Moving Beyond the Integration of Solutions
Product lifecycle management sits in between two extremes. At one end is the systematic approach, at the other is the ‘set and forget’ zero approach. Clive Gilmore, Hanley CEO and co-founder admits that Hanley started out with the latter – delivering products without a formalized process to manage performance and support. That soon looked like a vulnerability. Our business model is based on a product,” says Clive, “but our focus is on the service.”
Perhaps it’s a claim that most businesses would make, but Hanley Energy can provide authentic examples of drilling down on the service aspect to achieve results in complex multi-vendor environments. Take the challenge of working in a variety of markets.
“One of the big issues for us was globalisation of our products,” he explains. “We had to support products in different regions, which meant we had to use the same principles to look after the design of the product and all of the elements that go into it.”
Hanley Energy not only found themselves managing the design, mechanical, electrical, and electronic documentation in different languages, but also addressing supply chain issues.
“As we went into different countries, there was the issue of what our products would become as we produce them. For example, the standards that apply in the US compared to here in Europe.”
These aren’t challenges that can be addressed on an ad hoc basis, so Hanley needed a more long-term, efficient strategy. That proved to be product lifecycle development.
“Within product lifecycle management we cater for all of those, but what you see on the surface is service,” says Clive.
Problem Resolution through Lifecycle Management
“As the business developed we began to offer more formal elements for preventative maintenance, such as a helpline number, so we could repeat the experience in different regions as we went in,” states Clive.
Progress was incremental and the learning curve formidable.
“We discovered as a fledgling manufacturer that the world’s not perfect, which was a huge discovery for us,” Clive confesses. “We were taking in products from other suppliers that were occasionally subject to recall.”
And young or growing businesses will recognise the ingredients for a catastrophe. Luckily for Hanley, there were safeguards already in place.
Says Clive: “At the very start, we had some very good engineers on the Hanley Energy team who put a serialisation and number tracking system on every product. Without that, it would have caused us immeasurable grief because we were able then to go back through our install base and identify the problematic products and we knew where they were in the world. If we had not had that, it would have been very costly on the business to find these products and put in a replacement.”
It’s a useful illustration that while lifecycle management is an intrinsic part of service, the service does not depend uniquely on human interaction. In this case, it was as simple as having the foresight to plant a solution upstream of the potential problem.
There was a single, clear motivating factor for Hanley to graduate to lifecycle management and to “get serious” in Clive’s words.
“We could see that our products were scaling and we recognised that we didn’t have a system of supporting our products in the field that was best in class. Entering the Japanese market was very complex because we were not entering it in English and we realised that this is where the layers came in, supporting the design of the product, the documentation around installing it, serving it, changing all these into Japanese.”
Establishing a solution for the Japanese market was prudent. Realising that this was only the beginning was practically genius.
Says Clive: “We realised that we would have to do this in other jurisdictions and we realised we’d have to come up with a repeatable process. That’s why we named it lifecycle management because we were focused on the delivery side.”
So confident were the team in the new approach that, “We left the word product out in all of our outward facing documentation,” according to Clive.
The Value of Trust and Simplicity
Critics might suggest that while Hanley were opening up a point of differentiation to their advantage, they were nevertheless giving away a commodity for free.
For Clive, the issue was a non-starter. Hanley’s focus had to be on customer experience and satisfaction.
“I wanted somebody that had never seen one of our products before to have all the tools immediately available to service it without leaving it, excluding hardware,” he says. That was especially important because, “a lot of our products are placed in environments where they’re highly secure so bringing in materials is both time consuming and not always possible.”
The Benefits of a Customer Helpline
How could Hanley continue to serve customers who had taken delivery of their product already? The solution was to develop a helpline strategy to maximise uptime.
“We implemented a QR code system that allowed a service technician to scan the QR code. If they then have access they can then get into our engineering portal where the translated documents are available, the electrical schematics and further links to support engineers,” Clive explains.
Yes, it was partly about customer experience, but there was also a shrewder business objective.
“You have to own your numbers,” says Clive. “If you lose your numbers, you end up with other people’s numbers on the product.”
Overcoming Logistical Challenges
Other factors also spurred Hanley on in the push to establish a pre-prepared system for customers to resolve support issues. For example, there was the simple logistical challenge of serving USA customers from Ireland without the resources of a staffed office in the States.
“We didn’t have 24 hour access to the right person,” Clive says, and that was too great a risk to take in complex hyper-scale cloud environments, where “just trying to get the product to work can be catastrophic.”
The solution was to take the element of risk away from the customer side early on and to “wrap enough support around the engineer so that they took the step of realising it was potentially risky and contacted the manufacturer.”
Rethinking Operational Teams
Offering readily available, ongoing support also resolved another issue that continued to plague delivery. In the early days, customers had a tendency to form relationships with dedicated engineers or other team members. That might sound like a customer service coup, but it wasn’t streamlining the process from Hanley’s end.
“They want their cellphone number,” explains Clive. Customers develop a habit of interacting with one engineer they know only. That could potentially leave both parties exposed in an emergency. The solution for Hanley was to manage the behaviour proactively through support labels and the helpline.
The Acceptable Cost of Lifecycle Management
One of the easiest missiles to toss in the direction of Hanley’s lifecycle management-focused approach is that it represents an unnecessary cost for the business.
