Author Archive: Steve Kinman

March 7, 2011

March Madness - Customer Experience Style

If you are a SoftLayer customer you probably noticed a maintenance window early Sunday morning. If you aren't a SoftLayer customer, (you should be, and) you may have even noticed on quite a few social media outlets that we were trying to provide real-time updates about the maintenance progress, and our customers were doing so as well.

SoftLayer customers were given two internal tickets notifying them if they were to be affected, and when those tickets were created, the ticket system would have then sent an email to the admin user on that account. Additionally, our portal notification system was updated to show details about the window, and we created new threads in our customer forums to provide regular, centralized updates. We went as far as taking a few calls and meetings with customers to talk about their concerns with the maintenance timing and length because we know that any downtime is bad downtime in the world of hosting.

Saturday night, we had extra support on staff online, and our social media ninja was awake and letting the world know step by step what we were doing with real time status alerts. We wanted to be extremely transparent during the entire process. This was not a maintenance we could avoid, and we tried to roll as many different things that needed work into this maintenance without making a roll back impossible.

The maintenance itself went well, and as planned, most items that were taken down were back online well before the window ended. We ran into a few snags in bringing all of the CloudLayer CCIs back online, but even with those delays for a few customers, the work was completed by the time we committed to.

Now for the customer experience aspect. From reading various tweets from our customers, it seems like we should/could have done a few things even better: Been more proactive, sent standard email, attempted phone calls, etc.

While some of these options may be considered, not all are feasible. If you are one of the customers that tweeted, has blogged, is planning on tweeting, is planning on blogging or believes we're being anything less than genuine and transparent on our social media platforms, I want to hear from you.

Please comment on this blog, tweet me @skinman454, email me skinman@softlayer.com, call me at 214.442.0592, come by our office and visit.

Whatever it takes, just contact me. I can't put myself in your shoes and feel your pain on things like this unless we have a chance to talk about it. I look forward to our conversation.

-Skinman

March 2, 2011

Motivation to Rock the Boat

Have you seen The Social Network? I don't know about you, but it's hard for me to see a movie before it comes out on iTunes or pay-per–view these days, so I'm a little late to the game on this one. I watched most of it on my flight back from Parallels Summit in Orlando ... And I say "most of it" because I started it up right when they said it was legal to turn on my device, and I had to stop watching it when iTunes decided I didn't need to see the last twenty minutes.

One minute, I was enjoying Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker (of Napster fame) yelling, "Let's get some Sho..." and the next minute, I'm smacking my iPad to figure out what happens next. Since they were at a club, I assume he was saying "shots," but I may or may not have had shots at the SoftLayer Happy Hour, so I might have been projecting.

Needless to say, I was mentally writing a sternly worded email to the higher-ups at Apple as I smacked my iPad like a early 80's televesion set to get the movie to start again. The story was interesting, and I couldn't help but think about its motivational slant.

Sometimes when you do the same job for a few years, you lose focus of where you've been and where you're headed ... both on a personal level and on a company level. I've had the opportunity to see SoftLayer grow from "start-up mode" to where we are today, and in the course of that growth, I filled seven or eight different positions throughout the organization. From the frontlines of support to the back office of marketing to large scale projects that work strategically on the company as a whole, I've seen our success from every angle. And The Social Network reinvigorated me with a fresh wave of SoftLayer-focused motivation.

What I'm trying to figure out now is which perspective in the story I was most motivated by. Is it okay to be inspired by the way Zuckerburg executed on the idea of "thefacebook," or does the moral compass require me to root for the Harvard Connect gang? Does Sean Parker's vision for Facebook and influence on its growth lose steam if it's framed by how it affected Eduardo Saverin?

Regardless of which sides are the "right" ones to take, each involves a dramatic departure from the status quo. I'm not encouraging you to go start a legal war or model your business after Facebook's quasi-factual history, but don't be afraid to rock the boat a little if it needs to be rocked.

Jean-Paul Sartre once said, "Only the guy who isn't rowing has time to rock the boat." If that quote were to pick a side in the movie, it would be on the now-defunct Harvard Connect side ... With a few billion dollars less than the alternative.

-Skinman

February 11, 2011

Naming Rights

Anyone out there have a cool billion in cash lying around? If so, call Jerry Jones and you can have the naming rights to Cowboy Stadium. You know the one where they just played the Super Bowl and where they tried to break the all-time attendance record by putting in 20,000 temporary seats? Too bad the contractors that had been working 24/7 for 72 hours walked off the job 3 hours before the game and left 400 paying customers without seats.

