Monthly Archives: February 2013

Buckets are for rainwater not technology

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If you dropped your beloved smartphone or tablet device smack into the middle of a bucket fall of water  you would be askingfor trouble .

Of course you wouldn’t do it of course unless you need a replacement and have a not too zealous insurance policy. Joking of course because as we all know technology or more accurately the bits and pieces that make up the hardware side is not a great fan of getting wet!

Which is why I find it strange that I  ( and others I have witnessed recently ) now use the word Bucket so frequently when talking about technology.

The other day  for example I was describing an infrastructure project involving all the usual bits and pieces you would expect -some cloud, some hardware, lots of software, people of course, a dose of managed services and of course the good old expenditure line both capital and operational Everyday discussions that infrastructure people have all round the world.

So as I was drawing my pictures on the board I realised that unconsciously I was drawing buckets Not only drawing them but talking about them. I was introducing the word Bucket into the conversation and getting away  with it The person I was talkingr to hadn’t noticed and seemingly was ok with the bucketa thingr I talked about the software bucket,  the resource bucket, the management bucket and so on such I realise I could have find perhaps more suitable technological babble that was more palatable like Box or Element or Area but the bucket word seemed to work On reflection I wondered why I was using bucket and did a little personal research to see where I had learned to associate such a unsuitable word when talking about technology I mean buckets are for painters, people milking cows – do they still do that BTW?

And to catch leaking roofs of course!

In our world we have become incredibly adapt at making technology sound so easy and pervasive. Look at how we use the word Piece – see an earlier blog http://wp.me/p15xAC-x9. Look at the emerging world of taking unstructured data and using smart tools to create infographics to represent the outputs in a way that is easy on the eye and even easier to consume. A recent article that caught my eye also was using the B word as they took to explaining how the data was being represented.

Buckets are useful things of course.  Simple by design doing exactly what it says –  something to contain something else without letting it escape. Until of course it overflows and this is what I realised where my use of the B word was not really helping. By using the B word I had unconsciously taken more useful and relevant words like components, structure, design, architecture, governance and dropped a lot of complexity in an attempt to simplify the discussion. Perhaps by trying to be smart whilst at the same time trying to appear to make the decisions relatively easy to make once all the issues and ideas were in neat convenient buckets.

Im sort of mad with myself because there was a time I wouldnt have done that especially as I realise that managing and delivering IT services is not a simple activity. It is complex; we have worked bloody hard to make It so….decades of building networks, tearing them down, fixing them, migrstng them and redesigning them. Perhaps the recent years of being brainwashed about cloud computing has allowed myself ( and others ) to use everyday household and techno-irrelevant words. Lets blame marketeers for this 🙂

And the problem with buckets as we all know are two fold. One is that buckets overspill if not emptied; and two they often develop a hole thus losing the contents. So the metaphor of a bucket has an interested connotation. If used to describe issues and opportunities then perhaps it works – you can have so many that they overspill your bucket so you need another one. Mmmmm that certainly works. Or you can have so more issues and opportunities that they leak out of the bottom unnoticed causing issues. Yes that works also.

So perhaps bucket does have a place 🙂 For many however the techno-babble we have created for ourselves has been our downfall and perhaps we are wrong and the people with the Buckets are right. Maybe the complex world of bits and bytes, cables and routers, codes and ciphers are forever hidden by everyday words that mask the complexity because the generations using them dont care anymore.

To prove my point – Ive started using a cloud video conferencing service called BlueJeans  http://bluejeans.com/

Say no more.

Brummie.

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Agendas & Any Other Business

You are an IT Leader. Is having an agenda still valid? And what does Any Other Business really mean?

Sure we all attend meetings where we have a formal agenda listing all the items to be discussed usually ending up with Any Other Business  AOB ) , and we also have those impromptu meetings where the agenda is fluid and ad hoc. But for an IT leader what does the word Agenda really mean.

My context for this post comes from the annual Gartner CIO Agenda published to illustrate what top IT leaders are thinking about in terms of the imperatives they are focused on to ensure their business goals are met. A not an inconsiderable source of strategic insight and often used by commentators and analysts to justify particular industry trends and paradigm shifts.

I forsee that the  problem with using the word agenda is that it suggests an order of priority and importance to the attendees, with the catch all AOB item meant to catch all those miscellaneous items that people can bring to the meeting in their hope to get consensus, a decision or add to the next meeting’s agenda.

