"The Death of Core Competency" - book on cloud computing

mwonow

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Hey folks - I'm not sure if this is of interest to the people on this board, but I recently published a book on cloud computing. "The Death of Core Competency: A management guide to cloud computing and the zero-friction future" is structured in four parts. The first focuses on the enterprise/executive implications of cloud, and what a reduction in the friction associated with automation will mean to corporate and executive strategy. The second section, "Twelve steps to the cloud," presents a structured approach to adopting cloud-based systems and expanding them through an organization. The third, "Workshopping the cloud," has insights on key issues (cloud business planning, IaaS adoption, security, Big Data, etc.) gleaned from some of the research and consulting work I've done over the years, and the fourth section, "Building bridges to the zero-friction future," is a compilation of the book's advice for companies, and for non-management staff members, IT management and executive management.
 
If anyone here is interested in this topic, I'm happy to answer questions raised by the book, and/or on cloud generally - and I'd be really happy to get feedback from you!
 

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Hoping to hear from at least a few of you!
 
 

jercra

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I pretty much struggle with all of these and more every day.  I'm looking forward to reading this.  What's your background on the topic? 
 

AlNipper49

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I'd actually say it's the opposite. Nearly every entity which outsources infrastructure and process to the cloud does so because they would like to concentrate on their core competency with more vigilance and focus.
 

Blacken

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AlNipper49 said:
I'd actually say it's the opposite. Nearly every entity which outsources infrastructure and process to the cloud does so because they would like to concentrate on their core competency with more vigilance and focus.
This.
 

mwonow

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Thanks, all! In quick response...
 
My background is 25+ years as a consultant to (mostly) vendors and also channel members and end-users of technology. More here if you're interested: http://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelwoneil
 
Re: core competency and death - there are two threads that connect around this. One is that for the most part (and despite a common corporate perception), technology has not been either a particularly high-risk nor fast-moving investment area for most enterprises. There are a lot of anecdotes about failed projects, but (as this board would know better than most!) anecdotes are a poor substitute for data, and data shows that on a micro basis, investments in technology solutions generally yield a positive ROI.and on a macro basis, investments in technology (and not labour) have been the key driver of economic progress - certainly since 2009, and likely for some time before that. In the book, I argue that for the most part, these solution technologies are used to optimize what businesses do already, rather than to change what they do/how it is done (meaning that they don't really challenge management to consider fundamental changes to core processes). There are exceptions to this - PCs, ecommerce, and the Internet were truly disruptive. They also yielded a wide range of (anticipated and unanticipated) benefits, but in each case, the companies deploying the technologies were generally optimizing for a single key outcome (productivity, remote transactions, content distribution). Additionally, the friction associated with deployment of new technology, in terms of both IT bandwidth and cost reduced the scope for new automation. As recently as 2008, Gartner estimated that a poorly-managed desktop PC cost up to $5800 per year to operate, and a poorly-managed laptop cost nearly $10,000 per year; the cost of PCs didn't stop their use by everyone with a desk, but they did reduce available capital for other automation projects.
 
The other thread involves management comfort levels. Virtually everyone who has ever worked in a corporate environment has heard executives say "we are going to focus on our core competencies," or alternatively, "those who have too many priorities have none." From a technology perspective, in a world where the ability to deploy new automation is constrained by IT staff bandwidth and investment capital, this approach works, because that constraint applies to all competitors.
 
Cloud, though, changes this equation. On the one hand, cloud is truly disruptive, in that it allows for entirely new ways of applying technology to business issues - for example, it allows for automation and integration of tasks that were previously unautomated or poorly automated. On the other, cloud-based automation is, in practical terms, "zero friction." The cost of cloud-based infrastructure and applications is vastly lower than the cost of on-premise equivalents. On an apples-to-apples basis, cloud is on average anywhere from 30%-70%+ less expensive than on-premise applications or infrastructure, but apples-to-apples is hard to apply here, as cloud will over time provide accelerating benefits that aren't available with on-prem technologies. Additionally, because cloud is delivered as a service, it reduces the constraint of IT staff bandwidth, as some of the service requirements associated with the set-up and management of the technology transfer from the buyer to the seller.
 
