Moving from a Common Operating Environment (COE1) to a Common Optimised Experience ( COE2) – IT organisations face a challenge

” Our goal is to build a COE or SOE” to support our users” said many IT architects and service delivery leaders.


Back in the 1990s and early 21st century this phrase was at the heart of many a mid size to enterprise organisation, and it drove many a life cycle project as the IT organisation upgraded core elements of their IT service to address legacy concerns and continuous service improvement programmes ( CSIP ). And they said this for a simple and valid reason.

The more you standardised your back office platforms the more the chance of delivering a consistent and repetitive service to the business. This is why ITSM and ITIL became synonymous for IT leaders as they spent deep to train and drive staff to behave in semi-automated ways to support a COE decision. It made sense then and still makes sense now. Whether it was the build of datacenter infrastructure – servers, storage, networking, management of a PC environment – hardware, apps, patching, remote access, or the creation of a Dev Ops group that used standard application lifecycle concepts, tools and codebase, the directive from the IT business owners was to simplify IT. Decades of highly expensive silo IT projects had taught them well and building a COE was the inevitable outcome.

in these days of COE the IT organisation controlled most of the IT assets, IT support and the data, so they controlled the budget and therefore could mandate ‘refresh cycles’ with relatively easy governance as it was ‘part of doing business’ just like maintaining telephone systems, buildings and having departments like HR, finance and accounts. Lets say 80% of the IT ‘asset’ was controlled and managed by IT. Bottom line was that if you wanted to do something you needed IT to provide it to you and it typically came as a COE.

Now roll forward not that long until today and consider the relevnace of the COE goal against today’s more complicated landscape.

  • IT no longer controls most of the IT estate ( BYOD or unoffical BYOD challenges this percentage ),
  • IT no longer controls most of the IT support ( end users find fixes themselves or workarounds ) and
  • IT definitely no longer controls most of the data ( end users find their own apps, access external data sources, use social media and store corporate data in public and uncontrolled clouds.)
  • IT no longer controls the budget, with many other stakeholders commissioning IT services either directly with providers or demanding creativity and flexibility from the once locked down COE IT departments.

Ultimately, a cloud computing business whether it is a Infrastructure player like Amazon or Microsoft, or a Software player like SalesForce or AirBNB, are all about combining the best traits of a Common Operating Environment ( call it COE1 ) with a Common Optimised Experience ( call it COE2 ) as they make attractive portfolios to their ever demanding client base. Utility computing is the ultimate in driving this change with a race to the bottom in the COE 1 components and a rave to the top in providing a COE2 outcome.

Sweeping statements of course and in some sectors and organisations this will not be the case, but the underlying trend is that IT is losing more and more control, as an ever increasing shadow excites the friction of how organisations can take all the ‘digital might’ they possess ( or need to ) and create new value propositions, goods and services, and platforms to do their ‘business better’. Corporate IT policies are under review as security officers balance the needs of corporate governance, risk and control with the demands of Shadow, and the increasing reduction of IT’s ownership of ‘intelligence’ and ‘data’.

Because I believe we are moving from the traditional meaning of a COE to something more end user specific – Common Optimised Experience or a COE2.

The advent of the ‘cloud’ demonstrates that this technological shift right is bringing is allowing the IT organisations to relax some of the Common Operating Environment or COE1 as they flex to meet new scale challenges and end user opportunities. Policies are flexing to allow for some element of shadow IT, and technology selection is now moving into the end user domain as self -service becomes one of the key principles of a modern IT support organisation.

And it is because of this that I believe that we are moving away from the Common Operating Environment to this suggested COE 2 world.

Let me explain.

The combination of low cost high speed broadband, ever increasingly powerful mobile devices and the always on availability of applications ( and data storage ) from the cloud is making for an environment, where Experience is the number one outcome. People have a thirst for speed, immediacy and availability that is fast out-scaling
the earlier era of Common Operating Environments as they seek new platforms to do their work. Many have taken the traditional COE from their IT department and either found workarounds or use other devices and access methods to get their job done. Some do it under the radar or around the barrier while others do it in full glare of the IT department. Many others do this as part of being in a particular business domain that has ‘justified’ such behaviour as part of a speed two business project or initiative.

