Monthly Archives: October 2013

Why counting I.T users is a thing of the past

Collage of isolated people

There was a time when knowing the number of people inside an IT organization using the IT System was a very important metric, but now today, whilst still an important , the concept of ‘counting users’ has now shifted to a much wider understanding inside corporate IT.

This post explores why I  believe this to be so.

I cant recall exactly when but certainly since the arrival of the ‘Personal Computing Device’ – under many derivatives from VDU, Terminal, Workstation, PC, notebook – knowing how many devices or units that were deployed on a network was a significant requirement.

Primarily driven by the sheer cost of the early hard wired ‘terminal workstations’ and the expensive cabling routed back to the mainframe/minicomputer environment, the IT organization just had to know where and who had access. But of course ‘technology access’ was the domain of only a few.

As we fast forward during the mid 80s and early 90s we saw costs of components reduced dramatically over time and the explosion of desktop PCs and laptops, and  emerging client server technology meant that offices became flooded with cheap wiring infrastructure, which in turn drove a much wider distribution of compute power to the end user. Users became more widespread and the counting conundrum began in earnest as devices appeared on everyone’s desk. In these days maintaining lists of users and devices fell easily into the IT organization and quite often became a simple In/Out exercise for an IT administrative person.

Of course software running on these devices didn’t really create many issues given the still limited scope of local software available and the engine room nature of mainframe and mini based business workhorse applications. But then we had the ‘software’ explosion – almost overnight and the introduction of increasingly complex licensing EULAs  which meant the IT organization now had to count devices, users and licenses. Suddenly it became more complicated. Mechanisms were needed to control either how many licenses were deployed or being accessed concurrently. Each software vendor approached this characteristic of the IT service in different ways which slowly created another exponential burden of counting even more ‘users’ and started to challenge the once simple question. ‘how many users do I really have again?”. Remember software dongles?

Procurement and purchasing people were now entering the fray as this complexity of licensing became a skill that often out-foxed the IT organization. Certainly large enterprise organizations began moving purchasing decisions out of the IT domain as they sought value for money and competitiveness too often lacking when the IT organization held the keys so to speak.

So now we had momentum and a new set of people responsible for ‘counting users’. And don’t forget the ‘number of users’ still drove IT procurement cycles for refresh, still drove sizing servers, storage, network pipes and datacenters and controlled the ratio of IT personnel to end users. Our industry settled on many ways of measuring the size of an IT infrastructure entirely based on the user count which for many large enterprises often became exceptionally complicated and ultimately marginalised once virtualization spiralled into our vocabulary and understanding.

Back in the IT organization, and running alongside the more fragmented landscape of the modern IT organization, we had the shift to treating the devices as configuration items or CIs driven by commitments to become more ‘mature’ under the governance of ITIL and ITSM strategies. Depending on the maturity of the IT organization to not only control the configuration asset, but now the procurement process coupled with even more  new ‘counters’ of the devices such as HR and Security, the ‘counting users’ conundrum now moved up a significant notch. And significant it was. Because the need for better automation of on boarding of new personnel, automation of device build and distribution of software, control of access rights and the end of life exit processes for leavers all increased pressure on the ‘user count’.

with now not only IT, Procurement, HR, Payroll, Facilities and Security departments with a stake in ‘counting users’ for a whole host of reasons the paradox hit home that ‘in the thirst to standardise and rationalise the IT function a new ‘elephant in the room’ entered under the guise of ‘exactly how many users do we now actually have’.

And as if this wasn’t enough we had the nuance of remote working, offline working, working on the road and working with ‘partners’ and ‘associates’ all added a wave of ‘users’ that whilst may not have been on the payroll needed to be ‘counted’ for a wide variety of reasons to maintain governance and compliance, and to provide a level of IT service management for experience, performance and availability.

Phew and I’ve not really got to cloud, Bring your own, Self Service Application Stores, and social networking.

