Thursday, 23 February 2012

Upgrades - hotels, airlines and HPC

I was pointed to this short but interesting blog today: "What's your upgrade?" by @therichbrooks, which makes the point that customers like it when businesses over-deliver on expectations. It is easy to understand what over-deliver might mean for hotels, airlines, rental cars, etc. - upgrades! - but it is equally important for other businesses to consider.

In the contexts of High Performance Computing (HPC) and of software, upgrades are a part of the routine. This covers both upgrades to newer or more powerful hardware (e.g. see the recent upgrades to the Cray supercomputers at HECToR - the UK's national supercomputing service - run by partners including NAG for CSE Support); and software upgrades for new features etc. However, these are all expected and planned upgrades - whilst they do deliver more to the customers, they are not a "over-delivery". And of course, for the service teams, upgrades mean hard work installing, testing, benchmarking and documenting the updated system.

But the key point of the linked blog was not upgrades, rather it was about managing (and meeting) customer expectations - and about over-delivery.



Over-delivery is often a key concept in supercomputer procurements. Usually a procurement specification will state a minimum performance level that a solution must deliver. This is often close to the real minimum so as to allow the optimum range of responses from the market. In reality, the procurement team hopes that substantially greater performance will be proposed by the bidders, often guiding this with "desirable" elements in the specification. Normally, the winning proposal is one that meets all the minimum requirements and also substantially over-delivers in several aspects.

Interestingly, over-delivery is perhaps more complex in products/services that have "soft" delivery - for example training courses. These trade, in part, on reputation - previous attendees spreading their satisfaction with the course by word of mouth. Thus, customer expectations are naturally high and the trick is to make sure these expectations are met with relevant material, high quality delivery, and knowledgeable tutors (it helps that NAG trainers are almost always active practitioners too - they regularly use their expertise on real projects, not just for teaching).

Which brings us back to the start - since airlines, hotels, etc. trade partly on reputation (as well as other factors such as convenience). Yet, as noted above, they have a ready means of over-delivery through upgrades.

Of course, rather than a means of over-delivery, upgrades are the essence of what NAG HPC Services provide - we take your application code and upgrade it - make it go faster, scale to solve bigger problems, adopt improved algorithms, etc. We can also help you upgrade the contribution of HPC to your business by providing advice and consulting on HPC strategy and implementation.

Perhaps a different but equally useful question is: how can NAG upgrades help you to over-deliver to your customers - e.g. through more powerful application of computational modelling and simulation?

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