it?STEVE KAHAN: That's certainly our goal. SMBs don't have the budgets to fund research or purchase reports that some of the large research companies produce. For that reason, the ITEI and our partners are working together to tell companies about the survey, so at no cost they can get data not typically available to them. From that perspective, it fills an important gap.
- HOSTSEARCH: So, after this, what's coming up at The Planet - what other initiatives do you have in the pipeline?STEVE KAHAN: The ITEI runs throughout 2009, so we're focused here. We're also opening a new 86,000 square foot colocation facility in Dallas, and the first phase will open in May.
- HOSTSEARCH: Well, good luck with ITEI and everything else coming up.