Monthly Archives: January 2014

All we have to do is to be ADJACENT and RELEVANT

adjacent relevance

Adjacent and  Relevance are fast becoming some of the most important words in the IT Services conversation today. Discuss.

A while ago It felt to me that the word Perspective was the dominant word uttered by people in the IT industry – whether it be customers, suppliers ( sales ) , and manufacturers.

A meeting wouldn’t go by without someone making a statement ( or speech ) about how they saw things ‘from their perspective’. initially when I realised this was happening I would sit back and wonder what the word perspective really meant. Of course for a customer there is a strong case for them to have the ‘right’ to put things from their perspective because they are the customer, they own the relationship, they pay the bills – they have the power.

Then you would hear suppliers and consultants introduce ‘perspective’ into their dialog, and whilst of course there is a perspective from all angles, it struck me that it was often being used in an incorrect sense.

For example, I often heard situations where the customer may have had a strategy to do something new, or had a specific negative issue causing business pain, to which the supplier would use the word ‘perspective’ to appear to defend their failure to meet the customer’s requirements ( price, service or response time to a system issue ).

It appeared to be a ‘justification’ for not stepping up. It seemed to exempt the person using the word from any liability. Slowly the word perspective became the norm as the conversation between customer and supplier started to separate, because deep down the customer was asking themselves this …’Is the person ( representing their organization ) in front of me relevant to what I need to do?’

Now when I play this back to myself  I begin to consider ‘Am I relevant’? ‘ Do I have anything relevant to contribute?’, ‘ Is what I have to sell actually relevant anymore’.

Let me tell you. Asking yourself the relevant question is a great way to make you sit up and consider your conversation. Its not a negative then of course ( well it could be ). No its a way of challenging oneself to make sure you work that little bit harder on your proposal, presentation, contract or conversation.

And then I picked up and excellent book called The Elastic Enterprise by Vatalari and Shaughnessy, which by the end I had established in my head two words perhaps rarely used together ‘Adjacent Relevance’.

The theme set is simply around how forward thinking businesses that transform themselves into even more successful organizations have common characteristics that make then stand above their competitors. The book discusses successful global organizations such as Apple, USAA, Google, Amazon, GE, Caterpillar and their unique ability to master management, visibility and agility to maneuver swiftly in new economic environments, and out compete their competitors. Being Adjacent and Relevant is what these organizations do best.

What I love about this book is that it has an emphasis on the IT organization and how the foundations of technology today – cloud, gamification, social media, partner coexistence, mobility, universal connectors (APIs really ) and so on – are the essential building blocks of these organizations today. Can you imagine Amazon’s or Google’s IT organization not being Adjacent nor Relevant to their business plans. But I am sure you can think of many others closer to home that are.

Vatalari and Shaughnessy talk of business operating models, process transformation, the dreaded ‘innovation’ word and how closely IT aligns to business objectives. Using examples of how true Leadership, humans and machines, scaled interaction and elastic resources really hit home.

As you get into the book you are struck with the beautiful simplicity of how Apple, GE, Amazon just cannot fail to be successful in almost exponential strides.The example of RSS ( Really Simple Syndication ) was one of my favourites, describing how a free utility is now driving ‘free’ methods of distributing content. Ever subscribed to the Huffington Post? You should do as this is an online only news organization created completely from content distribution using RSS. ( By the way Huffington was recently sold for $300M!).

You also reflect on some notable failures where the lack of ‘adjacent relevance’ caused business disruption. Remember Cisco’s Flip video camera? Or Kodak? Or BlueCircle and lawnmowers?

You see what I realised from the book was that as organizations seek to open up or expand market share they seek to drive into adjacent markets, quite naturally as it leverages maunfacturing, marketing, people , market awareness and so on. However, I was shocked when it appears that less than 15% of organizations who take on an adjacent strategy actually achieve any notable growth. So it means there has to be something else.

Look at Amazon.They totally demonstrate ‘Adjacent Relevance’ beyond comprehension with their move from being an online bookstore back in 1995 to now a publisher with Kindle Direct. Plus the ‘adjacent and relevant’ move into Cloud Services which now makes them a ‘relevant’ partner for many large IT organizations. Who would have thought that when they first used Amazon to buy a book, a kettle or a pair of trousers.

