Is the Microsoft Cloud… dotcom 2.0?

I’ve been working with enterprise software for over 25 years. I had the fortune in late 90s to work in the.com era with a bunch of really sharp guys who Launched a CRM Solution. The funny thing was it was such early CRM that it wasn’t even called CRM when I first started . We called it TCM, or total customer management which was integration of sales, service and marketing in a single customer database.

During that time there were software companies popping up all over the place, and plenty of funding available from VC Firms. It seemed like they were IPOs every week and some people made as much if not more money Day-trading tech stocks as they did selling software.

I remember converting a bedroom in my home to an office and being the one guy in the state of Ohio building a territory like it was my own franchise. It was amazing at how busy I was and how after one or two meetings,we were able to get contracts. It was nothing unique about me or the company I was with but more to the state of the economy at that time. There was also a change in technology away from the main frame as well as the impending year 2000 and the potential impact on computing. If anything, We had a lot of really smart people that could understand our customers business and share relevant stories of similar customers that we were able to help. The biggest challenge was awareness so it was all about evangelism. This was way before social media and 1:1 email marketing tools so it was email, fax blasts and a lot of phone calls. Once the meeting happened…magic.

So how does that compare to today. About three months ago I went to a less than two-year-old company to help build out the sales organization all around Microsoft cloud technology. The company has hired very senior resources and build a business with 3 Practice areas all around the Microsoft Cloud. The 3 Practice Areas include Modern Workplace, Azure Data and Governance and Custom App Dev/Dynamics. Similar to my experience in the.com era, This company, called Applied Cloud Systems aka ACS and has a lot of really smart people and a lot of great stories about how we have helped companies move to the cloud.

What seems crazy to me and what reminds me about the.com days is just how many companies are either migrating to the cloud or are asking for help now that they are in the cloud. It is not uncommon for me to have 5 to 6 meetings per week where I walk out of meetings and immediately start drafting a proposal or contract. I see so many similarities between what I am experiencing right now and what I experienced almost 20 years ago in terms of the level of anticipation for new technology, the desire to transform, and the limited resources available to do so. Just like in the days of the late 90s, where This company I worked for was seemingly able to scratch the itch, Microsoft cloud technology and ACS are seemingly having a similar impact for customers embarking on digital transformation. Much like the dot com days, I find myself evangelizing in an effort to let people know what we are all about. Guess what, with the really smart people that I get to take to meetings with me…we get into the room…magic. I say that somewhat tongue and cheek but we seem to have cracked the code and are delighting customers and creating real value which is leading to lasting partnerships. It feels very similar to those days in the 90s.

There are 2 other times in my career that I have had this much fun, the dot com days before the bubble and when I helped to launch Dynamics CRM to the Enterprise as an incubation business for Microsoft. This is quickly rising to the top for me.

To learn more about Applied Cloud Solutions aka ACS, reach out to me at rhackenberg@appliedcloudsystems.com or visit http://www.appliedcloudsystems.com

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Playing Time vs Status – A Player/Parent/Club Dilemna and a look back at our childhood.

As a parent of two teenagers, I will tell you that I want the best for my kids. I want to provide for them, to protect them, and want them to succeed in every area of their lives. I am quite certain that I am not alone in that mindset as every generation seeks to make things better and easier than their generation had it. This societal ideal has created quite a challenge in competitive youth athletics. It manifests itself across playing fields and courts all over the United States, on a year round basis. For me, in my role as a coach and administrator for a youth soccer club, summer is the time of year that I see it the most and the time when emotions over logic often prevail.

I happen to live in a market which I am sure is similar to a lot of other areas in the country where there is so much access for those that can afford club sports (different topic for a different day). There are clubs competing for the same players literally a few miles apart and in our area there is a huge “Keeping up with the Jones” mentality that clubs are expanding with satellite groups in different geographies in an effort to grow. What happens in reality, is a further dilution of the player pool and the creation of more “Elite” or top teams. If a player tries out and does not get invited to a top team, they can easily zip to another nearby tryout and in the hopes of making that top team AKA “Elite”.