For an IT leader however, the concept of agenda is different. Of course they may use the agenda ( with a small A ) to drive management meetings, team meetings and vendor meetings. They will do this because it is the norm. Everyone loves an agenda. It gives the meeting some context re timing and allows people to prepare. This is why we have minutes and action notes. It drives everyday business communication and allows people to focus on the important items of the day. As in a previous post an agenda is a perfect guideline to ‘knock things over’.

But for an IT Leader is the word agenda appropriate?. Over here the IT leader doesn’t see their ‘items’ in a nice chronological order ending up with a catch AOB. Their Agenda is either enforced by their business ( depending on their seniority comparable to the organization, their industry sector and the overall governance of IT by the organisation they work for ) or by their own skills, knowledge, creativity and virtual team. Bluntly their Agenda is more horizontal not vertical.

This virtual team sitting behind an IT leader is the key here. The IT Leader’s Agenda is not usually seen in nice clean lists like an Agenda. It doesn’t often fit nicely onto a single page or conform to a predefined list to choose from. The virtual team (often called the CIO Office) is the engine room for the IT Leader. Within this group you find the people who truly action the agenda. This is where you find the individual items of the agenda alive and well. In here you will find the Any Other Business. In here you will find people empowered to take the imperatives from the IT Leader and the business and to break down specifics into action items and strategy. They may be formal Enterprise Architects, subject matter experts and business analysts. They may be structured into prescribed domains – security, service, applications, infrastructure and so on – and they may be a classic Number 2 deputy role who sits very close to the shoulder of the IT Leader. However they are structured and titled they do understand the agenda and are the real people who knows what is going on.

If you take the 2013 CIO Agenda published by Gartner and look at the list you obviously don’t see AOB but you do see the various imperatives ( unavoidable, necessary, required, mandated )that focus attention ( budget, people, partners ).

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Look at the left hand Gartner  list.   Doesn’t look like an agenda does it? No it looks like a list of priorities. Significant priorities.  Priorities that also change and as we all know, our IT landscape is moving so fast that the imperatives change also.

Look at Delivering Operational results. For some reason in 2011 it was ranked 9th. Now it is the second most important strategy for a CIO. Some would argue it would always be number one but this is not the point. The point is that the agenda changes. Events drive the items on the agenda. The agenda is fluid. There is not set list of items. There is no Any Other Business.

Digging deeper you find many strange connections between one strategy and the other. Again how do you achieve Delivering Operational results if you don’t have slick efficient business process ( ranked 10th). How do you create new products or services ( ranked 6th ) without a close relationship with Expanding into new markets and geographies ( ranked 21st in 2013, was in 2012 ranked 10th).

Basically the agenda changes.

Now I realise this is just a survey and people will both change their minds, or it will be different people being asked the questions. And this is my point. An agenda is not the be all and end all. It is not the event that people used to use to drive change and communication. Waiting for the weekly meeting to have ‘your say’ is old hat. In fact you could say it is now irrelevant. The way we communicate and use tools to share information and knowledge is rendering the formal agenda redundant. And I haven’t even got the AOB yet!

Now look at the right hand list. This does look like an agenda. Various set agenda items, a set start and end time and the perennial Any Other Business. It looks like what we are used to using in meetings. Nice neat items that progress through to AOB. Each item covers a multitude of details and inter-relationships yet we are often driven to making big topics appear simple items on a list that follow each other until we run out of time and the dreaded AOB catch all.

Why is this? Well I suppose it is because we are hard wired to following what we did last time. It is convenient to have an agenda.  People know their place with an agenda. It follows etiquette. We all seek the comfort of a list. Look at Gartner. Look at IT leaders. Look at yourself. A list is a powerful event. I bet Governments’ have very big lists. I think they call them Charters and Manifestos. We have agendas for everything!

Do I have a conclusion?  Yes I do. The next time  you attend or run  a meeting with an agenda reflect on the structure and outcomes. Roll your clock forward to when the meeting has finished to describe what will have happened ( or what you wanted to see happen – we are not crystal ball gazers in IT after all! ) This what the  IT Leaders are trying to do. They are trying to predict that if their top 3 imperatives in terms of real outcomes and how they stitch all the other items on their ‘agenda’ to ensure their imperative is achieved. This is why the Gartner Agenda fluctuates over time as events change the landscape. Perhaps if you are running the Agenda you should reflect on whether you truly understand the bigger Agenda because if there is an IT Leader in the room or one of their virtual coaches and advisors you run a small risk that your agenda is wrong.

