Monthly Archives: April 2013

Behind business ideas are documents. And now Devices. Inevitable?

ideas documents devices

IDEAS.We all have them.

Some of us have them every day . Others will have ideas less frequently. Others will claim they have no ideas at all but in fact they do.

Some are big ticket ideas such as deciding to acquire another business or open a new market.  Ideas that take months to reach a concept and even more months to go into production. Others may be more immediate like a new slogan or change of price for a particular product. Others will be big decisions such as laying off people or undertaking disciplinary action. Ideas can be huge financial ones, people ones or technology ones. They are made by all sorts of people. Can you imagine in a large enterprise how many ideas are made each day? Do we count our ideas? Thousands. Each year it will run into tens of thousands. Many remain as ideas and do not get committed to any business change.

Without ideas a business is stuffed. To stay competitive in this nearly flat, always on, high speed world a business has to be a lot cuter than ever before. The days of the traditional ‘safe’  business has dwindled in many market places, and for those in finance, advertising and retail, to name just three, the challenge is to remain competitive, and relevant. Leading edge. The execution of this ‘leading edge’ strategy requires an endless stream of ideas that generate products and services, that retain and attract customers. Businesses now structure their management teams to facilitate ideas generation and many have specific teams, incentives and even periods of the week where ideas are encouraged, fostered and developed. I think Google did ( and may still ) have a Friday where employees can ‘think tank ideas’ which if accepted  are taken off their day jobs and allocated to the new ‘idea’.   Called their 20% time philosophy it built on similar concepts in the 1950s from 3M.  Dragons Den sessions are now very common place too.

DOCUMENTS. We all create them.

Some of us may create lots and lots of them. Some of us may create many different types of documents for lots of different audiences. Some of us will create only a few. Just a few of us will create none at all. Some of us will just read them. Some of us will do both. Our ideas will ultimately end up encapsulated into a document be it an email, word processed file, web page, video, voice clip. A document can be anything that serves as a representation of a person’s thinking  ( and thousands of years ago this was achieved by means of symbolic marks on cave walls). Through time, documents have also been written with ink on papyrus or  parchment .Today we create documents using formatting instructions like seven-bit ASCII characters which is the cornerstone of everything we now type.

Documents are the focus of much attention. Anthropologists, historians, auditors, data scientists generally are more interested in documents that describe how people record information, retrieve information, make decisions on information ( Big data in case you needed a nudge ). It is this information that allows them to try to understand and describe the way society was functioning at any particular time in history. The understanding of how we live, the ideas we had and the outcomes of how we made our lives better is a fascination. Many documents that are produced today, such as personal letters, pictures, contracts, newspapers, and medical records, would be considered valuable historical documents in the future. Digitization is now ensuring that most of these will be lost in the future since they are either printed on ordinary paper which has a limited lifespan, or stored in digital formats that will become obsolete fairly soon. Websites  don’t last forever. Formats change, whole sites disappear and, once lost,  digital content is irretrievable. Governments are now attempting to increase the number of documents that will survive the passage of time, by taking into account the preservation issues, and either printing documents in a manner that would increase the likelihood of them surviving indefinitely, or placing selected documents in time capsules or other special storage environments. Look at http://www.bl.uk/100websites/

Break this down to an organization and you see similar desire to capture ideas – web sites , blogs, twitter, Youtube, Facebook – as we all strive to stay competitive and demonstrate a slight advantage in a particular deal or market place.

So we put our ideas into documents. Cool. Now what?

DEVICES. We all have them.

Some of us have just one. Some of us have quite a few. Just a few of us have none. We carry them. We have them on our desk. We input and output from a device. We print from them. We share them. We talk into them. We read from them. We see others through them.

Our Device at work could be a Desktop PC. It could be a printer we use every day. It may be a combination of a Desktop PC, a printer ( or a copier ), a notebook and a smartphone. It may be a tablet device. It may be a kiosk PC in a hotel, library or shopping area. It may be an interactive white board.  For some of us ( and a lot more of us in the future ) in an average day we may touch so many devices we will forget how many. Perhaps eventually it wont be a big deal as the demographic waves bring more and more young people into the world of work who actually talk about The Device. And not just a PC, laptop, smartphone, printer and so on.

Everything is a document. Not just the obvious things like reports, thesis, presentations balance sheets, emails, faxes,  texts,  tweets, posts, voice and video calls. They all really end up encapsulated in a frame contain inside an IP packet. Zeros and Ones. Zeros and Ones and are transmitted from one device to another. Modern day binary code.

Except for a few exceptionally gifted people working in environments where ideas can be executed ‘on the fly’ without any need to ‘write them down’ and ‘share with others’, the rest of us are in an endless loop of creating, consuming and challenging ideas, usually in the form of a ‘document’ – reports, presentations, emails, texts, tweets, graphs, statements. We create, consume and challenge these documents in all manner of ways – verbal usually works – but ultimately the ‘document’ ends up being consumed on a Device.