Now back to Perspective. Suddenly your perspective of a client who is sat opposite you with the challenge of how to make their IT organization ‘adjacent and relevant’ to a business that itself is seeking ‘adjacent and relevant’ business transformation change, has dramatically altered. What you originally thought with your products and services that they would be good fit for the organization has near but all disappeared. Now you are faced with having to justify your ‘stuff’ and overcome one of the killer questions ‘ How do your products and services make my strategy more adjacent and relevant to the business goals.’

So instead of using a pretty meaningless ‘from my perspective’ how about we all try and make sure before we open our mouths we have considered what the client needs ( because we should know this right? ) and structure our persona, characteristics and output in the frame of being ‘adjacent and relevant’ to what the client is looking for. It might be we look at a product we have and sit back and consider how we can make it more ‘adjacent and relevant’ to other products, other services and so on. Or we look at a service we provide and then consider what the customer is doing with their business, and look at ways to make the service more ‘adjacent and relevant’ to helping them meet their goals.

Easy to say but not easy to do sometimes , but you know what….go get the book and see if you see the same…………it may help you. It has me.

Brummie.

The shrinking I.T Back Office

shrinking IT

When you look at the most successful IT organizations out there you will see clear and distinct structures, approaches, skills and services that take into account the separation of the layers of a technology strategy – namely the Back Office from the Front Office.

Back Office effectively means the ‘data center’ whether owned by an organization ( many do not ) or by a third party, which contains all the infrastructure ( servers, networking, storage, security, control services ) that ‘run’ the business from a technology perspective. Typically the Back Office also contains all the ‘assets’ belonging to the organization so can include all the device assets ( like PCs, , printers, notebooks and so on ). The Back Office will contain all the Statement of Record services such as payroll, ERP, HR, timerecording. It includes all the processes, governance, controls and people. It is all the infrastructure that connects things together. To many it is everything; to others it is nothing.

Front Office effectively means the ‘front of house services’ that an employee, division, department or customer uses to transact and communicate their role. Let me explain. A sales person will typically never directly communicate to a back office, but use devices and light weight applications to ‘mask’ access to the back office i.e. web email, web CRM and so on. It is the apps that improve the ‘hour’ of an employees working day. It is the ease of access, always available IT service that just scales to meet demands not even considered last year. To many it is everything; to others it is more than that.

But most importantly the flexibility to use devices either they own ( or their organization owns ) to access systems that go nowhere near the Back Office to store and share information whether it is social applications like Facebook, Twitter or public cloud services like DropBox, Office 365 and so on. A Front Office person in reality ‘touches’ very little of the corporate IT layer.

Let me try to explain.

I recall way back in the 80s we have mainframe and mini type IT services fronted by relatively dumb devices ( terminals).

Managing the IT infrastructure was simplicity itself ( perhaps it wasn’t then but compared to today it was ). 100% of the business information was locked away and effectively at night – turned off. Control was total. A user was called an operator effectively and the IT organization ruled their estate like lords of the manor.

As we moved into the 90s we have client server technology to join all those PC workstations running Windows and this gave the IT organization new challenges to coexist with the mainframe and terminal systems but still really retained close to 100% control of business information. Gaps did appear as users demanded remote access and local storage suddenly grew in capacity to allow people to ‘save locally’. However, for all this the IT organization still held the upper hand, and more importantly within a strict set of hours ( 9am to 5pm).

Even when the web boom came into town the IT organization simply had to provide security measures like firewalls and protection against fairly basic virus and malware threats. But now for the first time really the opportunity to take your data outside the organization became a real issue with the advent of public hosted email services. Along with improvements in the PC architecture and the rise of notebook computing, external storage now allowed a user to use remote access dial up services to connnect to the network, do their stuff and then go offline. For the first time in the history of computing, the IT organization saw they were losing a significant level of control. Coupled with the natural growth in virus attacks due to the growing popularity of Windows and the opportunity now for internet borne attacks, the IT organization now perhaps only 80% control.

