Monthly Archives: September 2012

Back to front – the picture explained

Like the picture? Did it need explaining?

As individuals we dont see our IT experiences in this Back Office and Front Office seesaw as our IT needs are satisfied by our personal mobile device and favourite web sites – banks, social networking, sports, shopping etc. We all predominantly live in a Front Office world where the technology responds almost immediately to our changing requirements. We dont care what happens in the Back Office of the organizations who supply our services.

Is there tension between us and the suppliers of our technology? Rarely because if we are unhappy we simply vote with our feet ( or fingers and mouse clicks to be more precise ). In our world of Front Office it is an unforgiving place. Second chances are not often taken. Choice is king and the customer is always right. Unbeknown to us the Back Office of these organizations must be adjusting and updating its systems to meet our demands. Such organizations have a very lean Back Office with optimized processes and services that adjust to the demands we place upon it. Consider for a moment your bank. Every minute of the day you could stand in front of an ATM machine and ask for a mini statement. Your bank would be obliged to make the calculation and print out the mini statement. They couldnt refuse your request nor charge you. The Back Office would simply cope with the transaction and provide you a service. Failure to do so would run a significant risk that you would consider moving to a competitor’s bank. Extreme of course but banks have to accomodate this synposis and ensure that the Front Office and Back Office are in total harmony. Can you imagine a message popping up that says “Sorry the system is unable to process your request because you have asked too many times”.

However this harmony is not often experienced in Corporate IT. Far from it.

Every organization has an element of tension between Back and Front Offices where what the customer ( sales, marketing,  production, business development ) wants and what the Back Office IT team is able to deliver economically is often poles apart. Too often this tension is treated as the norm despite all the hard working of the people involved.

My picture depicts the disconnect between the Back Office and Front Office and suggests there is a timing ( speed ) issue that too often creates a Shadow Office situation where people work round the delays and frustrations experienced by Back Office IT operations  being unable to step up to the plate. Of course if I worked in the Back Office I would have reams of reasons why there is this timing issue.

The Front Office people charged with coming up with the new products and innovative ideas are not weighed down by all the processes and workflows necessary to keep the Back Office running. Front Office people are ‘free’ to build business activities and services that appear to change by the minute  (agile). These people will appeal to the competitive factors making them constantly seek new angles to sell more, build more and service more. Unfortunately the Back Office doesnt have this ‘luxury’ and is optimized for what they know they can do now. Speed in the Front Office is set by a customer somewhere and too often Front Office people conveniently forget the controls the Back Office must adhere to where speed is set by volumes and resources assigned to well tried and tested workflows. So what happens? The Back Office has to respond by breaking its defined process and governance rules by creating exceptions. Ad hoc workflows and processes are introduced that may satisfy an immediate Front Office need but which creates further complexity and resource allocation that in the longer run causes pain and further tension. You just cant win !

These Front Office people live for today. Many are gone tomorrow. The world of dynamic selling and ideas creation is awash with newcomers as incumbents move onto new roles in short shrift. In the Back Office this is not the same where IT Operations people are long timers with extensive career investment in ensuring IT service is well balanced in terms of performance, security and cost. The pressures on the Front Office to generate top line influence is acutely different to the Back Office who is there to protect the bottom line. More tension ensues.

As the tension brews so does the risk of the Shadow Office coming into being. Front Office people as individuals and teams will look to work round the delays and barriers put up by the Back Office. This manifests itself in many guises but too often this means unofficial use of personal devices, unofficial public storage clouds and unofficial public applications to communuicate with customers and suppliers. How much the Shadow Office penetrates an organization will  of course vary depending on the ‘tension’ between Front and Back Office.

Look at this picture. I love it. Back Office and Front Office personified.



Disharmony between the Back and Front Office can be less catastrophic as the bridge picture , but too often the pain is acute and hurtful. But dont worry – cloud computing is seen as the ‘fixer’ of this tension situation.

By taking the ownership of the Back Office workflows and processes and moving them to one of the many cloud computing models is seen as the best way to restore the harmony that organizations experienced before. With the promise of automation, self service and always on IT service, cloud computing is seen as the only way to give the Back Office the kick up the backside. Cloud computing is seen as the only way to meet the way the Front Office places demand on the compute power. Flexing up and down with compute power can only be provided by the Cloud and people in the Front Office want cloud.

So what to do? Making strides to ensure the bridge meets at both ends doesnt necessarily mean a swift visit to the clouds is needed. An understanding of how the IT service consumes Back Office processes and workflows to deliver Front Office services and products is a starting place. Some will call it the Service Catalog or Technology Portfolio. Others will look to seperate teams ( domains ) to communicate proactively to ensure Back Office supply can meet Front Office demand. Others will build governance into the management of the Front and Back Office where key people span the workloads and prioritization of resources to ensure the tension is removed. However the two sides meet is slightly secondary; just as long as they do. When they do the risks of the Shadow Office being an unmanageable burden are significantly reduced because the Back Office teams feel they are part of the decision making process and able to negotiate with the Front Office to deliver the services needed to support and drive the business.

