Monthly Archives: April 2014

Is the Long Tail wagging too much for I.T organizations?

The term long tail, based originally from retail strategies, describes selling a large number of unique items with relatively small quantities sold of each, allowing the retailer to make a  significant profit out of selling small volumes of hard-to-find items to many customers instead of only selling large volumes of a reduced number of popular items.  The term gained momentum in a book written by Chris Anderson entitled “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More”.

the long tail

In the  technology sector, and more specifically the world of the IT organizations, the opportunities to see the long tail in operation are far reaching.  You see it most notably at Tech Trade Shows. A recent Cloud Expo in the UK had 65 new cloud vendors than in 2013. I am reliably informed that the organizers had to turn down twice that number due to lack of space. And this is just the Cloud shift . The Mobile market place is also awash with ‘long tailers’. The Tablet market place has a few as well, and the DataCenter vendor segment appears to have  a very healthy Head and Tail.
In the retail world offering a wide range of choice has become the norm as the pound in the pocket has a major influence on where consumers go. The High Street wars, internet shopping, imported cheap goods, Pound Shops and so on have extended the Tail to new levels. Although revenues and profits are no longer the exclusivity of the Head retailers – people are making good business up and down the retail long tail.
But in the confines of the IT organization there is a dilemma in the long tail, where choice is exercised not just by the IT people, but by the stakeholders and consumers alike.
Consider these three versions of the Long Tail image.

Long Tail

The modern day IT organization is constantly battling against its Long Tail. Years of purchasing ‘tech’ has created a tail that consists of many niche solutions from small technology vendors bought to perform a ‘specific task’. Of course the advent of virtualization and cloud has let large enterprises and small alike to reduce their tail, but for many, there is still a lot of work to do. And of course, the longer the tail the more suppliers and skills that are needed to maintain the IT Service.

Indeed if you showed an IT organizations’ selection of technology against the backdrop of the long tail would probably reveal a mix of Head and Tail vendors that on reflection may be contributing to service issues, perception issues, budget management concerns and overall architectural challenges as the business organization demands change.

The Business Organization sees decades of spend on IT stuff ( too frequently on Long Tail stuff   ), and have realised that over this time “IT had learned what they needed to do”. Being business people however,  they fully understand the long tail, and building repeatable and scaleable business models is what they are masters at. Look at how a business organizations takes its products and services the organization is taking to market. They may be making cars, building houses, selling cruise holidays. If successful you will have mastered the art of repetition and cost sensitive routes to market. They will have built an ‘adjacent’ business stream that sells accessories ( for the cars ), insurance ( for the houses ) and luggage ( for the cruises ). They  will have a partner ecosystem that provides specialist component parts that if you did yourself would drive up your operating costs and weaken the margin you so treasure. I think you will get the point I am making by now.

At some point the business organization will have realised that they did did have a Long Tail and through business acumen, strategy and execution, steps were taken to rationalise supply chain, introduce cost saving mechnanics, sourcing agents and ultimately doing more with less. Part of this strategy may have been to move away from the Head where larger suppliers have enjoyed too much monopoly and wallet share, and instead, a group of small niche Long Tailers may indeed be providing the right level of service to support current and predicted market conditions.

The sutble ( yet huge ) difference is that the Business Organization is quite good at this sourcing strategy, unlike the IT organization has had decades of not ‘worrying about this stuff’ and spent their time building the Long Tail using ‘subjective criteria’ for selection based on individual  techie ‘preference’, supplier ‘recommendation’, word of mouth, experimentation ( masqueraded as R&D) and so on.

But let me close with another Long Tail.

We also have ( and the for the first time ) the Worker Long Tail, where the empowered employee is happily testing and experimenting with a full range of devices and apps that they can buy themselves using the full spectrum of the Consumer Long Tail and will eventually bring their own personal long tail into the workplace. We have heard it “I have my own smartphone”, “I use this little app in so and so’s cloud to share documents” and “yeah i access the network from my homebuilt ‘TV PC’ using some free Open Source code and a Raspberry Pi”. It is this group of workers that may never ever use the products and services the IT organization so skillfully build and manage. All they want is some of the Head services and they are good to go. Scary thought.

So who is looking at the Long Tail in the IT organization? Procurement, HR , and Marketing. No longer does the IT department get to tuck that tail away at night into the computer room. No – new people skilled and adept at maximising the Head, and minimising the Tail are now laying out the Tail in full view of everyone and asking tough questions like “Why” and “why do we need this product when we have this product” and “why did we buy this software when we no longer use it”. This goes on. What about all the skills training an IT organization has invested in to achieve competence in a particular technology stream? Having a Long Tail can be expensive and potentially counter productive.

And this is where the CLOUD is becoming the force behind a reduction in the Long Tail for the IT organization, where heavy lifting services can become part of someone elses’ Head like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, VMware and so on. But only to a point. Because whilst the Cloud is carving up to large (Head ) vendors – Microsoft, Cisco, HP etc – there is also a huge long tail of smaller partners offering tools and services that ‘optimize’ the cloud experience.

Morale of this post? Watch out for the Long Tail. Dont just focus on your own Long Tail. Consider the Business Long Tail and most definitely, take time to understand and accommodate the Worker Long Tail.



