Monthly Archives: August 2012

Skin in the game

Skin. Its a funny thing. We all have it. We all need it. We wouldnt consider giving it away. It is one of the most important parts of the body because it interfaces with the environment and is the first line of defense from external factors. Each day we lose skin cells to the magnitude of hundreds of thousands. A lot basically.

So what has body skin got to do with technology?

It was Warren Buffet ( he of the Speed of Trust fame ) who coined the phrase ‘skin in the game’  referring to a situation in which high-ranking insiders use their own money to buy stock in the company they are running.

The idea behind creating this situation is to ensure that corporations are managed by like-minded individuals who share a stake in the company. Executives can talk all they want, but the best vote of confidence is putting one’s own money on the line just like outside investors!

The technology world we occupy is now showing an interesting paradox in the ‘skin in the game’ context. Because technology is so ubiquitous an individual user is now expecting the ‘skin’ to be provided by the manufacturer or supplier. The consumer is now in control and other than the act of ‘payment’ the adoption of technology is no longer a massive investment ( stake ) by the individual. Their skin is still their own and they are no longer being asked to give ‘so much’. Think back 10 or 20 years. To own technology as a consumer was a massive ‘skin in the game’ activity. Ditto for corporate IT. Too often the immaturity of the technology was a painful experience. A bit like getting sun burnt and the unsavory skin peel!!!

Today we can talk about cloud and flexible agile IT solutions that all promote a skin free experience.

Look at these adverts randomly picked from the internet.

  • Access Files Anywhere, Anytime! Unlimited Storage, Try it Free
  • Your office in the clouds
  • Free your business from the stress of IT
  • Free zero IT
  • Looking for free cloud IT

All of these adverts indicate that the buyer is not going to loose any skin. But of course we all know this is not true.

Forrester one of the respected analysts in the technology space have been coining many statistics about the power of the buyer in this all so competitive  marketplace. Forrester confirm ( like we didn’t know this ) that the buyer is much further down the road of knowing what they need to solve their business challenges.  Indeed, they claim a buyer is more than 65% certain of what they need. ( I would love to know what this figure was 10 years ago but hazard a guess it was a lot lower).

Imagine a buyer and seller conversation.

The buyer knows what they want. They have done a lot of the research themselves ( using the good old internet ) and are 65% certain of this. The seller believes they have the selected the right product ( service ) for the right price.

So lets eavsdrop on the conversation.

Buyer: I need to change the way I deliver IT services

Seller: Thats good because this is something that is in our sweet spot.

Buyer: I know that is why you are meeting me. I did my research.

Seller: We deliver similar services to some of your competitors and they are very happy.

Buyer: I know that is why you are meeting me. I did my research.

Seller: In 2011 we won the Service Partner award. 5th year running.

Buyer: I know that is why you are meeting me. I did my research.

Seller: Did i tell you that our pricing model offers flexible break points based on consumption.

Buyer: I know that is why you are meeting me. I did my research.

Seller: Did you notice that in our proposal we included different delivery models that meet all your

Buyer: I know that is why you are meeting me. I did my research.

Seller: This is great. So shall we discuss next steps?

Buyer: Before we do answer me this. Where in your proposal can I find what ‘skin you are putting in’?

Seller: Excuse me I dont understand. Skin?

Buyer: The fact you are asking this suggests we aren’t going to have a great relationship.

Seller: If you mean discounts then I have given you an extra special deal. Is this what you meant?

Buyer: No. I am looking for a partner who is prepared to work with me to make sure this solution will work.

Seller: Oh I see. You mean I get lunch. Of course not a problem.

Now removing my tongue firmly from my cheek I surmise that the buyer is looking for something else. He has already got a very good idea of what he needs and is now looking for someone who can steep up. Someone who is prepared to offer something else ( and not lunch ). Someone who realises that the final 35% is the hard stretch to convince the buyer of what the solution is. Someone who is putting their own skin in the game.



Golf and IT have a lot in common other than the 19th hole

If you do then unless you are Tiger Woods or Rory McIllroy your golf game is defined by your handicap.

