One common concern with the cloud is the ‘what-if’ factor. What if there is a security breach? What if the cloud provider winds up or goes into liquidation? And what if the service is offline? Last Thursday, WorkflowMax went offline – and it really wasn’t that bad.
This is not really a story about the perils of being offline. The bottom line is that with any server based application, be it online or local, you have glitches from time to time. So far there’s been nothing with Xero or WFM to cause us any great concern.
No, this time I’m talking social networking, and Twitter in particular.
On Thursday last week we came into the office to find a variety of issues affecting WorkflowMax. For some it was excruciatingly slow. Others couldn’t get to a log in prompt at all – it would just time out. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with the rest of our internet service, so we figured it had to be a problem with WorkflowMax. I took to Twitter to find out.
It’s a pretty big deal for Twitter to be my first thought. Six months ago, as a firm we had no social networking presence whatsoever – and a year or so ago neither did I. In the space of a few months it’s become instinctive to turn to Twitter when I need up-to-the-minute information.
But there’s another reason I turned to Twitter. Fresh in my mind was a story I’d read just a couple of weeks prior. When Xero experienced problems with one its providers, CEO Rod Drury took to Twitter and publicly admonished them for not keeping their customers abreast of the current state of play. One of his tweets lamented ”why would a cloud data centre not have a Twitter account?” He clarified this later by saying ”One of my suggestions to them was it would have been great to have a Twitter account so all our staff around the world would have known exactly what was going on. What [Xero] has learned in the few times we have had outages is it is important to communicate.”
Being relatively new to the cloud space and all that, this really resonated with me. So when WorkflowMax, now a subsidiary of Xero, was experiencing some problems, I took to Twitter for all the same reasons.
What I found was silence. In fact, the WFM team hadn’t tweeted anything for close to three weeks! Yet Xero CEO Rod Drury had only recently declared how essential was the use Twitter account during times of outage.
A number of users had taken to Twitter to ask the same question – is there a problem with WorkflowMax at the moment? – and were getting the same response, or lack thereof.
This in itself, however, is a great example of the value of Twitter. Although there was no response at all from the WorkflowMax team at this point, at least I knew that others were having the same problems as us.
Still, this lack of interaction from the WorkflowMax team was enough to break the naively over-enthusiastic heart of a new recruit like myself. Maybe this whole thing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?
But this is where the story takes a turn for the better, because believe it or not, this tale isn’t about calling out WorkflowMax for their lack of Twitter engagement. Rather it’s about what a difference this new way of operating actually makes.
I wasn’t about to let my fervour for the new paradigm be crushed by this radio silence! So I tweeted:
@xero – @workflowmax seems to be struggling at the moment. No status updates or response to questions on twitter? What would @roddrury say?!
— Dewings (@Dewings_Acc) September 27, 2012
This was my attempt at igniting some action! For the uninitiated (and I say that with no condescension at all, given my background) the @names in the tweet are ‘mentions’. They are the Twitter handles of other users, and in this example their identities should be obvious. By using them in a tweet like this, it specifically alerts the people concerned about this message. So this was an explicit shout out to Xero, WorkflowMax and Rod Drury himself. Why not shoot for the top? He set the goal posts after all!
I soon received a response from our partners at FGS. Then not long after that, a reply from WorkflowMax themselves!
@dewings_acc OK for you now? There was a brief outage earlier but should all be up and running now. Sorry for the inconvenience! ^JD
— WorkflowMax (@workflowmax) September 27, 2012
By this stage, things had pretty much righted themselves, so I let them know it was all good again. And the Twitter updates kept flowing from WorkflowMax. I couldn’t be sure, but was it anything to do with my tweets? I may never know. But to be sure I got my message across, I thought a follow up was required:
@workflowmax Would be good in future to get word from you during the outage so we know what to expect.bit.ly/TDJLZ2 Thanks again.
— Dewings (@Dewings_Acc) September 27, 2012
The short link was to the Rod Drury article. I was pretty high on my own success by this time so perhaps I was being a little cheeky. But they might as well know why I thought it mattered.
Then a couple of hours later, it happened. A tweet from the CEO himself!
@dewings_acc you sorted now?
— Rod Drury (@roddrury) September 27, 2012
In the space of only a few hours, my query had made it all the way to the top. I like to think that it it also resulted in some action behind the scenes, but perhaps I’m getting a little too full of myself.
This is the point – has there ever been a time when it’s been this easy to interact with your software vendor and get action? We had a problem and were able to find out almost immediately that others were experiencing the same thing. And we did it without having to sit on hold for 20 minutes. Sure, in this story, the WorkflowMax team weren’t as proactive as they could have been. But all we had to do was agitate a little – a few characters in a tweet – and they were spurred into action.
And has there ever been a time when a CEO can be this accessible to the unwashed masses – if he or she chooses? This was, in truth, a relatively minor issue. I was having a little fun, and there was no need really for a personal response. It was only three words from Rod Drury – but it meant the world! A small gesture that probably took a few seconds, results in an immensely more satisfied customer. It’s win-win. This is what it’s all about – customer and vendor working together in collaboration.
Twitter isn’t simply an optional luxury in a cloud based strategy. It’s becoming an indispensable business tool – for any business, regardless of their systems. And I say this not as some gen-y attention junkie who tweets as instinctively as breathing, but rather as a forty-something manager of an accounting practice who had never used any form of social networking 12 months ago. If I can get this, anyone can. And of course I haven’t discussed here at all the fact that we can use Twitter in the same way as Xero – conversation with our clients – to build and enhance our own brand. Chalk this one up as another lesson learned.
Thanks to the WorkflowMax team, and thanks to Rod Drury.