So we have a neat little triangle of ideas, documents and devices that endlessly go round and round as we go about our daily lives at work. To most of us we don’t even know we are doing this as we stand on the train sending a text message. Or reading emails on our smartphone. When we sit in a coffee bar we do not consciously think about this. But for our generation there is a lot of work to do to create a corporate experience where ideas blend into documents and where devices seamlessly access these documents in a anywhere anytime experience

No in 2013 we have to manage the backend plumbing, architectures, security, policies and costs in a fashion that is  inevitably going to get smoothed out over the next decades to reach an experience that ‘just works’. So now consider you are the person charged with managing this neat little triangle of ideas, documents and devices.

The IT Organization. How do you do it? Like last time of course. Why of course? Because its what we all know. Devices are just bits of hardware that have tangible characteristics like hard drives, IP addresses, MAC addresses, memory modules, networking and an Asset Identifier ( Ok a sticker ). We just count them up, check what they are running and then support them when they break. Physical and virtual.

Unfortunately the ‘productivity’ ingredients of a modern 21st century IT organisation has changed. Changed because technology has allowed us to do more with more, be it RAM capacity, CPU speed, network ‘umpf’, screen resolutions, human interaction ( touch ). The clever clogs –Moore, Berners-Lee, Jobs,  Gates, Page and so on have ‘nailed’ the Idea, Document, Device. These boys have allowed us to create the Shadow. (http://wp.me/p15xAC-x0 ).  And its this Shadow that casts a real shadow across an IT organization as is realises that the speed of Idea, Document, Device has overtaken them and their tools, processes, information and skills are being left behind. Using the ‘we will do what we did last time’ doesn’t cut it.

For an IT organization to be the ‘provider of the environment’ to allow seamless Idea, Document, Device experiences for its users, a significant shift change in thinking is needed.  It is no longer about swapping out the old desktops and laptops for the newer models. Sure there is the 80/20 rule somewhere in all this but for the first time ( ever ) the blending of ‘ideas, documents and devices’ means that terms like BYOD etc are taking up a lot of airtime as organizations struggle to understand what they need to know. The problem is that the internal teams have two choices (or buckets http://wp.me/p15xAC-Al ). Do they stay in the ‘we will do what we did last time ‘ – even though last time is 5, 10 or 15 years or more ago? Or do they move into ‘we will imagine a different way to make a positive change to how our customers interact with the systems we provide to them’.

This is the hard bit. The old way meant we had to construct budgets using tried and tested ‘do what we did last time’ ways. Add 10% and we will be Ok style.Because the new way challenges the traditional thinking.  The thought of treating the Device as a consumptive device for documents that are the outputs of an idea?  Wow. That’s not an IT job. That’s for Marketing? That’s for Product development? That’s for the Board? No longer the CIO’s domain? Security Officer? Come to think of it who is responsible for an organisations’ device strategy because the Shadow is closing in. Devices are now coming in from non IT resources desperate to access the documents that contain the all important ideas.  Devices are now embracing devices that a while ago were not considered ‘relevant’ to the IT experience. Printers, scanners, whiteboards, video, voice. Of course these have been very important but now the people with the ideas and documents want a seamless ‘device’ experience regardless of what make the device is, what operating systems runs the device and who supports the device.

So my suggestion. Outside of understanding better the ‘classification of the modern work force’ ( see my post about this http://wp.me/p15xAC-yD ), and the modern work place ( wireless, deskless, syndicated desk areas, hot spots ) IT organizations would do not wrong to start to look at their ‘device fleet’ as ‘one’. Why? Because the user is now after a different experience that for many has outreached the ‘traditional desktop’ and now seek a more proactive and seamless experience. But of course for the IT organization managing the cost of these different devices is now the ‘new news’. Experience of how to cost managing this ‘Next Device’ explosion is not embedded in many IT organizations. Even the vendors lack the legacy experience of doing this. It is new for many. What is needed is a good understanding of ‘fleet management’. A mindset that tackles the device as a true commodity and as an asset that can be cost effectively managed.

Why is this so important? Until we get total device independence, self service and true cloud seamless end user experience ( my estimate is 20 years away ) , there has to be a ‘shim’ by IT organizations who create  a service that meets the cost constraints of IT budgets whilst delivering a reasonable Next Device experience that allows the ‘smart people’ to take their ideas, create documents and consume the output on a device of their choice.

This sounds a lot easier than in practice and to those who say ‘ lets do what we did last time’ may be missing a very important ‘trick’.

BrummieRuss.