So one more fast forward to today and the ‘counting of users’ mercilessly marches on as we now have services being accessed in hybrid fashion between all manner of clouds, from all manner of corporate and personal devices and by all manner of people, all with an increasingly growing stake in collaboration inside and outside the modern organization. Imagine how a large global IT organization is now ‘counting users’. Or even a medium sized business. And even a small business. Who now knows ‘how many users’ there are? Guaranteed that there will be host of different answers given all the ‘owners’ of the list causing all manner of challenges for licence shortfall, location of corporate assets, loss of intellectual property to non corporate assets, and so on.

So to finally nail the ‘counting users’ coffin we introduce the ‘Diversity Challenge’ of user characteristics referring to the different buckets of Baby Boomers, Millennials, Generation X and Y, which add a further layer of complexity of ‘counting users’ given Age, Workplace, Hours and Social influences.

And please don’t get me started on the emergence of Augmented Reality, Internet of Things, Machine to Machine and Wearable Computing.

Still think ‘counting users’ is still a valid measurement for IT organizational ( business change ) decisions?

Brummie.

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Same meeting – worlds apart with the words

We love meetings. Our industry thrives on them. Its all part of the selling motion. Sitting down discussing problems and opportunities and crafting solutions and services to answer the need. These meetings take place against the backdrop of maximising our time as we rush around trying to do more and more which of course is the secret to success. These meetings range from Technology meetings? Business Meetings? Meetings about technology to support business? Meetings that start of as technology meetings but end up about why the business needs to change? Meetings that start as a business meeting and end up talking about technology? Meetings that end up confused and pointless because all parties concerned are living in different unconnected worlds?

Meetings, meetings and more meetings.We all attend them. We may  sit there are cringe at times. We all sit there and wish that someone would ask the Why? question. We often do it ourselves to help bridge the gap between the product and the need. Too often no one does though because its safer to live in our own world of comfort and security whether we are technologists, strategists, and evangelists. And of course the business people live in a different world where they struggle to link the technology we are talking about with why they need to change.

So I did a little exercise in a recent meeting where I ‘counted up’ the words being frequently used and then created three circles of the output below.

3 worldes collide

Each circle represents the three elements to the conversation occurring at the meeting. It was an amazing meeting as people from all sides skipped from one circle to the other, all trying to position their circle of influence as the dominant. You had the people who lived in the What circle making compelling cases for technology and services, and even down to features and benefits of a particular piece of hardware and software. Then there were the people who were working hard on the mechanics of the relationships – the How circle people – who were trying to build trust through more emotional phrases. And finally the people who sat predominantly in the Why Circle challenging everything been said as they sought to find the hook into Why the business must change to meet the Vision.

The arrow is simple. It depicts the direction that the conversation should go but often doesn’t. Of course its a skill thing to a point, though its is a lot about common sense.

For me personally taking this approach has taught me to try harder than ever to balance myself between these three worlds and work even harder at the language I used. It also taught me I have to help others step outside their comfort world and appreciate the other worlds where the conversation is so very different. And you know what? This is a really hard thing to do. And this is because our brains our wired in a certain way which means we actually cant help ourselves from defaulting to our preferred worlds. And what is even worse? There is another world of conversation occupied religiously by the ‘techie’ who has a library of technical words and phrases that are meant to win the day when all else fails. To these guys the arrow can only start from within their world.

So in summary there is one takeaway for me. Work harder at the conversation. Be careful not to occupy one world at the expense of the other. Collaborate with people who have strengths in the other worlds to make your position stronger. Don’t be too smart and clever. Don’t sacrifice the technology world as if its irrelevant because it isn’t.  Try and gauge where the audience sit in terms of conversation worlds and be prepared to jump in and out of each to ensure the meeting is successful for all concerned. Make sure anything written balances the three worlds whether it is the Exec Summary or closing statement for a meeting.

Living in three worlds is not a bad thing if you can do it.

Good luck

Brummie.