With all that bad press, maybe you could get the naming rights for $800K now. If you want to give it a shot, you can send a check made out to SKINMAN C/O SoftLayer, and I'll do my best to get your name on the outside of the stadium ... even if I have to paint it there myself.

SoftLayer has lower rates on our naming rights. When we moved into our new Alpha Road headquarters, we were a little shocked to see how many conference rooms there were. If you've had a chance to see our office space, you probably came to the conclusion that it was designed with mouse/cheese-type mazes in mind. We had to figure out a good way to find things, so we actually decided to pay someone to help us name the conference rooms.

And so the contest began.

We asked all employees and a few outside creative agencies to nominate their favorite conference room themes, and we came up with quite a diverse list: Texas rivers, arcade game names (even though this one had been done before), beer brands, Scotch labels, football teams, colleges, types of Linux, processors names ... The list ended up including around 40 different themes. We voted to narrow down the top 5, and we let the C-levels and Lance make a final choice. The winning theme: Names that were significant in SoftLayer history.

With that direction, a few of us sat down and started thinking about all the things that got us here today. And BAM! conference room names abound.

Recently, our social media ninja gave you a glimpse at the conference rooms and promised that I'd come through and share the etymology of the names ... So here we go:

  • SLales – We tend to turn every word we can SL specific so this is the conference room closest to "sales" and we call is SLales!
  • CBNO – This is our large training room. As you might know by now, CBNO stands for "Challenging But Not Overwhelming." This is our internal mantra. Since the day I started at SoftLayer almost 4 years ago, this has been my life.
  • Geneous – Notice the spelling of "Genius" is incorrect. This is our board room ... There is a great story behind this name, but I have to let Lance tell it. If you want to hear it, leave a comment on this post, and I'll get him to throw together a blog specifically for this one.
  • Unicorn – If you've followed our blog for a while, you know that Sam Fleitman (COO) has been asked over and over to come up with things that just don’t exist. The joke became that he was always producing unicorns, and his office at one time was decorated heavily with they mythical beasts. In the new headquarters, his personal office is off limits (or so he thinks), so we dedicated a conference room to the memory of all the unicorns that have passed away.
  • Automation – Since we live it and breathe it, it was only fair that we name a conference room after it. If we do anything 3 times, someone is looking at automating it.
  • Innovation – We are bleeding edge, and that's the way we like it. This room is a reminder of that mentality.
  • 204A – This conference room is the actual building name for this room. A poor lawyer was stuck in this room right after we moved in, so we assume it is haunted by a phantom that dislikes lawyers. We chose not to name the room in respect for that ghost.
  • SLacker – We had a series of blogs previously that showed a schism in our workforce workforce. I am in the SLacker camp. This room is dedicated to all of us.
  • Pink – We have a certain CFO - who will remain nameless - that always wears pink. This is his personal conference room. It makes him feel special.
  • 3 Bars – Named after the small logo that we all know and love ... and are tattooed with.
  • SLayer – We had to throw the SLayers a bone, so we gave them a room too. Their jealousy of the beautifully named SLacker conference room could have been caustic.
  • Funky Truck – When the company was first starting out, this game almost single handedly stopped all progress. The original ten employees were a bit competitive at times, so this game had them each trying to one-up each other. Luckily they moved on to Facebook games.
  • 05-05-05 – May 5th, 2005 of course.
  • Jeep – Drive through our parking lot, and you'll see the inspiration for this conference room names. Being in Texas, our parking spaces have to accommodate a lot of Jeeps, trucks, SUVs ... and even a Smart Car or two.
  • Muenster – 3 Bars BBQ! It’s almost time. End of April. Muenster, Texas. GermanFest! This is now a long-standing tradition at SoftLayer: Go hang out, have some fun, relax and eat some 3Bars BBQ at the BBQ cookoff.
  • Midway – This room is named nostalgically after the street address of our very first office.
  • Sharkbyte – I don’t like sharks, they scare me. Someone else has to tell you all about this one.

-Skinman

January 31, 2011

Welcome to SoftLayer 2011

Wow, I can't believe it's already 2011. I vividly remember what a big deal Y2K was and what I was doing that night. Note to self: It might seem like it was just yesterday, but it wasn't, so you should probably stop telling people you're still 29 years old.