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1, 2, 3, 4 ,5 questions not being asked of IT stakeholders

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Whilst the Good, Better, Best conversation is a such a compelling debate there is sadly the reality that too often this approach is far too emotional to truly register at the coal face of a supplier ( partner )  to customer meeting, as they have little definition to build successful commercial engagements, service delivery models and project portfolios. They also lack shall I say the definition needed to make sure the meeting doesn’t degenerate too quickly! Sure we need the emotion to help us focus and prioritise but at the end of the day if someone just tells you ‘to do it faster’ it can often have the reverse effect 🙂 Especially if you already supply services to that someone 🙂

Now of course the true set of questions you have to ask are more mundane like ‘discussing a platform upgrade’, or ‘a service contract renewal’ or ‘to demonstrate a new product feature’.I have posted a few times the type of questions I would consider appropriate with these conversations but as we all know it depends on a number of factors and sadly there is no checklist of questions to ask. If only eh !!

But this time round I have come up with 5 more questions that I reckon on their day have a good chance of giving the stakeholder a moment of pause and to help you build a story to help you sell something. Of course knowing these questions are coming can often make a stakeholder be on their guard but then at the end of the day if you are in a true stakeholder meeting then the conversation should be balanced and very open. Yes?

1. What is the IT Department’s purpose?

A bizarre one perhaps to start with but truly do any of us really know what the mission statement or purpose is of the people we are working with? Being curious about what actually the IT department is there for may be seen as a stupid task but given the shifting sands of consumerisation and the marginalisation of IT departments ( Shadow IT etc etc ) it is now a compelling question I feel. After all can you imagine the answers you would get?

Would you hear;

1. The IT department exists to support the end user community in their use of technology and to ensure the business can trade successfully with customers using digital assets and services. Ouch!

2. The team’s purpose is to manage the infrastructure, applications, devices and data to meet the service level agreement agreed with the board of directors in accordance with the preset service level KPI dashboard. Double ouch!!

3. The organization relies on the IT department to respond to service desk requests efficiently and promptly to ensure employees have access to corporate information at all times with minimal downtime. I give up!!!

4. Or this beauty….”the IT department is a collection of persons who are experts when it comes to electronic communications of all kinds.  In addition to understanding what forms of electronic data, visual, and audio communication are available, the IT department will be able to evaluate available services and determine which services and vendors can provide the best equipment and service support for the company.  Along with making determinations about what equipment to use and which vendors to work with, the IT department will also oversee the day to day operations of all electronic communication devices within the company.”

My question may not be one to ask the stakeholder directly but it might help your cause if you have an idea yourself just in case the tired and questionable examples above are actually not far from the truth and potentially up for grabs as the 21st century IT organization kicks in ( see http://wp.me/p15xAC-w5 )

2. What should the IT department stop doing?

So if you get some traction with Question 1 then this question is an interesting departure from the obvious question “What should the IT department start doing?”.  Traditional focus by IT leaders is too often on things they must start doing immediately. Usually the business stakeholders will demand an immediate change of direction and the IT leader is under immense pressure to go get results. But the hard question is what they are willing to eliminate as they seek to get these results.? If they can’t it massively lessens the chances of being successful because it will suck up resources doing what’s no longer necessary and ultimately mean NOTHING GETS DONE.

The quotation “If you can’t describe what you are doing…. then go and do something else ” does ring true somewhere here especially as a lot of IT departments are not really sure where to start on the Stop Doing aspect and far too often fall back to continue to do what they did before.

Determining the things that the IT department should stop doing is a broad discussion but in my experience it is those things that are no longer aligned to the goal of the IT department – not the historic goal by the way but the here to day 21st century goal that is probably not identified, agreed and communicated with ANYONE.

3. If there wasn’t an existing IT department how could we build one?

So as we go a long with these questions and depending on answers to 1 and 2, lets consider a practical example. Way back when Intel C level stakeholders thought one day about  the day they were kicked out and what a new CEO would be in their absence? What they came up with was a belief that the new CEO would have on bias and constraint and would have no emotion built over time because of familiarity and legacy. Great words don’t you think? So what did Intel do? They stopped  investing in a ever declining memory chip business ( familiarity and legacy )  –  and shifted the focus to microprocessors. The  rest is history 🙂

4. How can the IT department experiment better?

Of course having a purpose and a plan are one thing; the other is being able to actually move things forward. Too often technology change brings a lot of uncertainty and anxiety inside an IT department as it represents not only change but also a challenge to fully assess, validate and design sufficiently to allow the new technology ( use this word loosely as it covers new services as well ). Also the financial lock down often experienced by IT departments create a ‘keep the lights on’ philosophy and squash experimentation. Therefore, in periods of such uncertainty the best way is to embark on concerted experimentation to ensure creativity is not stifled. By encouraging teams to own a chunk of the demonstrating the proof point of a technological change such as Proof of Concept can really help the IT department overcome the ‘stigma’ that follows the history and legacy that too often prevent smart people working in such teams to blossom ( did I say that – must be a deep wish for better weather in the UK ).

So you sell to IT departments. Ask yourself this. What I am doing to help my stakeholder experiment better?

5. Given the answers to Question 1 through 4 what should a partner do next?

Should I answer this one.. I don’t think so 🙂 Lets leave it to your imagination. After all – you can lead a horse and all that……..but check out http://wp.me/p15xAC-wh

Brummie.