A handicap is a way to assess your ability and to allow you to compete with others in a fair and equitable manner. So for example, I could have an 18 handicap and you could have a 3 handicap. In terms of ability you are miles better than me but the handicap is there to ensure I get allowances on my score that even out the huge gap in capability. It means I have an even chance of beating you. So the lower the handicap the more all round ability and skill you possess. Yet you can still be beaten by someone with a higher handicap and less skill on any given day. That is the beauty of golf compared to other sports where you couldnt possibly step into the ring, walk out on to the pitch or jump into the same pool as someone recognised as being top of their game.

With me so far?

Three weeks a go I managed to visit the British Open at Lytham and was touched by the sight of some of the best players in the world finding themselves in situations that suggest that luck, misfortune and downright poor management still affects these gods of the game. Take a look.

As i witnessed this characteristic of the professional game it dawned on me that in our world of IT infrastructure and service delivery we all face a level of ‘IT handicap’ that allows us to compete evenly.

Of course we all know that delivering IT is not a game and the stakes are a lot higher to us than winning a few hundred thousand dollars. Business relies IT to compete and make money. Unlike golf IT is team game and the IT team is driven to improve their IT handicap at all levels.

There is a saying in golfing parlance that goes “you drive for show and you putt for dough”. Loosely translated it means the business end of a game of golf is on the putting green and not purely by hitting the ball the furthest. We can all have the same best of breed of equipment, clothing, regular coaching and accessories yet still find ourselves with a high handicap. In IT terms this is also true. We can all buy the best of breed data center kit, leading edge software products, use clever consultants and whizz bang devices yet still find our ‘IT handicap’ is high. On face value whether it is golf or IT our investment should mean our handicap is lower. So why isnt it?

Still with me?

Now imagine you have a IT Handicap and have to complete a scorecard of your efforts.

So the card may look like this.

Each hole represents an aspect of your IT infrastructure and service. Such as Tolerance Turn and Documentation Drop. Let your imagination run wild! So just like a real golf hole your strategy is to stay out of trouble and achieve the best possible score with the resources available to you. For example, when thinking about security you may realise you have issues and that trying to implement deep dive analytical tools for intrusion prevention is pointless when you are unable to manage end point device control successfully. Or thinking you can implement business analytics ontop of a data warehousing architecture when you still do not successfully have a backup and recovery strategy. Perhaps documentation is a bit of a bogey for you so you make allowances when playing Documentation Drop.

The point is that just like as with golf, you treat IT and all the components ( 18 holes in this case ) with an eye on your capability either as a team or an individual or as an organization.

Developing this theme takes you ( it did with me ) to a place when you consider that you should be able to drive the green with your nice shiny new driver because all the Pros use this club and the guy who sold it you swears that it will dramatically improve your game. Sadly however, you know deep down that in fact 9 out of 10 times you know you are going to hit it over the fence and lose a bag of balls. The obvious analogy here is with IT hardware and software vendors ( the shiny driver ) who all claim similar dramatic improvements when deep down you know your ‘handicap’ is still the real issue. On the flip of course you may have a really mature service desk that is proactive and delivery high levels of IT fulfillment, which draws very positive feedback from the business and earns you credit for leveraging more budget and development resource to improve the service. Like a birdie on a long par 3. And this is the key.

Each hole on your IT golf course has a score ( called par ) that is what a ‘professional golfer/IT person’ would consider an acceptable score. The more pars you get the better, and if you can turn these pars into birdies then Tiger and Rory had better watch out! On the flip again though the more scores ‘over par’ the further down you slide and if your IT score is too high then questions are going to be asked about your ability to deliver.

I realise this post only works if you understand some of the aspects of the game of golf. However, I hope you can see that just like golf where you need to understand your handicap ( ability ) before you can play competitively, in IT you are faced with a similar challenge. Stepping onto the first tee of IT service delivery with a pipe dream, rose tinted view of ripping up the course and winning all the prizes is doomed to fail. The smart golfer understands his limitations and strengths and course manages themselves around knowing that they have a chance of winning if they play this way.

Now this is all massively tongue in cheek ( i hope you realise this ) but there is a semi-serious undertone.

Worse case I have invented a team exercise that may bring some humor into assessing one’s capability using a golfing scenario as the backdrop. And of course there is always the 19th hole to look forward to!!

Fore 🙂