So what does this have to do with the subject line anyway? The preceding commentary was really to provide a bit of a back drop about the landscape. That environment also creates this “Grass is Greener” and club exodus every spring. See, as soon as things don’t go well for a player, whether that is positional or playing time which could be the result of a number of factors, there is a culture of secrecy, rumors and schemes where parents and sometimes groups of parents begin to plot their course for their next move. Instead of speaking with the club or the coach, they choose to seek out other options.

Our club has tried to create a progressive development model that would allow for multiple teams per age group. The idea behind it to create tiers of teams that compete at the appropriate tier and have success. It seems to be working so far in that 25-30% of our Regional Eligible teams have advanced to Regionals at their respective competitive tiers. There are a few other larger clubs like ours that have had similar experience.

From a player perspective, the idea is that a player can move up or down at any time throughout their career based on where they happen to be developmentally. Whether they got a late start and need to be in a development environment to build a foundation or perhaps a player who is early in the birth year and enjoyed a size, strength and speed advantage early on that suddenly finds themselves surrounded by players that have caught up. Of course there are the late bloomers that sometimes do better in an environment where they can build more confidence and return to individual success.

While well intended, it appears that not all people agree with the model especially if that means that their son or daughter does not make that coveted “Elite Team”. Refer to the second paragraph. Every year, every club seems to lose players to other clubs due to either playing time or team placement. Often, the response to less than desired playing time is that perhaps that player would be a better fit for different team in the club where they may be able to have a larger role, play in their preferred position, rebuild or develop increased confidence or even develop leadership capabilities. The unfortunate part of that is in a number of cases, that conversation does not always happen as some folks are already in search of the next opportunity. Times have certainly changed since the days that most of us participated in sports.

Below are 3 examples from the past that illustrate where taking a larger role on a “Less than Elite” team worked out for the player.

Over 35 years ago, when I was 12 years old making the transition from 6 Little League teams to 2 Pony League Teams, I found myself in new territory. In little league, I was the lead off hitter, played shortstop, second base, center field and pitcher. When I went to Pony League, I was very small and had a June birthday which meant I was also young. I was somehow selected for the “A” team as a backup center fielder. I batted way down in the lineup and played only sparingly in Center Field. The next year I asked the coaches if they thought that I could play shortstop if I played on the “B” team. Imagine that, I rode my bike to the fields without my parents and spoke to the coaches myself. That same year, I was the lead off batter and primarily played short stop. I also pitched and played second base, third base and center field on occasion. I had a lot of fun with my teammates and made the all-star team. For me, it was more important that I played than the team I was on. I had friends on both teams and quickly became friends with the players that I just met. It was only recently that I even recalled having done that, likely because as kids, we rode our bikes to the park or carpooled in a big wood-paneled station wagon and the parents didn’t seem to be as involved. They knew that if we were playing on a team, or in a game, that we were probably not getting in trouble.

Mark Kelso is a member of the Western PA Sports Hall of Fame, and Played 8 years for the Buffalo Bills in the late 80s/early 90s. Mark chose playing time over status and it resulted in 4 Super Bowl Appearances and a great NFL Career. According to Mark, he was looking at two things when selecting a college. “I wanted to be sure that I received a great education first. Second, I wanted to be developed as a football player and go to a school where if I worked hard, I would be able to play as a Freshman. I didn’t really want to go to a big school and be what the coaches called a 2 year player.” Mark had some offers from some bigger schools but attended William & Mary where he started as a Freshman, earned Academic All-American honors, and a 10th Round Draft Pick of the Philadelphia Eagles. He ended up signing with the Buffalo Bills as a Free-Agent and played his entire career with that one Team.