The upshot - at least in my opinion - is that the executives who say "we're going to focus on our core competencies" are doomed. Being extremely good at a handful of things will not be a successful strategy when competitors are able to adopt automation to be good/very good at dozens of different things. Based on some not-terribly-exhaustive research into SaaS providers, I identified 41 discrete business tasks that can be automated with SaaS today; add in the ones I didn't capture, infrastructure options like IaaS and its offshoots, and vertical-specific overlays ("business operations" has meaning in both healthcare and financial services, for example, but the meanings are different), and the figure gets much higher. Multiply 40-odd possible avenues for business optimization by the number of ways of being "best" at using each technology - deploying applications with the best functionality, lowest cost, that are the easiest to integrate, offer the best modularity/expandibility, are easiest to use, etc. - and you end up with many, many ways to construct an optimal approach to business automation. This leads to an uncomfortable position for executives: they generally want to pursue a limited number of objectives, and believe (with some reason) that they'll be viewed as lacking consistency if they pursue too many objectives at the same time. However, some executives will figure out how to capitalize on the zero-friction options available to them, and their firms will be more successful than their less-agile competitors.
 
Sorry if this is in the tl;dr category! But if you're still with this discussion...At a session in September, I heard a guy quote a senior healthcare leader as saying something like "for everything we've done well, that saves us a couple of million dollars, there are a hundred things that could save us a few hundred thousand that we're not getting to. The cycle is too long." With cloud, the cycle is much shorter. The companies that capitalize not just on the multi-million initiatives but also on the many other meaningful opportunities will start to eclipse those that don't - and with the speed of cloud-based innovation, this won't take multiple decades to play out!
 

AlNipper49

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TLDR; those on the left hand side of the Technology Adoption Curve do so because they are willing to assume more risk, for whatever reason.

:)
 

mwonow

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HriniakPosterChild said:
Be nice; maybe he didn't have time to make it shorter.
 
Hey, that was nothing - I was excited enough to write a whole book about it! And yes, being nice is always a good thing, especially this time of year, when lists are being made...  :unsure:
 
AlNipper49 said:
TLDR; those on the left hand side of the Technology Adoption Curve do so because they are willing to assume more risk, for whatever reason.

:)
 
Absolutely. The first part of the book looks at why staying to the right of the curve might have more extreme consequences with cloud than with previous technologies; the balance is an attempt to help IT and executive management to build plans for adopting/expanding use of cloud, trying to mitigate some of the uncertainty associated with an early-stage platform. 
 

AlNipper49

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yeah but why would you write a book about the cloud, which is waaaaaaaaaay  beyond full adoption.  
 
My mileage may vary but I probably speak to 100 decision makers a year and for maybe the past two I haven't found a single instance of people being uncertain.  Everyone has a pretty high degree of certainty.  Hell, hybridization has reached Full Adoption.
 

jercra

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AlNipper49 said:
yeah but why would you write a book about the cloud, which is waaaaaaaaaay  beyond full adoption.  
 
My mileage may vary but I probably speak to 100 decision makers a year and for maybe the past two I haven't found a single instance of people being uncertain.  Everyone has a pretty high degree of certainty.  Hell, hybridization has reached Full Adoption.
I haven't read the book yet but I'm hoping to gain some insight into management after the decision to go cloud has happened.  At least at my company cloud, which is all internal cloud, has been partially adopted as a solution to server needs but it's had some repercussions from a support and operations standpoint that are new.  Network doesn't know how to move rapidly or use automation.  Executives don't want to understand that processes for support and operations need to change.  Development treats resources as unlimited and free.  Development treats all resources as equal levels (dev/lab/stage/prod) since you can go so much faster from dev to prod.
 
A lot of my issues would be solved by going to a real off-prem cloud like AWS but as yet that's not a direction upper management is willing to go.  They'd rather spend tens of millions on infrastructure and network.
 

mwonow

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AlNipper49 said:
yeah but why would you write a book about the cloud, which is waaaaaaaaaay  beyond full adoption.  
 
My mileage may vary but I probably speak to 100 decision makers a year and for maybe the past two I haven't found a single instance of people being uncertain.  Everyone has a pretty high degree of certainty.  Hell, hybridization has reached Full Adoption.
 