Speaking of time flying, I've been at SoftLayer for three and a half years now. I was hired as Customer Service Manager and immediately started looking at ways to help our customers love us even more. I found some notes that I scribbled after my second week here and I notice some pretty interesting goals. Here are a few that I was able to decipher ... some we knocked out of the park, some that are continuous efforts and some that we can still implement:

Completed:

  • Implement ticket rating and survey to monitor and track support quality
  • Build an on-boarding process to help new customers in their first 48 hours
  • Streamline the cancellation process

Continuous Processes:

  • Make sure current customers know they are more important than potential customers
  • Teach our customers about our processes and procedures

To Be Completed:

  • Include a link on the website and in the portal to get immediate feedback from customers
  • Start using webinars to answer customer questions and share technical tutorials
  • Create a customer advisory board to consult as we make business decisions about things like market expansions and new product releases

What does that mean? We still have ways to make our business even better for SoftLayer customers.

Enter my renewed focus: Customer Experience. In the next few weeks, I'll be talking to internal groups and customers alike to find ways that we can improve our service, products, automation ... and everything else for that matter. These discussions will involve every department in the company, so all is fair game.

Over the course of the next few months, we'll share a few of the things we hear and what we think we can do to continue to improve the SoftLayer customer experience.

The main goal is to find the perfect way to incorporate the 4 areas above and others into our daily lives. I have a few ideas now like; the link on the website, ways to teach our customers, marketing and sales and the webinars, and we are well on our way to having customer advisory boards and user group meetings. If you have ideas, I will appreciate anything you have to offer.

-Skinman

January 26, 2011

Time for an Oil Change?

<Fade In>
Man driving into Jiffy Lube, car sputtering and smoking.
Attendant: "Looks like you need an oil change buddy."
Buddy: "Yep, I think so. I was here last week and I think they used the wrong oil!"
Attendant: "Nah, we wouldn't do that. In fact we only have one kind of oil here and that's SAS 70."
Buddy: "Well, that's odd; I am told that I need SSAE 16 for mine to work right."
<Mass Confusion>

Welcome to my world! We have SAS 70 today, but soon we will have the new synthetic, non abrasive, engine-cleaning SSAE 16. Sounds fun right? I sure hope so.

Why the change? Good question. When SAS 70 first appeared in the early 90s, the world's economies weren't quite as intertwined as they are today. It was much harder to do business globally than it is now. (I think the "fad" called the internet has a little something to do with that but I could be wrong!) Now that the oceans have shrunk to a more manageable size, there is a need for the standards that companies use worldwide to match more closely. The goal of the U.S. Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements 16 (SSAE 16) is to meet a more uniform reporting standard.

What's the difference? It's an "attestation" not an "audit." Google and thefreedictionary.com define attestation as "To affirm to be correct, true, or genuine," and audit as "an inspection, correction, and verification of business accounts." Though they are closely related, they mean different things.

What stay's the same? The focus will still be on controls at service organizations when the controls are relevant to their user entities' internal control over financial reporting. (For some reason, servers tend to have quite a bit to do with that!) There will still be a Type 1 and Type 2 with similar scopes in format. The reports will look very similar but they should be a bit more descriptive. The report will still be used in the same methods and by the same type of user.

What Changes? SSAE 16 is now an attestation and not really an audit. The service auditor will still provide an opinion but it will align itself more closely with existing international attestation standards.

  • Written Management Assertion - Management will be required to provide an assertion, to be included in the report, stating the system is fairly represented, suitably designed and implemented and the related controls were suitably designed to achieve the stated control objectives, and that the controls operated effectively throughout the period. The report will reference that management is responsible for preparing the system description, providing the stated services, specifying the control objectives, identifying the risks, selecting the criteria and designing, implementing and documenting controls that are suitably designed and operating effectively. The auditor's opinion remains in the role of providing assurance, not as the entity responsible for the communication.
  • System Description - The more inclusive description must detail the services covered, classes of transactions, events other than transactions, report preparation processes, control objectives and related controls, complementary user controls and other relevant aspects of the organization's control environment, risk assessment process, information and communication systems, control activities and monitoring controls. (I think an accountant came up with all of that!)

There are quite a few other differences but I think these are the big headliners. SoftLayer is committed to making this change and having it available for our customers that require it. Our normal SAS 70 schedule is Nov. 1 – Oct. 31 but we will be accelerating the process to have the SSAE 16 in place as soon as possible.

We are continuously looking at other compliance, reporting, audits and certifications. If you have any that would help you and your business, let us know.

-Skinman

Categories: 
June 3, 2010

Skinman's Guide to Social Media

1. Can your company benefit from Social Media?
Yes! I think all companies can. From a point of branding or brand awareness the social media outlets can really give you some value. It can be additional website traffic, company transparency, or actual specials and sales but let’s face it the more people that see your name on the internet the better.