The .Net boom came quickly along to then give a new problem with business to customer opportunities to transcat over the internet, as retailers and others saw business opportunities flood in as the growth of PC home computing became de facto due to lowering costs, Moores Law and the ability to get ‘better internet connectivity’ at home rather than at work. In addition, the concept of a road warrior employee grew as organizations moved away from the central office and command center to more mobile work forces delivering services to their customer base. Mobile technology was a key influencer here as was the  introduction of wireless networking to allow short message connectivity (SMS ) to flourish.

Now the IT organization has the emergence of the front office as their supported user based became much more mobile, geographically remote ( local and international), hybrid ( Employed and sub contracted ) and most importantly, customer orientated. Being honest the Back Office was probably now consuming only 60% of the ITs direct control and command oversight.

Finally consider the device explosion that does not connect or consume Back Office services. Consider that also many IT organizations do not ‘see’ a lot of the devices that touch their network, nor the data created by people using these shadow devices. Business departments creating their Own services in the cloud to support their clients rely on the core IT service very little.

I spoke to someone recently who commented “Other than my logon account and my email which is cloud hosted I don’t think I use the Back Office IT function anymore. In fact, I cant remember when it changed, but it suits me because how I use technology today and in the future, supports the job I do just fine”.

Whether this comment is reflective I sense it is going to increase over time, as the Front of Front Office stretches further and further away from the Back Office.Today the mix may be 20% Back and 80% Front for many IT organizations as the Front of Front of Front office with the Back Office IT Operations a considerable distance behind.

Of course the Back Office is vital. You cant have a building without a solid foundation right?

I sense that business change is moving IT organizations to a new  dawn near total separation of common core services from innovative and information services. Now instead of managing classic back office functions – capacity, performance, security, configuration – a modern forward thinking IT organization will be actively seeking application delivery services, tiered hybrid data storage platforms, self-service support, mature service contracts, business engagement models and so on.

Takes a certain type of IT organization to do this.

Brummieruss.

2014 – IT Organization Resolutions, and Things to Watch Out For Sellers

Happy New Year.

As we step into 2014 we will all probably find ourselves reflecting on how our working lives are changing forever through the adoption of technology – though many of us may not necessarily give it a seconds thought especially today ( if last night was a heavy one).

I am therefore inclined to bring up the whole subject of the World of Work ( WOW ),  and what is becoming to mean to the everyday employee, and how a corporate IT organization in 2014 will need a few ‘resolutions’ up their sleeves to combat the ever changing demands of WOW. Oh and I give a few little insights for those of us who are out there convincing stakeholders to ‘buy from me’.

Let’s start with the WOW factor. Mobile, 4G, Wifi , cloud etc – are making our consumption of digitized documents and workflow processes something we can now do effectively anywhere, and via the medium of an ever growing crop of devices.  Statistics abound daily on how market conditions, socio-economic forces and the thirst for ‘big data’ is changing the WOW and that in 2020 the workforce will be totally immersed in social networks.

Our ‘hour at work’ is changing dramatically as we are given better tools and access to information, and we continue to find smarter ways to maximise our time. The ‘hour at work’ will be an interesting metric I sense. I posted about the Millenials and 27 times an hour (http://wp.me/p15xAC-Gx ). Tip of the iceberg stuff.

While I have your attention an excellent book to add to your wish list is ‘The 2020 Workplace’ by Meister and Willyerd. They eloquently discuss how innovative companies like Cisco, Deloitte, NASA and many others are building social network infrastructures ( and cultures )  to meet the demands of the Millenial Generation, as they push themselves to ensure their organizations are fit and proper for the ever changing landscapes they aspire to compete in, and be successful with.

(BTW Anyone who loves the ‘fluffy words’ used by technologists and analysts will love this book BTW – lots of hyper-connectivity, ecosystems and uber-connectivity)

I spoke last year of the Pace of Change (and how buildings are a good example for IT organizations to follow) and that there are three layers – Systems of Record, Systems of Differentiation and Systems of Innovation. Remember? (http://wp.me/p15xAC-xX).And that an IT organization’s real job is to manage this pace and keep IT service running?

