TM Forum Digital Maturity Model for Tracking Digital Transformation

According to their website, TM Forum is
"
is the global industry association that drives collaboration and collective problem-solving to maximize the business success of communication and digital service providers and their ecosystem of suppliers.
"

They have worked extensively on creating a digital maturity model, defining the digital transformation journey and working with CSPs (Communication Services Providers) looking to become DSPs. In their model, there are 5 dimensions covering:
  • Customer
  • Strategy
  • Technology
  • Operations
  • Culture
Across these dimensions, 110 criteria are identified, along with sub-dimensions, to assess how far along a CSP has come in its digital transformation journey, and how to assess its target objectives.

TM Forum Digital Maturity Model


The full model is members only, but there are a lot of additional resources for telecom professionals on their website, including videos and case studies. For people looking to understand digital transformation in the telecom industry, this is a good starting point.

Telecom Trends and Opportunities

A while back, I was engaged for a study on the opportunities for CSPs (communication service providers) to transform into DSPs (Digital service providers). Depending on the market maturity, the size of the opportunity, the geography and economy and some other factors, I prepared a slide about the key trends and opportunities in 2018-20.


From the slide, you can infer some points yourself, and see what makes most sense for a CSP in its business evolution. There is a complete presentation about this topic which I created, I will upload it some time in the future. Meanwhile, you can read about the latest research on this transformation at GSMA Intelligence and at telecoms.com.


Product Manager or Product Owner

For people looking to move into product management, the product owner role is often a stepping stone. In fact, many advisors do consider the product owner role as a subset of the product manager's role. That is a misguided view of the roles, especially given how the software industry is transforming. To be clear, both are different roles which require different skills and have different objectives, stakeholders and success metrics.

To summarize, the Product Owner works in an agile team, with a specific set of tasks and objectives.
The Product Manager is a business role, that has a wide range of responsibilities and objectives, depending on the 
  • Organization (centralized vs. product driven pricing, planning and budgeting)
  • Industry (B2B, B2C, e-commerce, networking etc.)
  • Software development processes (agile, waterfall, hybrid)
  • Seniority in the organization
  • and whether there are also product owners or an architect team in the organization
 Both roles have some overlap as well, however that is often because the company is undergoing a transformation and the roles have shared responsibilities.

Below is a slide that shows the possible growth path in this role.
https://www.slideshare.net/dhirenjani/product-manager-vs-product-owner


I have uploaded a brief presentation on SlideShare that talks about the product manager and product owner roles. This will be useful for people looking to explore either role as a career opportunity. 

As the scope of the presentation is very large, it has been split into two parts. The first part is currently available on Slideshare. Feel free to view that and direct any questions at me.

Product Management Skills Benchmark Report

The 280 Group is a Silicon Valley based training, research and consulting organization focusing on product management training and consulting for a long time.Their training and consulting staff are available for online, virtual or in-person training sessions. Best of all, their product management framework and process can be adapted by any organization, using Agile, Waterfall or a Hybrid methodology.

In late 2018, they did a survey of practicing product managers across the globe. The objective was to understand the definition of the role in different regions and industries, the key skills and responsibilities of the PM, and the skill gaps that product managers mentioned in the survey. For this survey, they identified 15 key skills (skill set) that a PM will use over the course of their career. They also include a skills assessment survey, which you can use to benchmark yourself against other respondents.
With more than 1,500 responses, there are a ton of insights from their Skills Benchmark Report. If you want a greater understanding of this role, or want to benchmark yourself against other product managers then you can download this report for free.

Few Points

  • Customer and domain knowledge was the strongest skill among PMs
  • Competitive Analysis, End of Life & Pricing were among the weakest

If you want to move into product management, or want to grow further, then this is a great resource to understand what is actually needed in the role. I hope you get as much value from this report as I did.

5 Reasons Why Scrum Teams May Not Deliver the Backlog

[This is a post from 6 years ago, but I came across this situation recently with a client, hence re-posting it here]

As a Product Manager, you should be used to hearing "NO" from every stakeholder, including the engineering teams. And then comes the hard part of persuading people to listen to you, even when they do not report to you. Of course, if you are talking to a vendor, or an IT services firm, you occasionally face the other challenge, of hearing a "YES", for every product initiative. With engineering teams, sometimes there is a hidden reason behind their "no" for a product/feature concept. Here are 5 reasons why PMs I know were not able to push through product requirements.

It's not cool enough

In the web world, certain technologies and features are considered cool. Others are not. So if you have a strong engineering team, they may simply nix the basic features such as logging, event viewer etc. in favor of features such as cross-domain APIs, "social" features etc. The trick is to keep a judicious balance in every feature review. And in case that's not possible, just promise them that the "cool" features are coming down the road. And be careful about the ever-present "code conversion" projects where they want to migrate the code from JavaScript to TypeScript or to use node.js and introduce SVG viewer and other features. Unless there is a business need or a strong performance reason, the "coolness factor" could be lurking about.