Any Other business? Sorry ran out of time 😦

Lets add to the next meeting’s agenda 🙂

 

Brummie.

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If technology consumerization is here to stay what should we call the IT department?

( This post is in memory of the IT department out there.)

Consumerization. A word that wouldn’t have been heard of in technology circles not that long ago but now is used in everyday business ( IT strategy ) discussion, IT planning meeting, technology presentation and webcast, blog and tweet about the 21st century IT landscape. Like magic or otherwise ‘we’ ( the IT industry ) have blended the world of social and corporate technology. A mash up of words, devices, software, products, services and terminology. A veritable smorgasbord of stuff and the great thing is that no one really knows what is happening ( or going to happen ). Those that do are keeping it close to their chests!

Consumerisation. It is now just plain and simple High Street language. You walk into any electronics store, retail outlet or on line site and it hits you square on. Consumerisation. We are all living the reality of this without really caring about the word itself yet knowing we are ‘consuming technology’ on a rate we cannot understand.  We don’t care because consumerisation of other lifestyles and working practices have already been there and done that. TV. Music. Travel. Finance and so on.

Thanks to many smart people ( with clever ideas – Tim B Lee ), and scientific advancement ( Moores Law ) we now ‘consume’ our collaborative relationships with frenzy. We ‘consume’ content across the internet with unrelenting thirst. We ‘consume’ knowlede 24 7. We ‘consume’ devices as soon as the next new device hits the streets. We ‘consume’ the competitive nature of how consumerisation is changing the lives of our children and imagine the impact on the lives of their children and what we will be able to do when we are grandparents.

Enter ( or exit? ) the traditional IT department. The traditional IT department often became called the MIS department or Information Services Department. Business Systems would be thrown in to the mix also. Along with the department titles came the job titles. IT Manager,IS Manager, CIO,CTO,Business Systems Director, Information Systems Manager. And so on.

To the purist we of course get all this and for most these titles are totally valid. After all we still have Human Resources departments, Finance and Marketing. These guys are also affected by the changing picture of how corporates need to adapt to compete in the ever changing business world. Outsourcing, outtasking and insourcing are the words that drive how these ‘support services’ are commissioned and consumed. These areas are also part of the consumerisation bubble. HR services are often outsourced. Finance also. Marketing is often a bought in capability. Many organisations have downsized the staff numbers on the payroll as they seek to improve service and lower costs.

I argue however it is the IT DEPARTMENT that has ( or will be ) changed the most.

10 years ago the IT department was centralized, compartmentalised and layered with middle management and administrative domains i.e. security, service desk, ops, development and network services. And of course a decade ago, there was a lot of new stuff that needed to be set up — Ethernet networks, directory servers, mail servers, backup systems, notebook explosion, remote access because there was a lot of baby boomers who still needed helped transitioning into a computerized workplace. Those days are long gone. The virtualization paradigm shift has now ‘crossed the chasm’ and is expected now in any modern IT operation.

Technology needed to run a modern business sort of  runs itself today and don’t require a lot of time from IT pros to deploy them and keep them running. Technology (software and hardware ) now works more than often not. The classic IT department therefore spends a lot less time doing repairs, maintenance, and end user support. Replacement is the new support. The decade we are in will see employees just swaping out their malfunctioning laptop, smartphone, or tablet to IT and immediately get a replacement device that will connect to the private cloud and/or public cloud and instantly download the user’s apps, settings, and data. They may eventually bring their own ( BYOD).

The cloud (private and public) will also transform provisioning servers and setting up data centers from a month-long task to a matter of minutes with a few clicks in the web browser. The real work won’t be setting up the servers any more, it will be all about choosing the right applications to deploy and putting the right plans in place to help the organization streamline business processes.

So what will happen to the IT Department?

Well this is the key thing. Across all the sectors, industries and business size of course there is no one size fits all. Some organisations will still need big teams. Why? A lot of ‘closed book’ back office systems will still need ‘food and water’ because they run ‘systems of record’ applications which are deemed legacy but crucial to the trading capability of the organization. Moving to the cloud and accessing via smartphones is not possible. Outsourcing may not be an option because of the lack of skills available in the market place.

Reinventing the IT Department is an interesting topic. The background and evidence for change is compelling. Of course bringing in new ‘blood’ often shakes up the ethos and direction. However, the real focus for an IT Department is this.