Not to contradict a dope or anything, but...nope, hybrid infrastructure is nowhere near full adoption. I'm pasting in the results of a survey that I worked on with the folks from Techaisle, reflecting input from 820 US ITDMs and BDMs with companies of 1-999 employees. It shows that while hybrid is growing fast, we'll still be below 50% penetration of cloud infrastructure by YE 2015:
 

 
Apps are a somewhat different story, but there, I think there's a tendency to confuse consumer apps used in a business setting (espeically email) with business-level cloud apps.Here are some SaaS findings from the same survey. The bottom figures illustrate current use, the top reflects full adoption by everyone who projected adoption when the survey was done, and the middle set of figures use a more gradual adoption pattern:
 

 
And these are results for the US, which is pretty advanced (though to be fair, they're also for SMBs, which are less advanced than large enterprises). International firms tend to be at a different level. And even large companies in the US, like the one Jercra is talking about (and, for example, the banks and governments in and around Toronto) are still more in "pilot and explore" mode than "ready to connect multiple cloud applications to automate processes and departments!"
 
 
jercra said:
I haven't read the book yet but I'm hoping to gain some insight into management after the decision to go cloud has happened.  At least at my company cloud, which is all internal cloud, has been partially adopted as a solution to server needs but it's had some repercussions from a support and operations standpoint that are new.  Network doesn't know how to move rapidly or use automation.  Executives don't want to understand that processes for support and operations need to change.  Development treats resources as unlimited and free.  Development treats all resources as equal levels (dev/lab/stage/prod) since you can go so much faster from dev to prod.
 
A lot of my issues would be solved by going to a real off-prem cloud like AWS but as yet that's not a direction upper management is willing to go.  They'd rather spend tens of millions on infrastructure and network.
 
I've heard that network ops and the security team are the two biggest bottlenecks within the IT department. More broadly, a lot of the benefits of cloud get diluted by outdated processes; I think everyone has heard about the development server that used to take 12 weeks to provision (6 weeks for sign offs, six weeks to buy and set up and deploy the server) that now takes six weeks: six weeks for sign offs, plus a few minutes for provisioning! So you're not alone. The book is aimed pretty directly at people in your position - I'll be really interested to hear what you think of it!
 

AlNipper49

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1. Companies of 1-999 reflect a criminally incomplete picture
2. Hitting ~50% in the year that starts in about three weeks is 'nearly full adoption'
3. Like most polling firms I'm nearly certain that nobody there has an idea what a hybrid cloud even is. Exhibit A: the clowns at Gartner
 

mwonow

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AlNipper49 said:
1. Companies of 1-999 reflect a criminally incomplete picture
2. Hitting ~50% in the year that starts in about three weeks is 'nearly full adoption'
3. Like most polling firms I'm nearly certain that nobody there has an idea what a hybrid cloud even is. Exhibit A: the clowns at Gartner
 
Not prolonging this to prove a point, but because that's an interesting POV! Here are a few additional thoughts...
 
1. 1-999 is certainly incomplete, and leaves a big and important gap, especially with respect to early life cycle technologies. "Criminally" might be overstating the extent to which it's incomplete, though. In Canada, firms of this size employ a majority of workers, and represent about two-thirds of total IT spend. Large enterprise has a greater overall impact on the US IT market, but still, SMBs would account for the vast majority of companies and somewhat more than half of all IT expenditures.
 
2. Kind of by rule, ~50% is "nearly exactly half adoption"!    :rolleyes:
 
3. With respect to your third point...I know the president of Techaisle pretty well - we worked at IDC together, and I've got a lot of respect for his research (parenthetically, if you think the folks at Gartner are clowns - and for the record, I've found more of them to be good than not - it's worth noting that they're much better than their competitors, largely because they pay much better, with analysts at Gartner making 2-3x what IDC analysts do). Anurag is really good with data, and he has a pretty good idea of what hybrid cloud is. Of course, his understanding isn't what drives the data, nor is that of his interviewers - if the respondents don't understand the concept, the data will be flawed...
 

