If cloud still only meant visible mass of condensed watery vapour……what a better place I.T would be.


Finding out who can claim the ‘rights’ to using the word – cloud – to describe the paradigm shift in computing that is upon us is not as easy as one would think. We all know Tim Berners-Lee gave us WWW, and that Martin Cooper is acclaimed to have invented the mobile phone, but who invented cloud?

Of course it doesn’t really matter anymore, though there is a lot of evidence out there behind why we came upon the words.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt once commented “What’s interesting [now] is that there is an emergent new model,” Schmidt said, “I don’t think people have really understood how big this opportunity really is. It starts with the premise that the data services and architecture should be on servers. We call it cloud computing—they should be in a “cloud” somewhere.”

Others talk about The cloud is a metaphor for the Internet. It’s a rebranding of the Internet say others.

Young people don’t even think about it – and probably don’t ever use the word either. Smart eh?

Companies including Amazon, Microsoft, Netcentric and IBM started to tout cloud-computing efforts as well. That was also when it first appeared in newspaper articles, such as a New York Times report from 2007, that carried the headline “I.B.M. to Push ‘Cloud Computing,’ Using Data From Afar.” It described vague plans for “Internet-based supercomputing.”

And so it went on and on and on. The bandwagon was rolling and there was no way to stop it.

But we don’t really care. After all each Era of technological advancement had a label or badge didn’t it?  Mainframe, Client/Server, Web,  etc. But cloud is the first era where we conveniently took all the layers of complexity we understand from the ‘tech perspective’,  and swept up into an every day word that is more at home describing the ‘visible mass of condensed watery vapour floating in the atmosphere.’

At least with Mainframe ( era one ) , client server ( era two ) web 1.0/2.0 ( era three ), virtualisation ( era four ) we had relatively neat and boxed off interpretations of what we meant. The man in the street did not ever need to utter these words, with the exception of the web, once the WWW and HTTP revolution made us realise we can access information to help our daily lives. Consumerisation was borne and cloud became defacto no longer about visible masses of condensed water.

But Cloud? Oh what confusion. And what danger too.

Leaving the man in the street interpretation of cloud alone because that is a minefield itself, the IT organisation must rue the day the word entered their lives. Why didn’t ‘we’ call it something else? After all the last big paradigm shift was virtualisation and that did what it said on the tin. Why couldn’t we have stuck with that and called the next wave of change something like TRANSFORMATION or AGILITY? After all the only reason an organisation needs and IT infrastructure is to support their everyday needs to ‘do business – make money/provide service’.

Its all a moot point now but you know we ( technology people )  would have so much better off. IT Directors were getting used to mapping their maturity within IT services to a level playing field of assessment, and they could align technology investments with their capability to deliver the ‘tech’. Knowing where they had gaps helped them identify partners, skills development and roadmaps reasonably accurately.

But cloud has turned all this on its head. What with the business now knowing that ‘they understand cloud’ and every by standing observer across the business demanding ‘cloud’ or else ( Shadow IT ), the IT Director is too often forced to consider ‘cloud’ without giving the decision the right level of due diligence and discovery. Its one thing knowing you have a problem but its a complete other thing knowing that technology can be the answer to the problem.

After all too many IT departments didn’t complete their virtualisation strategy, often creating a hybrid infrastructure that just about worked in delivering an IT service. Either because of lack of money to finish the job, or resource reallocation or lack of commitment to transform core IT services ( or excitement about ‘cloud’ coming next ) , the IT organisation unhelpfully put themselves in a position where ‘cloud’ has presented them even more challenges.

By not completing the virtualisation job but demonstrating true progress ( greener datacenters, smaller footprints of hardware, higher availability – thanks IBM/VMware (x86) ) , IT departments juggled their plans to cover over the cracks of not finishing the job. And why was that? Easy. Because they had shown they could ‘speed up IT’, the business came along knocking a lot more often with more and more requests, and the IT department found themselves ‘popular’ again.

But underneath their ‘proverbial’ legs were kicking like mad as they tried to stay about water.

And then ‘someone’ mentioned the Cloud word. Dam.

IT departments tried ( and are still trying ) to adopt to the new cloud era, as they adapted policies, skills and service management into the ever growing demand for speed.

And for some they are being successful’ with this juggling act yet for others however those legs under the water are seriously under stress and not coping at all.

I wonder therefore what would have happened If we had chosen a different word like transformation instead of cloud?  I personally think we would be in a better state because we would have not have had all the hype that cloud bought with I,t but hang on, nor would we have had the billions and billions of marketing $ which has without doubt created an industry beyond anyone’s dreams way back in the day.

You see cloud has introduced a myriad of nooks and crannies that the IT Department has to navigate. Of course its just a word, and whether we called it cloud or widget.these nooks and crannies would have always existed as Moore’s Law and other engineering waves would have driven change. However, I think too often that too much changed too quickly for the average IT department to cope.

As I reflect ( and I do often about cloud )  when I hear someone mention the words ‘we have a cloud strategy’ or ‘we are moving to the cloud’ , I wonder if we have sold short the conversation that usually follows. However, if you meet someone who has developed that skill of never using the word cloud then grab the moment and savour it.

