Thanks to the Super Bowl, the L.A. Rams are trending, and, coincidently, Cisco recently held a briefing on their IT work on SoFi Stadium.
This stadium is a standing demonstration of how to use technology to improve the fan experience. But this is also an example of how to assure the success of a large, complex, cutting-edge IT project.
SoFi Stadium is in Inglewood, California, and it is the home of the Super Bowl-bound Los Angeles Rams as well as the Los Angeles Chargers. The stadium was designed from the ground up to be a digital venue and to allow for both the networks covering the game and the fans watching it to have 4K video performance inbound and outbound to enhance the experience.
I have often found that going to a stadium for the camaraderie and sheer excitement makes it harder to see plays because even if you have a front row seat, the action mostly occurs where you are not. Thus, being able to also watch the video stream either on the huge central monitors or on your own smartphone or tablet can significantly improve the overall experience. This stadium is presented as the most advanced so far this decade: it is a cashless implementation; it has 100% digital signage; the infrastructure can offer true instant replays; and it has 2,500 Wi-Fi 6E access points providing amazing wireless performance for fans and vendors.
But as amazing as this stadium is, it is the technology bidding process that helped create it, and how it drove powerful customer advocacy for Cisco, that I found interesting.
The comprehensive RFP
Often, when companies bid out technology, they do so at a very granular level. X number of servers, Y number of routers, Z number of PCs, etc. This is much like it would be if you ordered a car part by part. You order an engine, a body, frame, wheels, tires, transmission, etc. When all that stuff arrives, you assemble the car and hope it runs. If you have ever known someone who bought a kit car, chances are it remained unassembled until it was sold to someone else.
The same is true when it comes to complex IT projects. IT orders the parts, attempts to build what it is they want, either directly or with another service provider, and the deployment then either fails to finish or fails to meet expectations. This is due to a combination of things, including a lack of familiarity with technology, a lack of understanding by the general contractor, and interoperability issues with the solution.
Instead, the folks building SoFi Stadium wrote an RFP on what they wanted as a solution and sent it out for bids. The vendors responding then knew that they would be the one throat to choke when it came to accountability. They had to fully understand what the customer wanted, or they would be burned by the process, as the common penalty clauses ate up the related profits.
Cisco won the SoFi IT bid, and the SoFi folks were so impressed with the outcome they became powerful advocates and led most of the presentation at the recent briefing with success stories.
The power of potent customer advocacy
The first thing I ask a vendor before deciding on a bid is who their advocates are, and can I chat with a couple of them? Often the response is something to the effect that projects are confidential, or the nature of the business, which may be true for financial or government accounts, prevents them from becoming advocates. But without talking to an advocate, I cannot confirm whether the bidder is able to do what it promises or if working with that entity has some unknown risks I will regret not knowing.
Assuming the advocate received similar services to what I seek, a strong advocate can help confirm the bidding entity can do what it claims it will do once the contract is set. IBM used to almost stand-alone in its ability to get advocates that aggressively supported the company from every business vertical. Cisco has recently adopted that strategy, which was evident at the SoFi briefing and in many of its Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) program participants. And while CDA is government-based, Cisco’s program appears to have no problem creating government advocates.
The reason behind this is the focus on complete solutions. Cisco must understand what is needed and have the skills, products, and partnerships to execute as well as a tight focus on creating a customer advocate — by assuring a very high focus on customer satisfaction and loyalty. Cisco owns the project, ensures its successful completion, and by doing so, gains a powerful advocate that drives additional sales.
A few years back, a leading IT vendor had a ranking system for existing and potential customers based on a net promoter score. They would choose projects and customers that were more focused on the successful completion of a project than the bid price. This allowed them to be more selective. Customers that bought parts on price and were both unprofitable and unhappy were actively blocked or eliminated, so the vendor’s competitors ended up with them.
While Cisco’s effort is less programmatic, the result is similar. By focusing on solutions and satisfaction, it delivers a higher-value product, one that its customers are excited about and will share. This sharing is a huge help to closing deals because it is far easier to sign a contract with a vendor that has a long list of happy customers over another vendor that has more excuses than advocates.
In the end, the SoFi Stadium IT project is both an example of how RFPs should be generated and how to focus on the strategic nature of advocates over the tactical nature of individual product price leadership. My own view is that I am happy to pay more for a solution that meets or exceeds expectations over saving a few bucks to get the lowest price on what will be a failed project.