The post in which I talk about a pre-sales thing that was engaging, collaborative and fun.

Some background first.

What are you on about?

As Deputy CTO in Kainos Digital, I get to work on lots of interesting things, in lots of different contexts. A decent percentage of my time is spent working on delivery. That means being with teams, looking at architectural approaches, advising on options to solve problems, checking we are doing things as well as we can. It also means talking to people from the customer’s side…are we doing things right? How might we use technology to make things better for users…it’s challenging, but it’s also fun.

Another part of what I do in Kainos (there are a lot of things) is what is usually called ‘pre-sales’. Basically this means responding to procurements aka people asking for expertise to deliver software. I’ll be honest. This is sometimes not so fun. Your mileage may vary on this, but it involves a lot of reading, searching for hidden meaning and context, and occasionally, what feels like shooting at an unknown target at an unknown distance in fog.

Roughly it goes like this: Person that would like expertise issues an RFI (Request for Information).

Wikipedia say’s it’s this:

A request for information (RFI) is a standard business process whose purpose is to collect written information about the capabilities of various suppliers

Usually there is some sort of list of things you should know about, you also get a shopping list of things that might be on the cards in terms of delivery. Exciting. You then reply, with a list of all the cool things you’ve done, hoping that some of the things listed are relevant. Like I say, shooting something in a fog.

This is an arduous process for both sides…from the request side of things how do you give enough information to let people answer appropriately? How much information is too much? On the response side…it’s almost exactly the same!

This time however, it was different!

Different you say, how?

More background.

If you live in the UK you are more than likely familiar with this logo:

If not, it’s for the co-op.

Here’s a nifty sentence that describes it for you:

A co-operative (co-op) is a different kind of business. Our Co-op is owned by individual members and other co-ops, not big investors, and our members get a chance to have a say in how we’re run.

They have a nascent digital capability who are working on building new products and services for their users and the business.

Data is a big part of this.

There were two relevant quotes from Rob McKendrick, Head of Data Engineering on this:

We want to be trusted with data, because that is who we are.

This speaks volumes about the Co-Op and its attitude. It is a member driven organisation who have a strong social conscience that want to do things right.

Data will get a better deal for members.

Ultimately this is what it was all about. Unlocking insight from their data to get a better deal, to find new ways of making the Co-Op a compelling thing to belong to, potentially extending to future products being made available, or partnerships with suppliers, to get that better deal.

How did it work?

Instead of a massive document with a shopping list, this time round what Co-Op did was run a workshop, with a number of suppliers they were interested in hearing from.

That’s right. A room full of competitors, sitting together, talking directly with the customer to better understand their needs.

Sounds nuts? What about all our secret awesomeness? How can we have opinions out loud…our competitors might steal them as their own?? Personally I thoroughly enjoyed it, an Open By Default approach resonates significantly with me and how we work in Kainos.

It allowed us as a group of suppliers to ask questions around Co-Ops thinking around data, validate their approach and challenge it where appropriate. It also meant we got context first hand on what they have discovered so far around members and data.

From their initial discovery research, there were some interesting insights into who their users trust, with Barclays (they are a bank they know what they are doing) rating highly, Co-Op somewhere towards the more trusted end of things, and Google (perceived as they are evil and gather all the data to I have to trust them they have all my stuff) occupying a broad range of locations on the trust continuum.

The Trust Continuum

Also, some polar opinions on use of personal data were uncovered with most people firmly yes or no in terms of ‘can we use your data’.

Having an open forum, with an agreement not to share detail, meant that as a group were free to work towards consensus around approaches to tackle specific problems, and help better define what might make up an Alpha that ultimately we might try to win to work with the Co-Op on in future.

Everyone involved shared openly, and I left with a significantly better understanding of what the Co-Op are aiming to achieve, and in a much better position to reply to any RFPs (Request for Proposal) in future.

Honestly, I had a lot of fun.

If you are out there listening, and you are in charge of buying services, can we have more RFI’s that are based on open collaborative discussion?

Everyone benefits. Buyers get people that understand what they want, suppliers get to know their customers, their users and their problems a whole lot better.

Maybe the insight mirror the co-op have is spot on. Maybe it isn’t normal.

But maybe, just maybe, this should be the new normal?