You see what I think has happened or is happening is that some people have worked out that its not a Cloud conversation that we need. No far from it. What we need is something much deeper and more multi-dimensional.

How can you spot someone? Well it has been said that the real source of cloud were those ‘networking gurus’ who used to draw ‘a cloud’ to represent the networking outside the corporate firewall and a cloud was the easiest thing to draw. I tend to believe that as well.

So anyone who draws lots of clouds worry me, whereas anyone who can articulate the business change outcomes from deploying transformational technology make me feel all warm in side.

These people deserve to finish their drawing off with a flourish and a cloud picture 🙂

And you know what – I bet in the days of mainframe and web there were people who sold mainframes and webs ( that doesn’t work ) , and there were people who talked business change and transformation.

Nothing  is new is it?


Driving behavioural change with Post-It stickers and…… complete silence

Leadership is often not about what you say but  what you don’t say. post-it stickies A few events recently have allowed me to reflect on a true story which highlights that to lead change can be just as powerful when done in total silence.

My friend managed a disparate group of IT professionals spread across many countries and continents. The function of the team was basic IT services to an organisation that excelled in delivering high quality consulting services in very competitive markets. Whilst quality was important too often just doing the simple things right first time was all that was asked of the IT group.

Despite having relevant skills and tools available to the IT group my friend found himself too frequently on the back foot dealing with complaints at monthly board reviews from senior leaders who couldn’t fathom why basic IT ‘things’ were also breaking down and not being fixed. Particularly awkward was that the stakeholders were experienced hands on people who were able to drive business change to their clients in orders of magnitude and complexity, with therefore, zero tolerance for a ‘laptop broken’ or a ‘software error message’.

My friend had followed the standard influencing methods to drive his team’s behaviour to fix issues as they arise but within a culture of resolution and not just fix today break tomorrow. Email, conference calls, IMs and ‘relatively assertive’ 1-2-1s and yet despite some success the roller coaster of unhappy senior people continued.

And my friend really had a different role which was to influence business use of technology through creative service optimisation and consulting insight.

And then he had an idea.

He noticed in his home study a pack of Post-it pads and began writing down all those low lying annoying ‘broken IT’ things separating them by country and city.

And being sticky he ended up sticking them on his wall.

He then put a sticker saying COMPLETED over to the right hand side and reflected on what it would take to get all the issues fixed and moved under the COMPLETED sticker.

And then he reached for his camera.

Minutes later he had sent a picture of his stickers to all of his IT team.

And that was all he did. No explanation. No instruction. No encouraging words. Nothing. Zero.

And he waited.

It didn’t take long for something to happen.

Because he had done this on his Saturday one of his team worked in the Middle East on Sunday. Sunday evening an email popped up from his colleague. He had two stickers related to him. My friend opened the email and saw a picture attached and beamed all over his face when he saw what it meant.

The Middle East IT guy had recreated all the stickers on his own wall and then gone off and resolved his two issues ( issues that had been going on for weeks ). He had then moved his two COMPLETED stickers over to the right hand side and taken a picture. What was really pleasing my friend was that the Middle East IT guy had sent his updated picture of his sticker wall to all of his colleagues across the other countries.

Can you work out what happened next?

Monday morning came and by close of play more pictures were dropping into my friends’ inbox. Issues were being fixed and stickers were being moved to COMPLETED. It was all of a sudden a competitive moment among people that were separated by hundreds of miles and without a word being spoken.

People who didn’t talk to each other or were party to any instruction suddenly picked up the meaning of the sticky notes and set about replicating the visage of sticky notes on their own walls, and went about solving those niggling little IT issues. By the end of the week nearly all of the issues were COMPLETED.

This went on for weeks and at the next board review my friend presented a report confirming that nearly all low lying nagging issues were not only resolved, but that a culture change had been implemented among the IT team that ensured any further low lying issues would be resolved in short time. Whilst congratulations were not forthcoming from the hardened board members there was an acknowledgment that ‘a good job done’.

What really mattered was that my friend had now earned the right to focus on what he was really there for – presenting thought leadership on how technology could drive business performance.

Without issuing any written instruction or verbal command my friend had influenced the most simple of changes facing an IT service group – all for the cost of a pack of Post-it notes!

I still have the sticky notes and the pictures BTW 🙂


The irony of I.T Speed is that for many they are actually slowing down

Everyone talks about Speed. Everyone talks about the Speed of IT. Gartner call it bi-modal IT. The pace of the old way of doing things blending with the acceleration of competing in ever demanding market conditions exploiting the forces of social, mobile, information and cloud. A well rehearsed topic in fact.


Speed is now in the mix good and proper, and not a day goes by without a presentation from  a CIO and or CEOs talking about business change, digital and growing wallet share. And they got the context from analysts and thought leaders who gave them the ammunition to drive technology change leveraging forces of economy and survival.

We are all masters of the ‘langauge of Speed in IT’.