LoweTek

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This topic could launch a great exchange amongst some folks here who are genuinely professional, significantly experienced, currently active, boots on the ground IT people. I'd like to add more to the conversation when I have more time. For now I will comment ref the OP. While I appreciate your sense of competence, your confidence in your own experience, your authoritative language, etc., you'd do really well to listen to a number of the viewpoints offered to you here. Conjuring as much objectivity as you can will go far. You're gonna learn something if you do. Data lies because data sources lie. It lies because data sourcers and sellers/presenters lie. Stakeholders, witnesses without agendas? Not so much.
 

mwonow

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LoweTek said:
This topic could launch a great exchange amongst some folks here who are genuinely professional, significantly experienced, currently active, boots on the ground IT people. I'd like to add more to the conversation when I have more time. For now I will comment ref the OP. While I appreciate your sense of competence, your confidence in your own experience, your authoritative language, etc., you'd do really well to listen to a number of the viewpoints offered to you here. Conjuring as much objectivity as you can will go far. You're gonna learn something if you do. Data lies because data sources lie. It lies because data sourcers and sellers/presenters lie. Stakeholders, witnesses without agendas? Not so much.
Thanks, LoweTek - I appreciate your comments, and agree that this could be a terrific topic for discussion here.
 
With respect to data...sure, surveys are often wrong, and for a couple of the reasons that you cite. One is when the target is suppliers who have an agenda (most of what IDC does, for example). Sample populations that are comprised of end-users have less reason to intentionally mislead - in many cases, misleading data in these kinds of surveys comes from a lack of understanding regarding the question (so to echo Nip's point above, a lack of clarity regarding what hybrid *is* will lead to muddy data on how much it is being used - I hit this very problem with a Big Data survey two years ago). Expert sources are an excellent way to learn about more leading edge issues in IT, and I certainly appreciate the discussion!
 
PS - there's at least a hint of irony in "data lies...witnesses without agendas, not so much" being quoted on a board that values stats vs. scouts in the way that SOSH does!  ;-} 
 

NortheasternPJ

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I haven't had time to fully put together a thought out response but what I see (my territory is New England across all verticals and sizes for reference) is that cloud is mainly being used for four things:
 
1- elastic needs in development shops. (Short term projects that move internal if it is going to go forward, short term compute spikes etc.)
2 - backup / dr
3 - commoditized services - email, office, etc. so businesses can spend more time on core competencies.
4 - SaaS (Salesforce, EMR etc.)
 
When I refer to cloud I'm talking public cloud, not private or hybrid. We build all types of data centers.
 
I'll respond more in depth probably tomorrow but we're seeing it as an opportunity to focus on your core competencies and not the other way around. It's a way to go to a more predictable op-ex and reduce FTE's rather than having more FTE's and higher up front cap-ex. In terms of this as well we are seeing a lot of organizations moving towards leasing equipment rather than buying outright for the same reasons.
 
As for research firms in general, IDC, Gartner, Forrester etc. I don't put a lot of stake in them, nor do most of my customers.
 
They're viewed as pay to play organizations that are more interested in pushing their agenda and their "value" than they are helping the customer. I see this constantly with Gartner customers now  who come to us, after we give them a price and tell us "Gartner says we should get 15% below this price, that's what an organization of our size for these SKUs etc. should get."
 
Every single time, the prices quoted by Gartner are below our cost. As the highest level partner there's no possible way that other companies are getting on a consistent basis unless they go Non-Standard Pricing (NSP) on everything, which is an exception not the norm. But Gartner is showing their value by telling the customer that a VAR is screwing them. Let's not even dive into the "Magic Quadrant"
 
Also looking at things like how Apple is handled by Gartner and IDC is disturbing as well: http://appleinsider.com/articles/14/07/26/apple-incs-double-digit-us-mac-growth-contradicts-idc-gartner-reports-of-a-mac-sales-slump (Note: Pro-Apple web site, biased in their own right, but there's some good data there)
 

mwonow

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NortheasternPJ said:
I haven't had time to fully put together a thought out response but what I see (my territory is New England across all verticals and sizes for reference) is that cloud is mainly being used for four things:
 
1- elastic needs in development shops. (Short term projects that move internal if it is going to go forward, short term compute spikes etc.)
2 - backup / dr
3 - commoditized services - email, office, etc. so businesses can spend more time on core competencies.
4 - SaaS (Salesforce, EMR etc.)
 
When I refer to cloud I'm talking public cloud, not private or hybrid. We build all types of data centers.
 