To conclude I always remind myself about what I as an individual sees. No Back Office just Front Office. No Shadow Office just Front Office.  If you and I started a company right now we wouldnt have a Back Office just a Front Office. No Shadow Office.








Back to front – a picture

Back to front is not confusing; the Shadow is.

Apologies for not posting recently. Job change got in the way.

So normally if you talk about something being back to front it suggests something the wrong way round. Muddled up. However in the context of IT back to front superbly portrays how an IT organization has built its operations up over the decades.

During the lifetime of this blog I have posted twice about the ‘stretching’ of the IT management domain. Called Back Office Front Office and Shrinking Core these posts were all about the nature of IT infrastructure is moving to external territory, and that the ‘control’ of the back office ( core ) is reducing in place of a new management challenge. Managing the Front Office.

The Back Office was the classic internal datacentre, full of servers, storage, databases, security, controls and services. The Front Office became a reality as people began using web services to allow light weight application access to the Back Office. Sure there were EDI transactions happening a long time before but the Front Office became a reality when the tools were in the hands of the consumer or corporate user. This thin layer still suited the internal IT because they simply stretched their management to web server farms and security infrastructure either in their own domain or managed by a managed security provider. Web 2.0 era.

As time moved on and we moved into the cloud revolution,  the reliance on Front Office applications has grown exponentially as organizations moved to meet competitive challenges for always on access for their customers and their users. Web development and Software As A Service has accelerated the ease and cost effectiveness of Depending on how an IT organization built and managed their infrastructure, the skills and tools to manage this ‘stretched’ IT service presented some challenges as business owners demanded a 24 x 7 experience and a 99.9% availability. Addressing these new demands saw IT leaders adopt a number of strategies both internal and with external managed partners. The Back Office shrank and the Front Office expanded.

Depending on the type of business involved this shrinking and expanding will vary clearly. Some industries will still retain a major influence on the Back Office delivery model i.e. in house datacentre with a classic operational team model, where the tools to monitor performance and availability are well ingrained into the particular ‘heavy’ platforms humming away.  Other more obvious industries have made dramatic shifts from the Back Office to the Front Office, and continue to push further and further forward. These operations will have separate domains of IT teams responsible for very specific functions Governance and controls will be well defined. Of course this distinction of Back and Front Office for IT operations is very blurred as you move down from the enterprise organization to a small to medium IT department where roles and responsibilities often get blurred and blended.

The key point here is the distance between the control and governance of the Back Office slowly stretches as organizations push applications out to the Front Office. Consider a retail outlet that now offers its customers a web application they can download to their tablet or smartphone device. For this scenario there is literally no interaction with the Back Office IT people. They don’t care that there are people running the databases, backups, cooling and security. Why should they. For many organizations the cloud computing shift represents an excellent way to move more applications from Back to Front by utilising cloud services from people like Google, Amazon, Microsoft and so on. Why run a big expensive Back Office datacenter when you can move your traditional Back Office to someone elses’ and focus on improving the Front Office business value. Few would argue against this. ( Footnote. According to the CIO UK site the average age of a UK datacenter is 15 years and if the bulk of datacenter building projects occured during 2001 and 2008 then during the next decade many CIOs will be looking seriously at their Back Office ).

But what about the Shadow Office. What is this? Well this is the experience now prevalent as people reach to use public services ( you know what they are – Dropbox, iCloud, Skydrive, LinkedIn ) to store and share information. Why is this important? With Shadow IT there is absolutely ZERO interaction with the Back Office IT people because someone else’s’ Back Office IT personnel are managing the experience. If I drop corporate documents into Dropbox somewhere in the world an IT person will be responsible to ensure the platform my document resides on is working well. I will have no idea nor anyway to contact them.  And this is how I would want it.

The boom of bringing your own device to work is deafening. Forget the formal BYOD strategies that people bandy about because there is so much noise. Whether it is your own device or a corporate device that allows access to public services i.e. The Internet, the lure of the Shadow Office is often too great. Of course IT Security will mandate that people cannot use the internet inappropriately but quite often the sort of behaviour these policies are trying to stop are not the point of this blog. Pornography, gambling, fanatical religious sites, for example.

Now for the hard bit. It wasn’t long ago that our industry thought that the transformation of a Back Office IT operation from classic server platforms to the panacea of virtualization was the big answer. All the goodies that decision bought such as power saving, flexibility, high availability were like the holy grail and many if not all IT operations got busy transforming their Back Offices. People who used to be hosters became virtual hosters. And all this before we invented Cloud Computing. Who knows that soon people will want to use their own applications to collaborate with others. Some people already do this.