And of course it is not wrong to talk about business change in the context of speed and acceleration. After all technology has been an important contributory factor in the business landscape and as Moore s Law continues to drive the bits and bytes so does the generation of ideas and corporate supply and demand. It is inevitable therefore that speed is the right word to use when describing the impact of technology on our lives. Yet the IT organisation which could be pictorially seen as being right in the middle of the organisation along with HR, finance and marketing ( as a supplier of service ) does need to be ever so slightly cognisant of the impact that speed has on its own operation.

Just because the fashionable press, technology organisations and marketing engines drum home the need for IT speed to help drive the business forward it doesn’t equate that the age old legacy platforms, people and processes can overnight pick up the acceleration and be at the fore front of change.

I see many organisations get caught up in the ‘need for speed’ , making decisions that on paper represent sensible direction and promise acceleration to the business, yet in the cold light of day when design, delivery and ongoing support fail to sustain the furore of agile decisions making good, the disappointment and more importantly, the negative impact is often deafening.

The irony is that as they thirst for speed they are actually slowing down. A bit like finding yourself in the fast lane and not realising your handbrake is on or that your fuel supply is about to run out. Frightening when the cars on the inside of you are overtaking you and you thought you were travelling at 80MPH.

To get speed you need sustainablity. Delivery an IT service is not a 100meter race.

And the really tough bit is that these IT organisations are sort of dammed if you do and dammed if you dont. Forward thinking IT leaders are now being bought in to deliver change and building a more accelerated approach to delivery IT services is high on their agenda. However, as they resolve supplier and skill shortages, fix budget management and rebuild core foundations, they do face a number of external influences that will make or break their desire for speed.

Consider this little ‘checklist’ of Dos’ and Donts’ for an IT organisation near you today and reflect on how many Yes’s you would come up with.

  1. Technology initiatives succeed despite the lack of unanimous senior level support?
  2. People don’t take time to reflect on project scope and outcomes?
  3. Team members sometimes switch responsibilities to support colleagues and to get the project completed?
  4. Too much of the Intellectual Property is owned by third parties who come and go?
    Employees are encourgaged to create innovative products and services through a strong culture of collaboration?
  5. Time is rarely made for training and education on new services delivered?
  6. Employees settle on fine tuning existing offerings to keep current customers satisfied rather than look for improvements?
  7. Senior leaders are closely aligned and committed to initiatives’ success through closed loop feedback and review?
  8. People are moved around too frequently and do not see the results of their work?
  9. Communication on direction is sporadic and often via email and portal rather than face to face?
  10. Results of technology impact on successful business outcomes are communicated widely and with senior backing?

What is interesting is that to just come up with 10 thoughts was actually quite hard. There are lots more of them I could have listed but the point was to start gauging where the IT organisation is against these items and whether there are similarities or other aligned characteristics that suggest that ‘going too fast’ may have a detrimental effect.

The problem that we are now all facing is that whilst speed is not a bad thing and the outcomes can often be so rewarding and benefifical on personal and corporate levels.

Take a look at any of the large cloud vendors today and marvel at their ‘speed’ and ‘acceleration’ of change in their products and services. Gone are the days of product lifecycle announcements that talk about delivering large ‘service packs’ on a one two three year turn round. Now they are delivering changes on a seemingly weekly basis and because of their investment plans every likelihood that change will become a daily or hourly occurrence. If you have the tools and consumer demand why not is what I am sure they will say. It will almost become a process that takes place
in spite of their client’s readiness to accept the changes.

So I see that sustaining speed is perhaps the greatest challenge facing an IT organisation today. It is a given that with the technology available to any of use we can experience speed whether it is a personal shopper with Amazon or a corporate wanting to build datacenter capacity in a 24 hour window for a key project. The tools are there to allow us to be that car in the fast lane with a promise that so long as we keep paying for the fuel we can sustain our journey without having to run out and slow down.

Yet the sustainability measurement for the IT organisation often runs contrary to our experiences of speed and their greatest challenge I suggest is building a target operating model that not only has the ‘acceleration’ technology and services built in but also a whole host of external facing challenges addressed through its communication and collaboration techniques with the business.

Going on a journey in the fast lane is one thing but making sure the business leaders are in the same car is the real challenge. Too often they have taken a different car and thought you were following right behind them!


Windows 10 might just be a great cover story for significant ‘digital’change for workers.

This post is not about Microsoft nor its soon to be released operating system. Instead this post is all about change.

For most of us the operating system of the past years gave us control over our hardware and applications, but now the operating system is the proxy to our experiences. Look at Apple – they have been pretty successful in this department for many years.

Why is this important?

For the first time we are going to witness a convergence of ‘digital’ with everything we do – including the operating systems we will use.

Organisations are getting on the digital bus and building their Digital Strategy as the real catalyst for change as they look to rewire their business through its use of information, processes, client interaction and most importantly, their people.

Business leaders of course ultimately are only interested in what ‘being digital’ can do to their top and bottom number, and many are way down a maturity evolution road where they have made strategic investments in ‘going digital’. Digital is all about how you engage with your customers, how you deliver services to devices, how you analyse clients information, how you develop your talent and perhaps most importantly, how you empower your workforce. And here we have the moment of change that the next ‘operating system’ may have a significant play on events as they unfold.