I'll respond more in depth probably tomorrow but we're seeing it as an opportunity to focus on your core competencies and not the other way around. It's a way to go to a more predictable op-ex and reduce FTE's rather than having more FTE's and higher up front cap-ex. In terms of this as well we are seeing a lot of organizations moving towards leasing equipment rather than buying outright for the same reasons.
 
As for research firms in general, IDC, Gartner, Forrester etc. I don't put a lot of stake in them, nor do most of my customers.
 
They're viewed as pay to play organizations that are more interested in pushing their agenda and their "value" than they are helping the customer. I see this constantly with Gartner customers now  who come to us, after we give them a price and tell us "Gartner says we should get 15% below this price, that's what an organization of our size for these SKUs etc. should get."
 
Every single time, the prices quoted by Gartner are below our cost. As the highest level partner there's no possible way that other companies are getting on a consistent basis unless they go Non-Standard Pricing (NSP) on everything, which is an exception not the norm. But Gartner is showing their value by telling the customer that a VAR is screwing them. Let's not even dive into the "Magic Quadrant"
 
Also looking at things like how Apple is handled by Gartner and IDC is disturbing as well: http://appleinsider.com/articles/14/07/26/apple-incs-double-digit-us-mac-growth-contradicts-idc-gartner-reports-of-a-mac-sales-slump (Note: Pro-Apple web site, biased in their own right, but there's some good data there)
 
Hey PJ - thanks for this, and your list is pretty consistent with both what I'm seeing and what I believe is happening in the market - if it included storage at/near the top, it would correspond directly. Test/dev is certainly a key workload (especially in medium/large shops); backup is a natural, as is DR (and gets around the issue many firms have with cloud migration - lingering depreciation on installed equipment - since many firms, especially SMBs, don't really have DR capabilities today, and since the charges for this only really ramp up with you need it). Email is probably the best workload to move, it isn't differentiating, and it consumes a lot of resource that can be better applied to other issues. And CRM is certainly a big category, though with MS's pricing on Office (and the availability of Google Apps as a free or low-cost alternative), office productivity apps are also a big category.
 
The "core competency" issue really refers to the fact that with cloud-based apps, it will be possible for businesses to automate many different tasks at once, and that firms who use a more traditional one-step-at-a-time approach will lose ground to those that figure out how to deploy and integrate multiple cloud-based apps. This is a huge opportunity for VARs who can develop roadmaps and get customer commitment to extended rollouts (conversely, some of the research I've done shows that VARs who sell a single app - notably, Office - and then step back encounter huge cash flow and profitability problems).
 
Lastly, channels has always been the weakest of Gartner's services IMO. It isn't all that important to IDC either, which is why it was headquartered in Toronto (the only global research program based outside the US). As you say, customers use Gartner et al to beat up on suppliers, but analysts are generally much better at big-picture issues than specifics like pricing (or conversely, analysts aren't all that close to specifics, and should stick to big picture pronouncements!). There are some new kinds of services that are coming on line - 3Quotes, for example, which solicits three VAR quotes against a defined set of requirements, or even G2Crowd, which aggregates user feedback (kind of an IT variant on TripAdvisor) - that will be much better suited to this need...
 
PS - re: Apple - I find that Asymco has some interesting insight, do you ever go there, and if so, what do you think?
 

AnkleStigmata

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mwonow said:
3. With respect to your third point...I know the president of Techaisle pretty well - we worked at IDC together, and I've got a lot of respect for his research (parenthetically, if you think the folks at Gartner are clowns - and for the record, I've found more of them to be good than not - it's worth noting that they're much better than their competitors, largely because they pay much better, with analysts at Gartner making 2-3x what IDC analysts do). Anurag is really good with data, and he has a pretty good idea of what hybrid cloud is. Of course, his understanding isn't what drives the data, nor is that of his interviewers - if the respondents don't understand the concept, the data will be flawed...
 