Our personal lives are a form of COE. We use common interfaces ( or APIs ) to collaborate and communicate with our friends and family, our banks and Amazon sites, even if they are using different devices and increasingly so, different applications. I mean do you care or even know whether your friend is using an Android or an iOS device to send you a Facebook message or post a direct Twitter message to you.? Of course you dont. Take a look at IFTTT for a glimpse of how people are now creating recipes of different applications in the cloud to get everyday organisational and productivity tasks done. Already many organisations are now allowing users to use lightly coupled cloud applications to interact through common API standards to get things done. For example, every time something happens to customer X in the CRM send me a private tweet or update my calendar as a reminder to speak to them tomorrow.

Everything we do now is about the Experience. Whether it is speed, ubiquitous access from any device we want or the ability to get to the information we need as painlessly as possible we are now all of use firmly in a COE 2 world. Gone are the days of getting the PC to work with the software we needed, getting connected to the internet and getting even a simple message to a friend, bulletin boards and shareware sites?

We are now using common architectures to communicate – Wifi, Bluetooth, NFC – however, allowing our experience to be adapted to the speed and availability of such networking ‘wires’. And we will increasingly use common tools to communicate in different languages, look at Google Translate and the Cortana / Siri work Microsoft and Apple is doing.

And finally look at the neural and probabilistic networks that are spinning up that promise to let us to ‘crunch’ our data in more meaningful and inciteful ways.

All of this stuff is giving us a Common and Optimised Experience without us really worrying about the hardware and software bits and pieces. And I believe that in many ways a modern organisation is now turning away from having to mandate the operating environment and moving to more a world where outside certain core building blocks
such as a logon to Active Directory for identity and address book, a back end platform for payroll, CRM and ERP and levels of security access to physical assets, the rest of the IT organisations function is to support the end user and ensure they are enjoying a Common Optimised Experience.

And this is way more than a BYOD policy. No this is more about blending a rich mix of IT owned and individually accessed assets to create a meaningful and productive experience that in turn ensures the organisation is optimising its investment in the IT team, the core assets and the individual in question. The true definition of Shadow IT is where decisions on technology hardware and software occur outside the governance and knowledge of the IT organisation as individuals and business units meet their particular needs out of their own pockets without any recourse to IT for any decision making engagement and ultimately, sanction. And in many organisations shadow IT is a significant contributor to a COE 2 landscape.

Of course many far reaching IT organisations are fully aware of the implications and unintended consequences of this evolution from COE 1 to COE 2. Many see this as a balancing act of course, and I see many organisations going through levels of experimentation as they turn up or turn down their approach to moving from a COE 1 to a COE 2 world. Some are being cautious allowing only small micro changes, others are going hell for leather to create a COE 2 and others are steadfast in sticking to a COE 1 strategy.

It would serve the IT organisation well if they took a step back and considered their own journey from COE 1 to COE 2 and indeed, whether they even have a COE 1 mindset today. Quite often the hardest step to aligning to a bimodal business that is moving at a pace not seen before in that organisation’s history is to look at how the IT service is driving bimodal working or perhaps, slowing down bimodal working. Just because the IT organisation supports new ways of working initiatives or allows a user to use their own tech to share information doesn’t mean they are a Speed Two group transitioning from a COE 1 to COE 2 approach. And it is deeper than running service improvement surveys as well. Each of these elements are part of the answer but it requires a 360 approach not standalone initiatives. Factor in UX design for common applications or universal apps for example. Factor in also how data platforms are being mashed together to provide deep insight to any mobile device seamlessly and without limitation to the amount of data being analysed. I could keep going.

Who know who will be right at the end of the day, but I believe that for the end user Experience is now paramount to allow them to be a more productive worker and ultimately to avoid silos of shadow activity as the worker builds a parallel COE 2 in secret for themselves, the IT organisation will need to address the bimodal world they are now in and have a conscious approach to a Common Optimised Experience.



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