These three words – Empower Your Workforce – are going to be the big factors for those organisations that successfully deliver a digital strategy that drives business growth and those that fail. Can you imagine how you can meet the demands of the business through digital change programmes if the underlying device you give your workers is just simply not ‘up for it’? Tough call in the board room if your only defence is ‘our strategy was to sweat the assets like we have always done’.

Assuming that cloud with its hyperscale both public, private and hybrid fixes a lot of the legacy IT issues like speed of delivery, business continuity and financial management of IT ( at last )  and assume that Shadow IT is  actually embraced ( and not ignored ) service delivery pespective ( Forrester said recently that 32% of Business Units buy their own IT Services ) , the big decisions that need to be facing is how to give a better experience to the worker to consume existing services, build new ones and create market differentiation. Assuming that people are the greatest asset in any organisation of course which I think is now a given?

And dont let loose sight that as we start to talk about workers , we also need to bring in the ‘device’ they use because we are no longer talking about the traditional PC, laptop, smartphone and tablet territory. We will be including many forms of interactive ‘glass’ and smart devices as the Internet of Things (IoT) movement starts to blend into our thinking and plans for the future. All these ‘devices’ and ‘pieces of glass’  are going to be what gives our workers the empowerment they need for us to realise our digital plans. Now what of the operating system against this landscape. Its going to change for ever, and this is why I think the next few years are going to be really interesting for people who make money supporting clients with their ‘operating system’ plans, and for those charged with managing these ‘operating systems’.

Humans and machines is where a lot people will say where we are headed; they are probably right as organisations move from the darkness of legacy analog IT world into a digital first world.

The smart organisations that are further down the digital maturity curve than perhaps their competitors are the ones that take the ‘operating system’ seriously as they evolve their thinking and planning not just based on ‘50% of our hardware needs refreshing next year” or ” support runs out on our kit soon we better do something”. Greater consciousness about the experience delivered to workers is changing the landscape, and ‘experience professionals’ are appearing more and more. These roles are not just about aesthetics; but focus on how people –  workers and clients – interact with information across devices, work areas and business situations. Significant money goes into work place design as architects merge digital tooling with the physical patterns of the workspace. They do this to make their workforce happier and ultimately more producitive, and evidence is now showing that converging this thinking is working positively. And they achieve this by linking the persona of their workers right through to how they build tools and services that support the digital strategy.

blog - Windows 10 catalayst

A committed digital organisation will build interfaces and services into their information both for workers and clients, leveraging no doubt cloud services ( APIs ) that make the experience as seamless as possible, removing any barrier from getting to the right information, regardless of the device or location.

These organisations accept that business units will spend their own budget on technology solutions, and will provide suitable frameworks to allow this to happen proactively and securely. I hate the word Shadow IT and prefer Hybrid IT because I sense this is what is happening.The crux is that the organisation must own the digital strategy, empower people to build and communicate and to subsequently put in the investment to deliver the tools and experiences. The operating system will just form part of the shopping list albeit a much more important list than ever before.

You see a perfect storm is brewing that is converging the forces of Social engagement, Cloud access, Information deluge  and Mobile collaboration not only in our personal lives but also our corporate working day. Gone for ever are the days where our working day and technology entitlement was governed by our seniority, and therefore how much RAM and hard drive we were entitled to. The ‘hardware’ is now sorted with rich variants of the cloud knocking over classic IT issues and the emergence of universal corporate apps that can run on any device independant of the manufacturer and underlying operating system will blend into the working world.

These forces will come at us different shapes, sizes, timescales and intensity depending on our  personas at work, corporate digital vision of who we work for , social preferences as we stay in touch with colleagues and clients, and how we move around our office and between locations.  Our working practices we enjoy today and where they will be tomorrow see us take advantage of so much more freedom than afforded from those heady days of a static device and monolithic operating system that controlled our access to resources and gave us standard applications to use.  These practices are influenced by our working conditions both as employees and our entitlement to flexible working hours, choice of device and incentives to reduce travel and so on.

Our persona now dominates how we get through the day at work and it drives the choice of technology we need to be the most productive. And of course we are changing our buildings to meet the needs of our working patterns, and we are now been given different environments to suit our collaboration, privacy and reflective moments. We talk about hot desk areas in a new context of encouraging privacy, contemplation and collision moments. We expect to carry information around on different devices, use different work surfaces to view information and use different media to communicate. We decorate our offices much differently than we did, and we are updating our corporate social responsibility policies to allow our workers to be more flexible and able to pursue health working initiatives. Digitisation is a factor in this change, and its a big bet play for organisations wanting to flourish. In fact by 2018, Gartner says that the digital business will require 50% fewer business process workers and 500% more key digital business jobs, compared with traditional models, so there is likely to be something in all this.

So if you find that someone is talking about the features and benefits of Microsoft’s or anyone else’s technology without talking about the relationship they have within the context of a digital journey, then I would challenge them to loop back and start again.Its tough but the successful organisations are the ones that will join the dots, bring in the right people at the top, work with the smartest ( not biggest ) partners and manage to run in parallel their IT service ( speed one ) and their new digital service ( speed two ).