It's too tough

This is what I heard from an intern who joined the engineering team. They had worked on a matrix based hierarchical organization of real-time data for a year, and then they gave the same project to the intern to take analyze. Additionally, this was always the project that got de-prioritized over other initiatives. By sitting with the intern for an hour, it was easy to understand that this was an NP-complete problem, and optimizations were simply too tough for our data dictionary. (Here is a description of NP-complete).

It's too easy

I have been in teams that often said "no" to easy fixes. After developing the core feature, however badly, nobody wants to simply fix all the bugs or add the security requirements. Again, one workaround is to offer a bundle of features to the product team, where they cannot pick and choose specific features. 
In normal circumstances, these are the features that will slip the most in an early release, as they are deemed "non-core" features. For instance, the web-based admin GUI for a SaaS app often falls in this category.

We don't have expertise in that

No true engineering team will admit this, but this is also another hidden reason why teams say "no". In one instance, the team had no idea of the internals of Oracle's 11g release, so they simply delayed releasing a plug-in based on that. After several weeks of waiting and testing alternates, and with shipping of the core product getting delayed, this is the actual reason that came out during a hallway discussion with an engineer. The product management solution was to drop the plug-in and release the product.

If I agree, I will look weak

This is one of my favorites. Engineering managers in world-class organizations have a top educational background, have often won awards for their work and are viewed as stars. So if a great PM comes along with a perfect PRD, and has all the right features dictated by competitive needs, market analysis and user requirements, the engineering manager will simply say "no" to many features to satisfy his ego. (I do not know of any way to solve this problem, except to avoid entering such situations.) And going Agile, and becoming the Product Owner and backlog owner still does not always solve this situation.

SaaS Product Managers - Get your Data Processing Agreement in place

The European Union General Data Protection Regulation (EU GDPR) has come into effect on 25th May 2018. This is a landmark regulation to protect consumer data for SAAS companies that want to do business in the EU.
In essence, data collection requires informed consent of users, a data governance policy and data management tools, which includes the “right to be forgotten”. Actually, a more detailed e-privacy regulation is also in the works within the EU, but is yet to become law. Here is a brief description of how this impacts cross-border SaaS.

Impact on your SaaS website

For marketing and tracking user activities, websites often use cookies. These are either
  • essential cookies (login, session etc.)
  • preference cookies (remember password, language, time zone etc.)
  • statistical cookies (analytics, user activities)
  • marketing cookies (advertising, 3rd party data)
For engaging website visitors in EU countries, you need to allow users to understand what these cookies do and how they are used. Users must be able to opt out of the last 2 categories, or else they must be allowed to exit the site. And your privacy policy must explain clearly how individual user data is being used or anonymized.

Impact on your SaaS marketing

For marketing and advertising on 3rd part websites, or via social media or email, you need explicit consent of users. This consent must be captured, stored and deleted based on the user preference at that time. And there must be an easy way (email or website) to allow the user to change their preferences. Not only this, there should be adequate controls in place for protecting user data, whether it remains with you, or is shared with a 3rd party or vendor.

Data Processing Agreement

Unless you are a multi-billion SaaS business that is completely siloed, with its own data centres, you will rely on vendors for cloud storage, web analytics, email marketing and several other activities. The GDPR specifies that when you share user data, a written DPA is required with these vendors and 3rd parties.

The DPA is a legally binding contract that states the rights and obligations of each party concerning the protection of user data. A Data Processing Agreement identifies the data controller and data processor roles. The data processor must have controls in place, that can be audited, to ensure that user data is not leaked, lost or stolen. The GDPR also specifies hefty fines in case of non-compliance.
More details on this topic are available on the official website.

Typical Use Cases

  • A SaaS marketing team that wants to use an external email marketing service needs a DPA
  • A SaaS product manager who wants to display 3rd party advertising on the website needs a DPA
  • A SaaS product manager wishing to integrate with another SaaS or on-premise service may also need a DPA
 The last use case is often overlooked by integration teams; I will post more about this in the future.

Bottom Line

If you want to engage consumers in the EU region, and are sharing their data with vendors, get a DPA created and processes properly audited. Going forward, such regulations are likely to impact your international reach and expansion, not just in the EU, but in many other regions and countries.

SaaS APIs – Retain Customers and Expand Engagement

Customer retention increases when they find reasons to continue using the software, and they do not have reasons to look at alternatives or substitutes. There is a good economic definition of these substitute goods on Wikipedia. In addition, easy to track retention metrics and churn models simplify the efforts to predict whether a customer will churn or stay. (There is a good blog post on churn measurements here).

Additionally, to expand engagement, every SaaS vendor needs to identify different user personas and their usage patterns. Based on usage or non-usage of the software, new methods of user engagement can be identified. These can either be:
•    departmental (new roles within a department),
•    geographical (users in other countries in a MNC),
•    hierarchical (increase usage in head office vs. branch offices, stores vs. warehouses etc.) or
•    cross-functional (new processes created during organizational transformation that lead to cross-functional teams)

Here are two use cases that indicate how user engagement can be expanded via judicious introduction of APIs for new personas.