2. What is considered Social Media Spam?
To Spam you could use these tactics. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_networking_spam but don’t. You should be personable in sending your messages and don’t overdo it. Sure you can send a special or an interesting fact a few times especially if you have customers worldwide. You can always use the time zone excuse because most social media posts aren’t sticky and will be easily overlooked. The key is not using scripts to do your work for you.

3. What are some good tools to help?
I live on Hootsuite. www.hootsuite.com . This allows you to queue up tweets, Facebook status posts, and linked in conversations and I am sure there are more options on the way. Am I contradicting myself? No, because you still have to type in your updates and then schedule them according to your time zone needs. There are other great tools within Hootsuite for link clickthrough metrics and savable searches so you can keep track of what people are saying about you and also what your competitors are up to and what people think of them as well. It has a built in URL shrinking and photo uploading option also. You can have multiple users and granular security for those users. All in all, Hootsuite is a very valuable free tool for corporate social media.

4. If you get some bad feedback what should you do?
Take a deep breath, put on your big kid pants, layer on some thick skin and then think about your response and what you might say. Then take another deep breath, re-read your response 3 or 4 times and then try to make contact privately if possible. See if there is something you could have done better as sometimes constructive criticism can really help your company. If your attempts to make contact privately fail then you have to decide if a public response is necessary. Sometimes this can be a good idea and sometimes it is better to just let it fade. You have to use a little common sense on this one. If there are multiple posters on the same issue then a public response can be a great thing. If it is a single angry poster and the private requests fail then it is probably just better to let it go away on its own.

5. To support or not support?
I firmly believe that social media and social support/customer service are two very different things. The twitter account for SoftLayer is www.twitter.com/softlayer and I try to have a little fun, show a little transparency to our fans and customers, offer a special occasionally, but mainly try to get some traffic to our corporate website. I try to stay far away from customer support and only do light customer service. We have many other traditional ways to get support and service that our customers need to continue to use. In my book, if a customer has to resort to social media to get some attention from our sales or customer service teams, then we have already failed.

6. Have a little fun, have a personality
Now that you have the tools and know what to do and what not to do, have a little fun. Have a scavenger hunt, send out some swag, make a few friends get some followers and get to tweeting. Personality can go a long way in getting people interested in what you and your company are up to. Once you get it going it just becomes more and more fun. Look at the bright side there are much worse jobs you could have in the world.

-Skinman

May 27, 2010

Here I sit

So here I sit broken hearted, oh wait wrong story. Here I sit at the booth at GDC in Vancouver Canada in a traffic lull. There must be a good speaker talking at the moment. It gives me a moment to tell you about the refreshing “youth” of this industry. At this show people get it, they understand the model. This isn’t the largest show we will go to and might not sell a million servers but we are still getting the word out that outsourcing the hard stuff and letting people focus on what they do best is a great thing. Game developers don’t want to waste a day or two setting up a server they would rather be making their game. It’s also interesting listening to the students of game development at this show; I am learning what is going into the next big game. Here it is in a nutshell. You start with Zombies, and then have zombie riots where zombies kill some people and then you have the zombies take over the world and then you have a new breed of zombies that kill and eat the existing zombies. There you have it, the next big game! I want royalties. So for all you game lovers out there this is the place where it all begins and SoftLayer is doing everything we can to make sure these developers have the free time to make the next killer app. You can thank us anytime! And who knows maybe one of these guys will buy a million servers!

May 18, 2010

Skinman’s Travels

Well, I am on the final flight I have for about a month, finally. I left 8 days ago to go to Vancouver for the Game Developer Conference (GDC) for a great part of the trip. Even walking 10 miles with the great “walk-aholic” @gkdog and needing lots of oxygen was cool. We walked around Stanley Park and if you haven’t done it you should. It’s about a 6 mile loop and it gets the attention of all your senses. It was about 60 degrees (Fahrenheit) when we started on the bright, wind free side of the park and all was good.

As we walked we saw some pretty cool sights and I have attached a picture or two for you to see. Once you get past the bridge in the pictures

You round a corner and then the pacific winds hit you in the face and the sun hides behind the rock walls and trees.

I thought at first the temperature difference was about 10 degrees but as we kept walking I soon was glad I wore jeans, and not shorts, and my new comfortable shoes. At about 3 miles I was ready for a taxi but once you hit the backside of the park cars, taxis, helicopters and sea planes are hard to come by as well as “porto-potties”. But we kept walking. We saw giant cable wrapped bundles of lumber that must have fallen from their ships and washed ashore. Then we stumbled upon Kent Avery. The man can balance a rock. This picture is not faked in any way

And here is a cool video about him http://ow.ly/1M3AQ. I watched him stack two or three rocks and he just balances it and then adds another and then another. Did I mention there is a 10mph wind blowing and not one stack of rocks fell.