Digitalization and the digital business are catalysts of change that are affecting the human-machine relationship and driving better customer outcomes, and the operating system that allows the worker to use a range of devices, interfaces and experiences to exploit and manipulate information and knowledge in a better way should form a key building block of any digital strategy.

At the end of the day, our world has shifted right caused by the ripple of consumer IT to a Me strategy where the individual’s use of technology is so much more dominant and therefore crucial to a business operation, where in the past it was more about a We strategy with little regard to the worker, their individual persona and their need for a ‘smarter’ operating system.

Things are now changing and if Microsoft have the answer then its our job to make sure we understand the question – because there are going to be several to ask I suspect 🙂


Can you sustain three conversations with a CIO at the same time without dropping a ball?

stock-footage-the-man-effortlessly-juggles-three-balls We often hear about the need to strike up the right conversation with a senior leader. Using the right language, questionning technique and business tone is highest on the list of most sales organisations today as they develop their winning techniques and go to market strategies. And quite right too,  as the person across the table from us is also seeking to have the right level of conversation with any partner hoping to supply goods and services to them. As we are realising with accelerating clarity that the successful sale has to be able to consider not just a single threaded conversation like “what is it that you want or need” but now a more multi-threaded one,  the challenges is equipping ourselves with the skill to be able to engage and sustain three conversations simultaneously with the stakeholder we are going to meet. Remember that killer ( you must ask this one ) question? “So what keeps you awake at night?”. I recall asking this very same question of very senior CIO of a very very large corporate when given the opportunity to ask just one question. And the reply? “Nothing.” Nothing kept this particular CIO awake at night because his skill was in being able to keep these three balls in perpetual motion through his leadership style. That was it. Sure he admitted there were specific challenges that concerned him, but as the true leader he was, the team he had built did a lot of the sleepless nights for him. In fact, the CIO turned the question back on me and wondered what would keep me awake at night if I were to be fortunate enought to provide services to his organisation. Ouch. A very neat back hander to suggest that in fact it would be I that would not be getting any sleep. Because to deal with his organisation with the depth of experience and foresight present within his management structure and beyond, would put me under the pressure sufficiently to affect my sleep patterns! You see these C levels thought leaders and human agents of change are masters of keeping three conversations going on at the same time in their heads. Translated to meaning they build successfuL IT organisations and partner relationships specifically to ensure these three conversations are constantly being discussed, reflected upon and challenged. And the three conversations? (1) How do I go about steadying and stabilising the back office, whilst (2) transforming the experiences for my front office customers, (3) while at the same time creating the digital platforms  to allow the thought leadership ideas of my own and my peers to turn into true competitive advantage for my organization and shareholders. The mashing together of old and new, support and service, and analog and digital form the basis of these conversations that reach deep inside the organisation, and require a certain level of skill to ensure that outcomes are realised. When embarking on a conversation with such leaders the tone and range of the language therefore has to be wide and far reaching. Expecting a successful outcome by just following one of the conversation threads may ultimately fall short, as the leader is considering your pitch against the other two conversations going around in their heads. You see these conversations are instrincally linked and the impact of decisions in one of the threads will affect the other, so the juggling of the three conversations drive the need to engage in a more balanced conversation to ensure your questionning tests and challenges the leader. Yes tests and challenges are the key words here. I have never met a senior leader who doesnt expect ( nor flourishes ) on being tested and challenged. The last thing they want is someone in front of them nodding and agreeing passively in the vain hope that an order will be fortcoming. The challenger sale is absolutely right. Earning the respect and opportunity to put forward your own thoughts and vision to how you can help in any of the three conversations is where you need to get to. The senior leader expects this and will respect your position more if you are prepared to engage proactively. Planning your approach knowing that there are in fact three conversation threads that you may need to be able to juggle yourself is therefore, the golden opportunity for the sales organisation. Gone are the days where the senior leader is going to say to you “what I need is XYZ”. Gone are the days where the conversation will start and finish with “So go and away and give me your best price for ABC”. Discussions around “demonstrate to me your USPs” are fast fading away. In their place the conversation is now “show me how you have understood my challenges and opportunities in one or all of my conversation threads and come back to me with a specific plan to help me move my organisation forward”. And its a really tough thing to do because not only has the landscape for our questioning been made more complex because of the shifting sands of choice for technology ( cloud, ,mobile, social and big data ), but that behind the physical persona of the stakeholder in front of us exists similar mini-me leaders representing the execution arm of the CIO’s inner circle. Whether it is the CIO’s office, leadership team, Number Two or management layer, being able to take your propositions in any of the three conversational threads forward requires you to be able to maintain and drive forward your offers and propositions deeper into the leadership team – potentially all at the same time. A lot harder and you will need your own leadership team to support you. And this is key. To keep your own ‘three balls’ being juggled at the same time means you cannot do it on your own. You need the proverbial three pairs of hands and that your team has to be like minded and similarly driven to hold a positive and challenging conversation based on skill, experience and demonstrable capability. I dont know whether its a littl exercise that we can all undertake as we prepare to meet senior leaders, but I am pretty sure I wish I had know this before I opened my mouth that day with that senior CIO. Firstly, I know my conversation would have lasted a hell of a lot longer, and I am pretty sure I would have engaged in a more intellectual and challenging conversation rather than discussing sleeping patterns of the exceptional thought leader sitting in front of me! Now this may mean we spend more time  being ‘awake at night’ as we build our language and techniques to prepare for engagements in the future, but it will be well rewarded as we ensure that the leader you hope to service ‘gets plenty of sleep’ as you demonstrate your true value proposition to their organisation. Brummie.