If all this talk of Consumerization is true and your organization is demonstrating the traits of a business using technology in ways they had never dreamt of ( or planned for ) how does the traditional way of managing IT deal with this shift. I have talked about the emergence of the ‘Shadow IT ( or office ) and people use ways of working around the ‘IT Catalog’ and use their imagination ( ideas ) to collaborate with colleagues and customers that totally are ‘hidden’ from the IT Department. You can almost here them walk past the door of IT as they find alternative ( better ? ) ways of doing their own IT. A bit like a Fleet Department that loses customers who now can take car allowances or use public transport.

So if the IT Department is to survive I think there are 4 things it needs to do.

  1. Recruit Technology Coaches. Perhaps a refocused Business Analyst? Make them the Front Office to your Back Office. Make them your sales people. They need to own the ‘sell of the IT services’. They have competition now ( cloud and outsourcing ) so they need to be commercial, business orientated and have true track record. Align them to the ‘ideas departments’ as the Technology Coach ( like the title? ) Make this role someone who bridges the gap and ensures that any attempt by such ‘innovative’ departments are captured and controlled to ensure the IT Department retains a level of governship.  They need to be relevant and part of the critical path.
  2. Build a talent stream. Marginalised IT departments too often fail to attract young talent and fail to sale themselves thus closing the door and staying with an ageing workforce. This is a big deal. Whilst everyone is entitled to employment protection of course, there does need to be a source of talent to keep the balance correct. Consider a graduate pipeline. This generation is vital to help spin ideas and translate into the business. No one wants to discuss technology with a middle aged ‘deep dive’ techie ( with all due respect to my generation J )
  3. Change the department name. Is IT still relevant? Surely Business Systems or Business Services is better.  Isn’t Information Technology now just consumerized to death? Technology is now part of the doing business discussion. Just like people, buildings, partners. It is a service. It should be called so? ( big debate )

IT door

4.Identify a first follower. Remember the ‘first follower’ video?    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fW8amMCVAJQ. Well make sure the CIO/CTO has a first follower. Someone who sits up and ‘dances with the CIO/CEO/business’ as they come up with ‘ideas’ and works to translate the message and build the proposition. The first follower in an IT organization is a very rare breed but if you have one then it can mean such a big difference. Why? Because the first follower is the one everyone else follows and if you want an idea to gain legs and turn into something practical and delivered then you would not go far wrong identifying your first follower and focusing on making him/her part of the ‘technology ideas generation’ discussion. Remember the first follower doesnt necessarily need to be one of your own people. A trusted advisor. A partner. Someone who brings experience, industry knowledge, commercial and technical wisdom.

And to close there is a view that as cloud ( not just the public stuff but a phase of transformation of service, devices and applications ) matures the need for ‘technology personnel’ will be dispersed into business functions as coaches to inform and educate business managers on the decisions they need to take as they seek to use consumerised technology for corporates to their commercial advantage.

Cheerio.

( I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones. John Cage )

Brummie

IT strategy? Sure, but make sure you keep ‘knocking things over’

Alongside all the strategic, visionary, innovative, business thought provoking ideas and concepts that an IT leader is desperate to find quality time to consider, define, validate and sponsor, there is a more mundane yet vitally important aspect of their role. Which is to ‘keep knocking things over.’ Let me explain.

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Every day the IT organization is faced with decisions to make as they strive to maintain ‘service’ and to ‘ensure IT workers are functional and ideally, happy.” And “keep the cost of running IT to budget of course.” These decisions ( or things ) can be tactical ( test, fix, replace, solve ) or strategic ( propose, validate, commission, report ).

The problem for the IT leader however is that too often these ‘things’ rarely get ‘knocked over’ sufficiently to make progress, and that it is exactly because of this ‘characteristic’ of the IT organization many IT leaders are frustrated that their visionary thinking is undermined by lack of demonstrable progress. You see too often an IT Leader will ‘assume’ or be ‘persuaded’ that these IT issues ( or things ) are under control, and therefore, drives strategic change forward as he is paid to do.  It is however, only when the strategy starts to be implemented that the lack of ‘things knocked over’ creates significant gaps and causes business risk.

What is even  worse is that because of all things I have posted about recently – Shadow IT ( people working around IT to get what they need – personal devices, cloud storage, alternative applications ) and the Pace of Change ( components going slower than others like buildings – remember that post? ) – the lack of being able ‘to show that you can knock things over’ is now a much bigger deal in the board room than ever before. Why? Because the board gets nervous that IT is now a weak link and that others can ‘do IT better’.