We made it around the park and then walked the rest of the 10 miles to get to a small restaurant on Robson hill. Yea, I said hill and yea we had to walk up it. After sitting at the restaurant for about 3 hours I could barely move. The hotel bed that night was a welcome site. The next day it was off to San Francisco for Citrix Summit and Synergy. This was a much larger show and the first thing I noticed while walking towards the convention center was the people who had already checked in were wearing branded Citrix and SoftLayer lanyards around their necks to hold their access badge. It was really cool. I can’t count how many people I talked to that noticed my SoftLayer shirt and asked what we did just because we were on the lanyard with Citrix. Overall this was a great show. Nathan Day was on a round table and then discussed Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and Public and Private Clouds. The entire team of 7 stayed extremely busy for the show.

SoftLayer is becoming more and more known everywhere I go. Infrastructure as a service must be here to stay, because I don’t get to stay in one place very long at the moment. Flight 566 from San Fran to Dallas is about 20 minutes out. See you on the ground!

May 5, 2010

Network!

I am just curious how many ways we use the word network and how many different meanings it has. If you think about it we use it in many ways. The word was first seen in the 1500’s and related to knitting and weaving silk like a net and then in the 1600’s it refers to reticulate structures in animals and plants. In the 1800’s it is used to refer to rivers, canals, railways, and a distribution of electrical cables. In 1914 it is used to describe a wireless broadcasting system. Yep, I said 1914 and wireless in the same sentence (think Radio). Read more here.

As you can see the word has the possibility for quite a few meanings. We use the word today for quite a few things. We do this with other words in the English language as well. Here are a couple of my favorites.

“They’re over there talking about their cars.” And “He should sell those sails while they are on sale.”

The English language can be very tricky because the same words can have different meaning or different words can sound the same when spoken. Here is my best attempt at a network sentence.

“I was on my wireless network, networking with some of my in-network physicians while watching my favorite network TV show.” Um, could I get some help diagramming this sentence over here?

According to Google Webmaster tools SoftLayer uses the word Network 1916 times on our entire site. The only other word we use more is of course the word SoftLayer (because we like our name I assume!) and it has a total of 7235. I think you will see in the coming months that these two numbers will get closer together as we have just rolled out our new network.

You can read all about it here and if you like what you see then please click our “Like” button in the upper right corner of the page. Here are a few of the fun details:

  • 1,000 Gbps of connectivity between 3 data centers and 7 points of presence – It makes a great network that looks like a net!
  • Increased number of transit providers and peers - more control, lower latency, improved routes - PING times will improve.
  • VPN Access to all PoPs – reduces latency between you and our network.
  • Enterprise Grade DNS located in all 10 PoPs – this will improve d performance and help with DDOS mitigation.
  • Direct Connections to PoPs – Get a Metro WAN direct to SoftLayer private network.

Keep looking for more new announcements in the coming weeks. I would make a checklist but it would be very long and would take too much of my time to manage!

April 22, 2010

32K

I know this is old news, but this GoGo inflight wireless is pretty cool. I am 32,000 feet up right now and connected to all my fun, social media toys. I have been tweeting, facebooking, and now I decided to hammer out a blog about it. The really cool thing to me is that I am RDP’d to my desktop at the office and am able to do my email in my native client and have access to all of my different instant messaging networks. I am even going to message our web guys and see if we can have this blog published before I land. I have my power adapter, my seat has a power port and they are serving me a diet coke right now. Man, if I could get this kind of service at the office I might stop traveling because this is the life. No walk up chatting to interrupt my hard working ways, no blenders to tempt me to waste time and blend something, and also no temptation to leave for lunch and go to Rafain’s to eat 6000 calories of fantastic, spicy beef. The snacks on the plane are a bit expensive, so I might even lose a few pounds.

I am in flight back from Cloud Expo in New York and it was amazing how many more people understand the cloud this year than last year. All in all it was a good show. We met a few more of our customers, and once again, we had many compliments. We really like to hear them, so if we end up at a show close to you, please come see us. We will even let you complain if you need to, but we are confident you won’t have to. You can always walk away with a little piece of SoftLayer swag, ranging from a shirt or a cup, to a Frisbee or maybe even a little free computing power.

The next show on my agenda is GDC in Vancouver and then Citrix Synergy in San Francisco. Come by and see me in person! I don’t bite, but I do growl a little. Look out for the upcoming tweets with booth numbers and show times, and as always we might have something special to hand you.

While you are at it - come check us out on Facebook, flickr, twitter and the rest!

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