Is technology thought leadership overrated?

Leadership with educationNot a day goes by as the tech industry talks about thought leadership.

As corporate IT looks above the parapet to seek guidance to match  up to the demands of the business, the desire to associate with a ‘thought leader’ often verges on the religious. Events and WebEx’s and TED videos abound with thought leaders, offering practical and emotional experiences to give the audience a fresh insight into existing challenges and opportunities. Listening to a Subject Matter Expert is like gold dust – or like a sermon on the mount.

And thought leaders are in abundance. Not just the obvious ones – software geniuses, serial entrepreneurs and business gurus – but also the raft of people who have deep industry experiences,strong peer references and often, strong social presence and followings.

But thought leadership is not about sitting around pondering the what-ifs and wouldn’t-it-be-cool notions that flitter to the forefront of your mind, and standing up in front of strangers and waxing lyrically.  While thought may be the precursor to a phenomenal new process, it’s not what counts. There’s much more to thought leadership than just thought. There is research. There are attempts, failures, more attempts, and revisions. There is perseverance. There is collaboration. There are risks.

Thought leaders have that rare ingredient of blending subject matter expertise with vision that gives their audience an insight into the future. Whether it be a technological roadmap or more closer to home, with specific guidance on business challenges and opportunities. And its not always specific technology matters we seek thought leadership on. Direction on changing business policy and how technology needs to align alongside is a topic awash with thought leadership. Transforming the workplace and the workers therein is another. Direction on what do about cloud and the explosion of devices is a strong another. I could go and on. There is a thought leader on every corner.

Senior leaders identify with thought leaders of course. After all, to be successful in business on doubt needs some external ‘advocacy’ to cement ideas and soon to be decisions. A thought leader may simply underline an existing business decision, or add some nuance that shapes an alternative gambit.

At the end of the day  we are all thought leaders.

We all think about things, and we all generate our own individual ideas, suggestions and insights. Some we share , some we keep to ourselves. And for many of us the picture of us leading a conversation because we are positioned as a thought leader seems alien. After all our thoughts lead our actions or not as the case may be. Some of us are borne leaders of course, and others prefer to follow. Either way we all have thoughts.

Yet I often see people branded as thought leader when in fact, they are most likely just someone who has an opinion on a particular matter, and whilst undoubtedly having a well founded argument and ideas generation outcome, are only a version of you and me but with more balls. Or a bigger mouth. Or the microphone!

The commoditisation of the technology industry has happened at such a pace that ‘people’ have invented themselves as thought leaders through social media and journalism. In their thirst for direction, many organisations reach out to these ‘self made thought leaders’ for serious business technology direction. But of course it could be that thought leadership is just a fancy word for something else, and in many cases, when you meet a thought leader you are in fact talking with someone who has different or similar thoughts to yourself, and are perhaps more use to you when not given the ‘tag’ of thought leader.

Now assuming most of us do not have the luxury of being in a room with Bill Gates or Larry Ellison, our exposure to a thought leader may be in a more mundane and everyday manner. Perhaps at local technical conference, a blog post or a TED video. Or more close to home – in a management meeting or internal conference.

One should ask oneself questions like this:

1. Has this person given me anything unique or have they just managed to cleverly take a lot of rhetoric and popular language to tell me a ‘story’ that If Imp honest I’ve heard before.
2. Has this person’s story reflected any personal experiences that are directly related to my challenges and opportunities or just ‘nice friendly’ anecdotal noise.
3. Has this person concluded their ‘thought leadership’ with anything tangible that I can take forward to build my own story both in terms of practical advice and steps to consider to monitor my performance.

And here is the rub. As organisations undergo talent shift right through leadership programmes and importing fresher experiences, the wealth of thought leadership mounts up quite nicely thank you with Individuals with the appropriate je ne sais qoui,  and delivery KAPOW!

In summary, I find thought leaders live in a world of ‘free’. They are excited to share their views with you, and are happy that you can take ingredients of your own from what they say. They are often humble and do not see themselves as thought leaders. They are as happy in front of you as along side you. They will ‘give you’ something to take away and will predictably, follow up with you. You will find their thought processes and patterns as compelling in quite often an unconscious way, and that often once they have left your company, it will be then that the penny drops.

Yes – you already had sufficient thought leadership in your own organization but you didn’t spot them until it was too late.


P.S I must admit I find the majority of TED videos full of excellent and unique thought leaders. WELL DONE TED!!

Cloud is not a part number; it’s a mindset change.

part numbers

Every time we talk about cloud we frame the conversation with words like utility, elasticity and agility.

And of course we are right. Cloud is the ultimate and inevitable destination that represents the third generation of computing, following on from the mainframe and PC generations that saw us all grow up as ‘digitial citizens, allowing us to interact with each other in a seamless and almost unconconsious fashion. And at affordable rates.