They see all the money spent on the IT organization and yet they see ‘things not getting knocked over fast enough”. They thought spending money on IT ( more money ) would also bring a change in how individual IT workers approached their ‘things’.  They translate this malaise as directly impacting business performance. Unfortunately as well all know many IT workers have a different pace or attitude to change, some embracing ( others withdrawing ). Of course this is life. All walks of life have this issue. It prevents many great ideas taking hold and slows down progress. All because of a few people who choose consciously or not to ‘knock things over’.

Ever been to a ‘knock things over’ meeting? I have attended a few though they were not actually called this .  The IT Leader ( a CIO in this case ) ran a weekly ‘issues’ meeting of senior stakeholders. His style was abrupt and direct. He focused heads down on the minutes from the last meeting. He didn’t look up. Seriously – a great motivator 😦

He got his team in the room ( or via a collaborative link ) and worked down the list asking “Has this been done?”. With a Yes or a No his team fired out their progress on ‘knocking things over’. The meetings were fast and furious.  Maybes were not tolerated. At the end the remaining tasks would carry forward to the next week where the people who called out No were given the opportunity to say Yes. It was brutal but you know what – the IT Leader ‘knocked things over’. It became a list ticking exercise.  In between these meetings the IT Leader would then discuss individually with his team specific ‘issues’ that were not so simple to solve and that would have an impact on a strategic vision he was working on.

Why did he operate this way? Because if he deliberated and engaged conversations on the issues ( largely because his management team should have resolved themselves ) he would never find the time he needed to think of the important things ‘to knock over’. Of course you could argue it was a poor management style because his team should have grasped that it was they who should have been ‘knocking things over’, but you know what? Eventually everyone did and the ethos began to flow down the IT organization.  The slow lethargic ship which was the back office IT function began to revise its approach and became better at addressing and supporting ‘initiatives’ flowing from the CIO’s office.

As the CIO commented “because of this approach I now have more confidence that when I throw things over my shoulder there are people ( management layer ) able to catch, translate and action without my involvement”. What he meant was that his ‘knocking over’ list shrank and he found himself lifting his head  a lot more and having meaningful discussions around ideas, concepts and solutions and his meetings became the strategic think tanks he was paid to drive and exploit.

In my eyes this attitude may have a middle ground. Some people are deep thinkers. Others are fast and reactive. Many are considerate to others. More are selfish. Each team is different. They need to be to make sure there is some level of balance. The IT leader is no different to a leader in a hospital. Or a  school. Their job is to manage, cope with change and deliver service. Knocking things over is what we all need to do. Some do lists. Others dont. Some use agile techniques. Others dont. But whichever way we do it our daily role is to ‘knock things over’ as we strive to get to the bigger things we are paid to do.

Now Im not talking about low level IT issues that people get paid for to do, though this knocking over mindset is often lacking on service desks, IT ops and junior management roles. No Im talking about the issues that need a ‘kick up the butt’ to ensure the IT organization is not left behind. Because there is a serious overtone of my blog. For the first time ever there are challengers to the IT organisation. Yes we had outsourcing for decades but now we have ‘cloud services, BYOD, shadow users and business leaders outside IT driving change’ to cope with. And the one thing these challengers have in common is – PACE or SPEED. They are lean and agile. They dont have legacy and they absolutely thrive on knocking things over. They are bullish and demanding. They dont suffer fools easily. They are not tolerant of excuses. They actually go ahead and knock things over themselves if they spot hesitancy. But the real challenge is the choice businesses have and their ability to select their journey and find people and organizations that truly do ‘knock things over’.

And it is this aspect that is now quite high up on the ‘agenda’ of many IT leaders as they look at where to ‘place their chips’ on the roulette table of IT decision making and the IT organization is no longer the default and therefore the weakest link in IT service delivery.

Takeaway from this post? Does your list of things to do or agenda for the next review meeting create an atmosphere for ‘knocking things over’ or just ‘more of the same’? Do you approach moving forward as an exercise in getting through issues? Do you have a good method to knock over things? More importantly do your peers? Do you find you need to ‘knock someone else over’ to get what you need to do? (extreme )

I beg of you that knocking things over is great therapy – even if its only just one thing a day.

Someone told me this “as I knock the issues over I listen and wait. It doesn’t take long to realise that the silence is all the acknowledgment  I need to confirm ‘no one is fussed or bothered – in fact they support me by identifying the things I need to knock over because they get that progress needs to happens’

Brummie

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