Well this is where I believe 2014 and beyond is going to get so interesting as two huge forces come together, and compete for the same slot on the starting grid. These two forces? Back Office and Front Office of course. The Back Office being the infrastructure and support functions and the Front Office being the ‘WOW’ stuff.

And in the middle of all this is the business demanding more and more and wrestling control of decisions relating to ‘digital’ and ‘experience’. Not IT anymore because whether we like it or not to many business leaders IT still is reflected through the performance of the Service Desk. Rightly or wrongly is not for debate today.

So the resolutions that an IT organization could be making this coming year? I have three to kick on with.

  • Firstly, as part of a conscious Front Office commitment to the business many IT organizations would not go wrong by building an investment into their team structure for ‘digital savvy officers’ who sit firmly inside the ‘decision making functions’ in the organization – HR is a major contender nowadays, so is Marketing/Comms – with the sole purpose to ingratiate themselves into the rhythm of change occurring inside these functions and becoming the broker to the IT organization. Years ago these roles were called Business Analysts but I sense a skill for ‘understanding digital opportunities and development of business case propositions’ have moved up the people profile.
  • Secondly, 2014 should be about  taking a long and hard look at the portfolio of IT ‘buy and build projects’ and conduct a snapshot ‘step back’ review which simply is a fresh pair of eyes to examine the plausibility and reality of the project goals, resources and impact. Why? Well whether its Einstein with his ‘you can’t solve problems with the same thinking as you used to create them’ or a realization that IT still cannot manage programmes ( not projects mind ), the IT organization needs help.
  • Finally, it would not be a bad thing to commission a ‘Workspace Review’ of the workforce aimed at for the first time ( I suspect ). Such a review is way above the classic IT Service Catalog stuff i.e. everyone in Accounts gets a PC, XYZ Apps and a Service Level of 99%. By examining the workforce against their persona  (http://wp.me/p15xAC-yD )will help IT  moves away from the silo ‘ this is what you are entitled to ‘ approach to a more flexible ( and truthfully more realistic ) understanding of how to make sense of the ‘change’, and build infrastructure, controls and measurements that are not too rigid and overbearing.

And why I feel these three areas are important is simple. IT can easily be marginalised over the coming years if ( and a big if at that) it continues to plough the traditional path of infrastructure optimization ( virtualization, storage, networks, and even cloud ) without looking to the ‘right’ and making sure it is ‘relevant’ and being taken seriously by divisions that they previously thought ‘ yes you are my customer but I will tell you what you will get’. Cheese moving moment.

And the Things to Watch Out for the Suppliers out there?

  • Firstly, for many ‘customers’ the perception of IT being seen through the Service Desk looking glass will continue. Meaning that any proposition needs to be closely adjacent  to making the ‘sale’ to ensure it will resonate with the ‘grown up’ people who will make the decisions on partner selection and large volume procurement decisions ( note that this does not mean the IT Department alone ).
  • Secondly, the C level relationship will have torn loyalty. Whilst totally focused on the Back Office/IT Ops Service Management function, they will have a keen eye on the Digital Agenda so don’t be surprised that many portfolio discussions drift from the nuts and bolts, keeping the lights on stuff to deeper discussions around how transformation can be achieved through digitization strategies.
  • Finally, Digitization strategies will be a constant topic on the C level agenda, and if you are going to be treated seriously you need to understand this a lot more. Specifically I mean not falling into the infrastructure version of ‘digitization’ meaning IT transformation of core building blocks – devices, tools, apps etc. I mean being relevant in the discussions with the C level and the business stakeholders around transforming ‘process’ alongside ‘IT transformation’. You see they go hand in hand and can never be mutually exclusive. Get in there and demonstrate you understand the Right to Left Conversation ( next post I sense )

Will 2014 be a ‘big year’? Who knows? Who can predict? Many will of course. One thing is for sure. People who keep pushing themselves as individuals to improve their conversation will succeed. And one key ingredient of this conversation is to ‘widen their vision’ before others ‘narrow it for them’.

Brummieruss.