The economic and technological plumbing that cloud provides us has made us make enormous strides in our personal and corporate lives, and every indication is that the upward curve adoption of cloud computing is exponentially increasing during this second decade and beyond. A great success and long may it continue.

Having the right mindset to understand the impact of cloud on you as an individual is an interesting discussion point. For many, cloud is a by product of choosing a way to communicate ( mobile phone ) or to collaborate ( tablet ) or to entertain ( TV / games console ), and the actual conscious realisation that you are interacting with a cloud datacenter somewhere around the world is lost on many. And of course it should be – after all no one is interested where the water you wash with you, or the electricity you cook with, comes from. They are possibly even neutral about how much it costs, because they know that they can do some research and find alternative suppliers, who also use the cloud to deliver the same service but at a lower price. its the oxygen we use to be a modern citizen ( though it is a sobering aspect that so many of the world’s population still does not have internet access – we are a fortunate group of people ) .

Our personal mindset about cloud is totally understandable and our children have adopted a wonderful attitude to how cloud can help them. Just Im sure the same as how we all just assumed that switch on the wall gave us a way to lighten up the room to watch Doctor Who. We didnt worry about the wiring, the fuse board and the substation that made it all happen.

So for the corporate IT organization, cloud has now also become part of this ‘conscious unconsciousness’ as they see that ‘moving to the cloud’ has clear tangible busines benefits.  After all, the cloud suppliers much like the electricity suppliers have made the service ubiquitous, and allowed us to make strategic business plans without worrying about the ‘tech’ being the barrier. After all, why worry about IT anymore when Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft have done all the hard work for us. Much like the energy companies.

These cloud suppliers have industrialised the procurement of cloud with pricing models and onboarding routines that make the concept of ‘drag and drop your IT’ such a reality for many. After all no one wants to understand all the complexities of cloud when you can purchase compute power measured by the hour with the ability to switch on, ramp up and switch off using your mouse. Its like a light switch, right!

Cloud is the ultimate 21st century technological change agent to drive business transformation, offering unlimited capability and size to let us all build solutions, reach customers and mine information to depths unimaginable a few years ago. Businesses transform business models almost on the fly as they realise that cloud computing offers them new directions to build new services and expose new markets never considered before. And the rub is that for many, cloud allows businesses to realise their investments, which for most is the first time since the days before Y2K. Too often a CFO had questioned what was the real value that they obtained from their huge investments in IT projects. Ask any government about whether they received value for money from IT and the answers will reaffirm the believe by some that ‘does IT really matter’ ( Nicholas  Carr – again ). A favourite of mine.

Pause for a moment and consider that way back to the 1960s and 70s the mainframe generation did give an outcome. You bought a mainframe ( expensive ) , you recruited IT staff, they asked you what you wanted, and they delivered you an outcome. Black and white. And boy did you pay for it. If you ever want to read a lovely book about these early days of computing and how they transformed businesses you wouldn’t go far wrong to look up “A Computer Called Leo” –  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Computer-Called-LEO-worlds-computer/dp/1841151866 – a story about Lyons Teashops and their use of computing as a business application. And as we all know the advent of the micrprocessor chip, the internet, hard disks and telecommunications took us all out of the computer room, and made IT – COMPLICATED.

We moved into a world where to make IT work it required lots of ‘part numbers’ – hardware components, software licenses, people skills – and depending on the management and control skills of the IT organization depended on how good your outcomes were for the money you invested. Interestingly, though we all ostensibly bought the same stuff some organizations seemed to walk from one computing disaster to another, while others managed to kick on and deliver a good service. And here is the rub. Cloud computing is a platform to deliver IT from. It is not a replacement for the management expertise to take components, and turn them into a service that the organization needs – for a fair price too.

Part numbers abound in the world of IT. We surround ourselves with SKUs and model numbers. We build pricing models that allow us to tag components that drives our industry and cloud is no different – with software as a service using new schemes to charge us for our access and consumption of a cloud service. Vendors offer rebates to oil the wheels and to make sure their products receive favourable treatment from channel partners, and suppliers build a whole sales engine to sell part numbers to meet revenue targets.

But there is a but. And a big but.

People get sucked into the ‘commoditization’ of their IT and the ‘part numbers’ that make up their infrastructure, and lose sight of the fact that they still need to understand what is happening, and how to ensure that they can progressivly build efficient services and responsive support models, without creating ‘new disasters’. You see suppliers fail to grasp that they need more than fancy web sites and posh collateral articulating their cloud shop window, making the assumption that because they are backing off to one of the big cloud companies, their proposition is complete. You equally see clients work with these suppliers without understanding the skills they are going to need to manage the billing relationship, the service relationship and the contractural relationship.

Without a change of mindset in suppliers and clients from the thought that ‘Im OK now all I need to do is procure cloud and it all will fit into place’ to one where they demonstrate deeper maturity and understanding that cloud is just a word masking inherent complexities of skills – commercial, technical and support – then our generation will witness more computing disasters that make their predecessors seem like little blips.