Only 3 years ago, I coached 2 U11 Boys Teams, Blue and White. As we were moving to U12, I had a player that was a little quiet, small in stature with developing skills and nice vision. I felt like he may be overshadowed a little by some of the big personalities on his current team. With a full roster, each player essentially played 1/2 of every game. I approached his father at tryouts and shared the potential that I saw in him. I suggested that if he played on the white team, he would get more playing time, could play and more prominent position and possibly develop leadership skills. The father said to me and I quote…”You are the expert, if you think that is best for his development, I trust your judgement.” It is a less than typical response and we proceeded. That next year he developed as a central defender and never came off the field, each week you could see him becoming more of a leader and his confidence grew. After that year, we had a large merger of two competing clubs as well as the age group change from school year to birth year classifications. Despite the bigger player pool at tryouts with the merger, he made the clubs’ regional team and has remained there ever since.

In all 3 cases above, players were willing to participate on teams where they would see more playing time over the name brand or title of the team and therefore, accelerate their development. The challenge for parents and players today seems to be as much about status of team as anything. There is a tendency and desire to “manage” the situation. It is only natural to want to what is best for their children and the key is to examine what is best for their overall development both as a player and a person. If you are a coach or a player finding yourself in this situation, consider having a conversation about the both the “why” and the development opportunity. If you are a coach, be open with the player and do it early so there are no surprises. If you suspect something as a player, talk to your coach. Let these be life lessons that your child can learn from. It is not a bad thing to develop leadership skills or confidence and learn how to manage and hopefully overcome adversity. So, if your son or daughter is destined for a different team in the same club, know that they will still have something to strive for so consider that before jumping ship and starting over in a different club.

Perhaps these are a bit “Old School”, perhaps not. Let’s try to remember what is was like back in the day when we all had to to walk to school in 2 feet of snow, uphill, both ways. Back in the day, players fought for playing time and there seemed to be fewer questions and challenges to the decisions of the coaches and administrators. Maybe times should not always need to change.

“There is nothing wrong with setting goals for yourself to achieve at the highest levels, and working as hard as you can to realize them, even if you fall short, you will learn a lot about yourself.” – Mark Kelso.

There are a plenty of life lessons to be learned here both from positive outcomes and disappointment.

Coach Rich

Youth Soccer attrition…real-life stats!

I saw the following memory today on my Facebook feed as several teams in my club prepare for their finals in the State Cup while almost every soccer family in Western PA is carefully planning and plotting their schedules for tryouts this coming week for the next playing year.

This is a perfectly timely memory for that day and something that all parents of young athletes should pay attention to. This picture is from the 2009 Soccerfest when these boys were 7 years old and U8. That same event is happening on those same fields today. As I look at this team that was full of talented little athletes with bright futures, I see absolute statistical evidence about youth sports. Only 2 of these players are still playing soccer and 2 others are successful playing other sports. This is not an indictment on this group at all but just a simple illustration of how things change as kids get older. The attrition rate in youth sports is real and this evidence is displayed in this simple Facebook memory. These kids could remain athletes, become teachers, physicians, artists or musicians, who knows but the bottom line is that they were all at one time…athletes.

These boys are now 17 years old. For all of my friends with kids in sports….Please…enjoy this time now and don’t be in such a hurry to take them to the National Team, listen to your coaches and club administrators.

Don’t discuss the game, the coaches or other players in the car, this is about your child and not you. Enjoy the games, leave the referees alone. Don’t try to over manage your kids’ careers. Let them “Play” the “Game”. There are so many great lessons and life skills to be learned from athletics and it is our responsibility to allow our children to live the experiences good and bad, themselves.

All people end their athletic careers at some point for a variety of reasons and it goes by really fast. I really hope that players leave their sports and athletic careers enriched and satisfied and not because of pressure, burnout or lack of fun.

I have several players on a team that I coached since they were 8,9 or 10 who will be playing in their last Club Soccer Game this afternoon. They have only played for one club and I am happy to see that these boys have been able to experience a team, and a sport full of ups and downs, failures and achievement. My sole wish is that these experiences shape the men they become.

If you are a parent, coach or Administrator, you have a direct impact on the experience that youth athletes have. Let these kids participate on their terms, let them fail, watch them succeed and let the experience be theirs.

In Sport,

CoachRich8