“It could be seen as an overhead,” Clive allows, “but in reality it’s an investment.”
The distinction comes down to a question of foresight. Clive explains:
“If you don’t make that investment, you’ve got to start accruing for the losses. Because eventually you’re going to have some remedial action and you’ll have no plan or structure with it. The costs will rise exponentially.”
A Boost for Customer relationships
Not surprisingly, Hanley’s approach is a hit with customers. “It gets a lot of buy in,” says Clive. “It brings customers comfort.” He is keen to point out, rather generously, that there is nothing particularly revolutionary about the strategy.
“In our own domestic worlds when we purchase anything we’re very concerned about the service,” he says, “and how local and effective it is.” The data centre kingdom is no different, according to Clive. “For some of our customers, it’s a new and evolving business.”
The change sweeping the sector is that ‘build at any cost’ with little attention to long-term ROI has ceded supremacy to a mature, rational industry that is able to evaluate the future critically. In fact, it has now reached the point where, “without those tools, you may not get the sale of the product or win the customer’s support,” according to Clive.
Perhaps the defining feature of lifecycle management is that it turns a transactional into an ongoing relationship.
According to Niall Franklin, Chief Strategy Officer, it means that, “We’re invested all the way in. We don’t wave goodbye to a product once it sits on the customer side. We still have an ongoing relationship and it definitely improves the way the customer sees you. Our name is on it and we’re with you, fully invested. That helps on a relationship front and it puts you further up the value chain.”
A Trusted Resource for the Customer
Clive offers a thought-provoking reminder of the surprises (and rewards) that nurturing long-term customer relationships can bring.
“We had a hyper-scale customer that we made a product for,” he says, “and they came to us one day and said ‘You’ve made a lot of product for us but we don’t know how many and where they are. Do you?’”
It was an interesting reversal in power dynamics, but not one that was overwhelming for Hanley.
“In fact, it took us about 11 seconds,” remembers Clive. “That was a game-changer.”
Not only did Hanley have the customer’s roadmap to hand, but they also had “information about their broader infrastructure that they didn’t.”
Clive is quick to point out that this lack of visibility on the customer’s part is by no means through oversight or lack of process.
“There are very few corporations that have their record keeping glued together in a fashion that allows them to run a single report,” he says. “So it wasn’t really that they didn’t know where the products were, but that they’d have to contact about 15 offices and spend hours to get that information.”
Step forward the Hanley Energy team, will all the information readily available. As Niall notes, “These are things you’d expect to see with very large vendors and we do that as a specialist integrator.” From the outside, it looks like operating as an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM).
How to Scale Lifecycle Management
Now that Hanley’s lifecycle management process is delivering proven benefits and eliminating certain catastrophes, any reasonable business guru would ask what the opportunities are to monetise and scale the process.
That’s not where Hanley are coming from, however, not least because “It’s a fairly standard process or business philosophy,” in Clive’s words.
Instead, the push beyond solution integration for Hanley has been driven more out of a desire to future-proof the business.
“As data centre becomes part of every body and businesses lives and we become more reliant on it, we made the assumption that this would become a regulated industry,” Clive explains.
A little clairvoyant perspective later and Hanley decided that “all of our processes would be built with that in mind so that when that day comes it won’t extinguish us.”
The benefits aren’t reserved solely for Hanley, either. For the customer, “It takes the risk out of dealing with us on an ongoing basis,” according to Clive. “And it helps us to get up to speed in country faster. The portal allows instantaneous access around the world.”
It might come as a surprise, therefore, to learn that providing value to customers – while important – was not the primary driver behind establishing lifecycle management as the modus operandi.
“From the very beginning we wanted to have a sustainable impact on the world and have a business philosophy that was cradle to recycling,” says Clive. “The notion was that our products were not only managed but that they weren’t just dumped and becoming waste after their use.”
By retaining visibility of and influence over products throughout the lifecycle, Hanley were able to better anticipate and influence decisions around the end of life stage.
Drive for Sustainability with Lifecycle Management
According to Niall, “It’s no longer about the introduction of products to market, but about their maturity, potential decline and withdrawal. It’s thinking about what comes after and replaces products, even for those that are fully lifecycle managed.”
The opportunity for companies like Hanley, according to Niall, is to link sales into preventative maintenance.
Does this long-term vision embrace sustainability too? For Clive, it certainly does.
“At the discrete level it comes down to the selection of product components,” he elaborates. “We select products that have a lifecycle management process of themselves, and that can be recycled.”
Cynics might erupt in indignation at the mention of data centres and sustainability in the same sentence, but Clive is quick to point out that while they are huge consumers of power, data centres are also “huge investors in sustainable and renewable energy.”
He alludes to the example of a well-known data centre titan with a sprawling global footprint that might not be the go-to answer in a sustainability quiz. Nevertheless, 45% of their energy is renewable.
For their part, Hanley are certainly willing to assume responsibility for the initiatives within their reach.
“We’re playing an enormous part in the drive for sustainability,” Clive stresses. “Our systems control gigawatts of generator capacity. Within that, we have very complex control systems that limit the amount of starts and limit the amount of run time. We’re very fortunate that there’s a commercial lifecycle within that and that we’ve been able to use our systems to make an impact on the environment.”