Use Case - Feature addition to retain personas

A large Canadian firm is merging with another company in Singapore. The new company has different processes, departments and hierarchy and is undergoing a long term merger/transformation program. Clearly, the existing processes, business rules and personas supported by existing features will not suffice. APIs are the easy way to make sure that existing users and business logic of the Singapore firm are retained and later integrated with your overall solution (Corollary: This will also lead to increase in subscription users).

Use Case - Feature addition to support new personas

A company is transforming its supply chain, and wants to make sure that all vendors are on-boarded into their new SaaS procurement platform. Not only is this an opportunity to sell more subscription to vendor users, but by properly integrating with the existing (potentially siloed) solution, many more customer employees can be on-boarded onto this solution, again leading to sale of configuration services and subscription licenses.

Retention and expansion of engagement are two ways to increase revenues without a large cost of sales. If your product team is not focusing on that, but on chasing new revenues only, then your roadmap is tilted towards short term features. This will harm you in the long run, when the competition’s retention rates increase, and your burn rate causes you to reduce your feature release velocity.

SaaS Revenue APIs – Increase Sale Per Customer

So what happens once a customer registers for your SaaS services?

The next step is to monetize your APIs. As the business owner, you should consider the following:
  • Registration or setup charges for the customer (This is also to deter casual customers who are only experimenting with the business model)
  • Usage charges (~$.02 per 1000 API calls)
  • API category charges (~$.05 per 1000 API calls for bulk APIs, advanced APIs etc.)
  • Consulting or support charges (per hour or per incident is the common model)
Looking at these monetization options, it is evident that the largest opportunity to increase revenue per customer is from usage of your APIs. Incidentally, this is also the model followed by many large platforms or aggregators.

The following is a use case from the online travel industry, of how API consumption and revenue generation occurs. With the right APIs, it is easy to allow more customers to sign up, and offer them differentiated data per API, thus increasing API consumption.

Travel industry API monetization use case

An online ticketing website such as booking.com wants to pull data about flights to satisfy a user query. This data is provided by Global Distribution System (GDS) such as Sabre, Amadeus and Travelport, who aggregate the data from different airlines, platforms etc. The user query must return data to allow him to view options, select an option, complete a booking, make a payment and get details of the booking on email, SMS and the site. 
The diagram below shows the high-level communication, and the APIs in red indicate the monetization possibilities.


For API usage, key fields to retrieve data from GDS:
•    Location of passenger
•    Source and destination of travel
•    Date of travel
•    Number of passengers
Key data points to retrieve:
•    Fields input by user (source, destination, date)
•    Airport codes
•    Airline codes
•    Combination of flights that offer the travel option
•    Price per combination
•    Data validity

 Unless the API or set of API support these data fields, the end to end transaction may fail, leading to a lost opportunity for the GDS to monetize the use case. And similar to this ticket booking use case, monetization opportunities also exist for many online platforms.

SaaS Customer Acquisition and On-boarding API

Once you have a deal for a demo, trial or term subscription, you need to make sure that users are on-boarded very quickly. This has three benefits:
  1. It can be a “go-live” indicator to mark start of subscription term
  2. License usage can be tied directly to the number of users logging in
  3. If users are on-boarded in phases, early users can indicate access or usability issues. This feedback can, in turn, simplify on-boarding of users in latter phases.
Here are the key APIs (application programming interface) that your SaaS application must develop and expose for close integration with client’s existing applications.
[Note: Most, if not all, of these API will need to support CRUD operations]



APIs common to most SaaS or Cloud applications

In this case, the SaaS application will need to expose the following User related API or endpoints
  • User import API
  • Bulk user import API
  • User identity API
  • User profile API
  • User security API
 For business processes, the related set of APIs include:
  • Process Life-cycle
  • Process Access Control
  • Process Data Transfer
  • Process Assignment
And for Reporting and Analytics, the APIs include:
  • Standard views of data
  • Data import into Analytics tools
  • Data export to common reporting tools

The first released version (or V1) of any SaaS or Cloud based application, if designed correctly, will definitely include most of these APIs.
Are these API on your SaaS roadmap?

No Man Is an Island, neither is a SaaS Application

Almost five hundred years ago, John Donne said this quote about man’s nature. Well, in today’s hyper-connected world, the same is true of SaaS applications as well. This radically changes the nature of the application, the demands on the talent and even the organization structure.

However, the key SaaS strategic objectives have not changed, which include:
1.    Acquire paying customers
2.    Retain the customers
3.    Increase the sale per customer
4.    Reduce costs and optimize operations
The first two are usually shown as part of the customer acquisition funnel, as in the image below.

SaaS Application Customer Funnel

But how does this play out for SaaS applications? It actually impacts the SaaS strategy in multiple ways. Here is a look at how the integrations or API strategy can impact all 4 objectives.


As you can see, there is tremendous value in thinking through the entire API strategy and how it impacts your business strategy. To think of a SaaS application as just a set of business rules and user interfaces for a few users is a very puerile assessment of the true value of the product. And a large part of that value is captured via the strategic addition of APIs.
In future blog posts, I will share additional details of how the API strategy works for any SaaS application for any vertical.