Shadow Office has stretched the management domain from the Back To Front Office and represents a real problem. Virtualising a datacentre will seem like child’s play compared to putting in an infrastructure to control the Shadow Office. The distance between an organizations’ Back Office and its Shadow Office is what? Enormous. It cannot be measured in nautical miles. It may go round the globe. What is clear is the reach of the Back Office IT function does not stretch to the Shadow Office.

But what about all the tools used to manage the Back Office. Can’t they help to manage the Shadow Office? Impossible because the user has chosen to use Shadow Office services.

What about the skills in the Back Office. Can’t they be realigned to help manage the Shadow Office.?Again unlikely given the location and variety of Shadow Office services.

Surely the Service desk? Tough call as they can’t support an environment they don’t control and cannot measure and influence a Shadow Office provider.

Does contract management help? Interesting point but for many current contracts are totally inadequate and anyway how can you protect in law against something you cant identify?

In conclusion, the concept of a Shadow Office is not a myth. In varying shapes and sizes Shadow Office services exist everywhere. It may be inevitable. What is inevitable though is that the Back to Front Office has a new buddy, and a buddy that they can never see or touch nor manage. And who said Cloud Computing was all about simplifying IT.



Status Quo Bias

My last post was all about skin.

The skin you have to put into the game to compete. Whether you sell IT, compete in the Olympics or trying to lose weight, there is always something you have to put in first to succeed. So let me push this thought a little bit further with my new phrase of the moment.

The phrase? Status Quo Bias. No not the iconic UK Band but an irrational preference for the current state of affairs. Leaving things as it is. Stay where you are thank you very much.

A situation where an individual ( read organization ) considers the potential losses of switching from the status quo ( current IT provision and services ) more heavily than the potential gains ( lower costs, better service ).

Why is this important? Well after my previous post about how people need to put some of their own skin into the game of selling and buying IT, there are siuations where despite all the compelling evidence supporting a technology change, an individual ( or organization ) decides to maintain the status quo. It could be as simple as a decision to stay with the mobile device in your bag or something more significant such as keeping core infrastructure on the same platforms. Now the irrational bias can be twisted as you see fit because many people who display the status quo bias will comment that their bias is based on tangible ( rational ) reasoning. Their god given right not to make a decision to change –  OK. If pushed they will understandably cite cost, risk and impact would feature highly.

How does this manifest itself and can you spot the characterstic in yourself or others?

The next time you attend a technology event or pick up the latest tablet device check your ‘status quo bias’ meter. Do you believe that your decision ( when you make it ) will be a rational one ( or an irrational one ). But wait what does an irrational decision feel like? believe it or not there is some background to all this. Suggests emotion not reasoned analysis.

People quite often spin the outcomes from making a decision as being harmful and therefore completely unsatisfactory. So for example they may reference anonymous ( or non attributable ) criticims of the technology platform as being a direct result and therefore something that should be avoided. They may be doing this of course because of the good old FUD ( fear, uncertainty, doubt).

Coupled with this is the tendency to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. Some studies suggest that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains. This is key. If a person believes that making a technological change will result in a loss then the decision to keep the status quo is very attractive. Perhaps it is a job protection step or has some other connotation. Consider this. Would you prefer to lose an hour of IT service due to a cloud outage or get back slaps from the board for running a tight IT ship. This is an important aspect. When considering a technological change it is often not a bad thing to play this risk and reward thought proces. Or perhaps introduce the concept to a discussion with someone displaying the status quo bias characteristic to ease out any lingering indecision.

So what is the post all about? Well if you think about cloud technologies and computing platforms what methods do you have in place to make sure your decisions are not falling foul of the status quo bias. Not that this is a bad thing of course. Status quo is not a bad thing so long as you know why. And this is the hard bit 🙂

Making a decision to move to the cloud is quite often very complex. Due to this complexity people quite often display status quo bias characteristics. They will consider the pros and cons, do the research, engage third party advice, do the sums and perhaps even perform limited testing, but ‘at the end of the day’ they will decide to keep the status quo. They will however, temper the impact of their decision ( or indecision ) with words like “the time isnt right” or “if I had more substantial evidence that cloud will work for us”. They do this to keep the door open for future changes in decision but too the door remains firmly shut. Now I dont think cloud computing holds exclusivity; any technology decision has to overcome this bias for maintaining the status quo.

What can we do? Not too much really because everyone is different and thankfully the intricacies of decision making is so subtle and deep that at the end of the day ( said this twice now sorry ) how people decide on a technology change is very often based on irrational needs 🙂