As someone who does survey research consultation for a living - including, last year, a study of workers at small businesses -  I can say this is a particularly tough kind of survey to get right. Among my questions:
  1. I too am curious why the cutoff at 1,000 employees. That can be fine depending on the study objective (in my case the client came to define "small" business as 2-99 employees, excluding sole proprietors and anyone who doesn't use computers at work, as the client's interest was selling network security software to smaller companies) but then you have to avoid the temptation to project the results to some larger population. In this case I'd suspect cloud computing adoption to be higher among larger than smaller businesses, with potential ramifications for a lot of related findings.
  2. How was the sample drawn? I looked at the Techaisle site and I see they recruit by phone a panel of IT and business decision-makers. On the face of it that sounds better than some other approaches I've seen (there are a LOT of crappy convenience samples out there) but the devil's in the details; it's a real challenge to get a valid representative sample of companies. For instance, lists like D&B have pretty major coverage holes; I investigated that approach for my survey and wound up rejecting it. Even with the population of interest limited to firms up to 999 employees, might the sample have been skewed in any way (like in the panel recruitment phase) that would affect how tech-savvy it is? 
  3. Then who exactly do you talk to at each company. Is it THE chief IT decision-maker or potentially people at different levels of responsibility? When it's a BDM being interviewed does s/he have the tech chops to knowledgeably answer the sorts of questions being asked?
  4. As discussed, question constructs are critical. Among my questions is how were the questions worded and tested and how carefully the interviewers were trained for the project. 
 
I'd humbly submit that attention to these kinds of details is work for a high-priced survey research consultant - No advertising ;-)
 

mwonow

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AnkleStigmata said:
 
As someone who does survey research consultation for a living - including, last year, a study of workers at small businesses -  I can say this is a particularly tough kind of survey to get right. Among my questions:
  1. I too am curious why the cutoff at 1,000 employees. That can be fine depending on the study objective (in my case the client came to define "small" business as 2-99 employees, excluding sole proprietors and anyone who doesn't use computers at work, as the client's interest was selling network security software to smaller companies) but then you have to avoid the temptation to project the results to some larger population. In this case I'd suspect cloud computing adoption to be higher among larger than smaller businesses, with potential ramifications for a lot of related findings.
  2. How was the sample drawn? I looked at the Techaisle site and I see they recruit by phone a panel of IT and business decision-makers. On the face of it that sounds better than some other approaches I've seen (there are a LOT of crappy convenience samples out there) but the devil's in the details; it's a real challenge to get a valid representative sample of companies. For instance, lists like D&B have pretty major coverage holes; I investigated that approach for my survey and wound up rejecting it. Even with the population of interest limited to firms up to 999 employees, might the sample have been skewed in any way (like in the panel recruitment phase) that would affect how tech-savvy it is? 
  3. Then who exactly do you talk to at each company. Is it THE chief IT decision-maker or potentially people at different levels of responsibility? When it's a BDM being interviewed does s/he have the tech chops to knowledgeably answer the sorts of questions being asked?
  4. As discussed, question constructs are critical. Among my questions is how were the questions worded and tested and how carefully the interviewers were trained for the project. 
 
I'd humbly submit that attention to these kinds of details is work for a high-priced survey research consultant - No advertising ;-)
 
Thanks for asking! And not worried about advertising, we've got a bunch of consultants pretending to get paid already...  ;-}
 
Quick answers...
1. Cutoff was 999 because Techaisle (who ran the survey) specializes in SMB research
2. Sample was drawn from Techaisle's phone recruited sample population, which is darned extensive: 500,000 users worldwide (plus another 120,000 IT channel members), all vetted via telephone as working at the location that they claim to be associated with.
3. Sample was stratified by company size (representative samples of respondents in companies of 1-9, 10-19, 20-49, 50-99, 100-249, 250-499 and 500-999 employees). Each group contained roughly equal numbers of BDMs and ITDMs. Re: qualification, there were qualifying questions, but frankly, experience shows that this is potentially the weak link in any business survey 
4. Re: question constructs - the questions were a collaborative effort involving the fellow who runs Techaisle and me. He's better at data management than I am, but I've got 25+ years in drafting IT B2B surveys myself. Interviewers are Techaisle staff members, and work on IT-related surveys full time.
 
All things considered, I've worked with survey data from a lot of sources, and I think Techaisle's is the best that I've seen - which is one of the reasons I like working with them! There are other cool IT data sources, too - for example, NPD gets scanner data from distributors, which is really powerful (and also fun to play with), but for end-user input, the Techaisle data is remarkably clean IMO.
 

AnkleStigmata

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Interesting, thanks. One thing I'd say (and then I'll stop derailing your thread) is panel size doesn't necessarily correlate positively with data quality if steps aren't taken to avoid or at least mitigate bias in the recruitment stage.