UK Productivity Output Per 60 Minutes Worked Goes Up; our value proposition – at last!


BBC news

I had to post this tonight.

Its rarely the BBC News catches my attention ( unless its sport related), but tonight I became intrigued in a piece around the statistic recently published by the Office for National Statistics that claims that productivity output per hour worked in the UK has seen a small increase in the last three months of 2013.

My ears initially picked up because I heard the discussion switch to how the UK’s ‘output per hour’  has finally turned the corner after the many years of recession, which in turn triggered my senses around how ‘technology’ can (is )  really making a difference, versus just being something we used to sell years’ ago but no longer matters.

I reflected that after all the millions spent on technology each year by organizations, the bottom line is that each one of these organizations are only in business to produce more goods and services in every hour their workers turn in each day. From one perspective this facet of every day human life has not altered over the centuries – just the pace of change, speed we work and the insatiable demand from our customers for simply more and more. And with no turning back the inevitable consequence that our ‘younger workforce’ of the future is going to demand and expect the most productive hour possible.

Talk about raising the stakes in the whole talent management and relationship with technology debate.

If we recall back to the decade before the financial crash of 2007, the output per hour worked in the UK was healthily increasing at a rate of 2.5% each year. Then we had the financial crash and the recession which knocked our economy backwards, which is why I suspect the slight increase to 0.7% during October and December 2013 is such big news.

What this really means is that despite us all ‘working harder than ever before’ the wealth we are generating as a country is lower now than it was in the decade preceding the financial crash of 2007. Wow. So we work harder, produce more but are creating less wealth. As the analysts say – its a puzzle.

The  BBC report went on to comment that compared to our foreign competitors around the world ( no names were given )  the UK is 20% worse off in terms of output per hour worked. Being desperately simple in my translation I concluded that it meant we are ultimately less productive. But how come. We are spending billions each year on technology. Is this saying for most of us its dead money? Surely Nicholas Carr ( of Does IT Matter ? fame ) isn’t right?

Of course we will blame the banks. Of course we will blame the Government. Of course we will blame the weather. But realistically as technologists we may find the truth closer to home in how we sell, deploy and support technology to really drive the output of the workers in our client organizations. And I know it may only be a small part of the real truth behind the UK statistics ( imports, exports, the dollar, the pound, the Euro, China, pay negotiations, tax positions, National Insurance all have a part ), but in true circle of influence if we are all in the productivity industry then we had better take more notice of such statistics. Yes? No?

What started to grind away at me is the true value of technology – all that stuff we are so passionate about, all the fantastic features ( and benefits ) we craft so religiously over to sell and buy and all those hours we spend supporting customers who have chosen a particular route to go down. What is it all about?

In my recent post( ) If I discussed the concept of boiling down our world of work into the construct of the 60 minute experience and how ‘technology’ is really meant to make a true difference in how we move around our buildings ( work and home )  and society ( cities and neighborhoods ), how we exchange information, how we extract knowledge from this information to achieve more, sell more, serve more, win more and ultimately, achieve more output for our employers or ourselves, more output per hour. More wealth.

Technology is the input to our productivity output.

Simply put –  if we are all about reducing all those counter productive things we do, that burn our ability to be more client facing in whatever job we do out there, then we should all have an interest in what the Office for National Statistics is telling us. After all we go to work to have a successful and rewarding experience, and if technology ( from any vendor ) can make this a smarter, more efficient, faster and better experience then Boom! we are all in. Whether its not using email anymore, sharing documents collaboratively, being smarter how we print ( or not ) documents, how we use mobile technology to consume information, how we use cloud services to develop products faster than ever before or how we ensure that IT just bloody works for our customers, the quest to drive out those inefficient minutes every hour of the working day is where we play. Surely?

The BBC report got me thinking about if ultimately everything we do in the ‘technology sector’ is aimed at increasing this ‘bland statistic’ for our closest and dearest clients and stakeholders then if we did our own analysis of how successful we are being I wondered what it would look like. The BBC referenced one or two employers who made direct references to how technology has helped ( in part ) drive their output, and whilst they didn’t reference specific technology types, it suggested tools that gave them a Speed 2 experience ( and output was firmly in there somewhere.

Now for the close.

We are in the technology industry and in one way or the other our jobs are to make our clients more productive. There is in my eyes no greater (or simpler) value proposition. It is our Why we get up the morning. Whether we work in sales, software development, support services or manufacture product our one and only goal is to make our clients’ experience in their next 60 minutes more productive than the last.

If we are smart the evidence seen on the BBC news tonight should form part of our ‘story’ with clients. After all, after all the rhetoric of ‘tell us your business pain or goals’ the real deep down truth is that someone in the clients’ organization ( and hint it may not be the IT organization anymore ) will have a very keen eye on their employees output statistics, and will be sitting there with a dirty great big ‘Approved or Rejected’ stamp on our beautifully crafted sales propositions. Our challenge (collectively) is to continue to develop our conversation and use such great discussions point to improve our Why, How, What or Right to Left business led approach.

Ponder this.

If all we do is wake up the morning with the goal to make our client’s 60 minutes more productive than the last then that’s one helluva value proposition, and being incredibly British about it, will be contributing to improving our economy by empowering our clients’ to be more successful, which as we all know, makes us so much more successful in whatever we do.