Building a cloud mind-set may mean you have to change the people, or if you are left with the people you have, then it would be worth investing in some ‘coaching’ to ensure their minds are capable of changing to meet the challenges of delivering cloud solutions. Be prepared for some hard miles, and look for people who demonstrate strong skills at visualising and starting conversations in the frame of ‘service outcomes’ and ‘business change’. Worry about those who can only talk  billing and part numbers 🙂

I close with the thought that when anyone talks to me about ‘understanding cloud’ I pause and think, and often wonder whether their enquiry is based on their belief that cloud is really just about part numbers and bills, and  the money they will save or make, or that they want to hear about the multi-layered approach they are going to need to make their investment a sound one. Give me the latter any day please!!

2015 – The end of the I.T sales proposal

Businessman handing documents.

The sales proposal. A proposal to sell you something. A statement of purpose. Clear and unambiguous. You want something  and I have something you need. Its all in the proposal. Can I have the order please?

Amazon are the masters at sales proposals one might say. One click away from real time purchase heaven. You see something you like and you get it. There and then. In fact, Amazon have turned millions of people into “sales proposers”. So did Ebay. An entire economy based on the immediacy and intimacy of the ‘sales proposal’.

But in the world of IT the sales proposal can often be a dark and troublesome vehicle to get off the drive. Often Hard to write, time consuming and ultimately, giving cause to more delays that in fact slow down the sales cycle through its ambiguity, loss of message and ‘fluff’ that turns off the reader ( the client )  immediately. Through the waves of technology and commercial maturity in the last thirty years or so,  the demarcation lines between buyer and seller have become both easier ( thanks to cloud ) and harder ( business pressure ). Way back  a supplier had ‘out of the box’ hardware or software that delivered some level of mainstream functionality, and a customer had a need that exactly matched the functional specification provided by the supplier. Examples abound from the early generations ranging from computing mainframe beasts that came sold as a total package including the mainframe, terminals, software and consulting through to needing a PC to word-process or browse the internet. A mobile phone is the perfect sales proposal – this is what you can do with me, this is how much i cost etc…

Of course over time this consumer bias infiltrated into the corporate space with more personal choice which stretched the sales proposition extraordinarily, with the transaction being almost unconscious with one click buying from the IT business – or more accurately, with bring your own, from elsewhere to connect to the IT business.

Meanwhile the IT sales ‘role’ continues to roll along, often ignorant that the corporate world they love and know so well is undergoing a total revamp of the ‘sales proposal’. Yet they continue to follow well oiled and successful motions when presenting solutions and services to their customers.

And herein is where I see the ‘end of the sales proposal’.

A new level of thoughtfulness ( mindfulness ) has changed how customers perceive value, driving the conversation into business speke and away from features and benefits. And of course, cloud computing is effectively killing off the nuts and bolts conversation with the commoditised delivery of the plumbing. I mean when you can buy a unit of cloud for cents and pennies, the discussion moves away from the capital costs of providing the tin across to operational matters – service onboarding, self-service, service management and business continuity.

So for 2015 I urge anyone involved in the sales proposal business to consider three things.

(1) For the sales proposal to land the trusted elevator pitch is always a good gauge. When confronted with the outcome of a meeting, and the dubious task of writing the ‘sales proposal’ I often wonder how many sales types answer the simple 3 questions – Why ( does the customer need my stuff ) How ( is my stuff going to do to meet the need ) and What ( is my stuff going to do when up and running ). Visualising these three questions for me is ground zero for a sales person. Inability to answer these questions when confronted by a peer is a bad start, yet many will spend hours and days creating wordsmith proposals that at first glance are truly amazing documents in terms of content, professionalism and down right, look how hard I am trying to close business.

Even better to frame your 3 answers to the questions before you leave the meeting ( I know – granny sucking eggs ) and to make sure anyone working with you understands them as well. I applaud anyone who can scribble their elevator pitch onto a napkin, whiteboard, slide, hand held video clip or the back of their hand – and visibly shriek with delight at a sales person who has rehearsed their ‘three’ without reverting to a word processed document. Point to remember. Get a colleague to challenge your responses to Why How What. Nothing better than getting open honest feedback.

I know this is not earth shattering stuff but there are three reasons I believe Why How What just plain and simple works.

Firstly, they are pretty darn simple to grasp and in in true elevator pitch territory, if a sales person can do a strong 20 seconds on the Why How What then moving to the next stage is going to be a lot more productive.

Secondly, the Power of Three is a lot more powerful than people give it credit. Whether scientifically proven or just because it resonates with thought leaders and business coaches, our brain’s ability to manage more than three sources of information at any one time significantly degrades as more and more information is thrown at us – especially in an elevator! Yet I have seen in my time executive summaries that talk about endless benefits of working with such and such supplier, because their stuff answers lists and lists of issues with technology in their customer.

(2) Immediately on leaving the meeting produce a one page ‘Why How What’ and send it to your customer. Whether you have to use a word processor or slide tool that’s up to you but whichever way you do it get it over to the customer within 24 hours of the meeting. Why? Well firstly, you still have  a chance that the customer will remember you. Secondly, you still have  a chance that they will remember your ‘story’ and therefore, on reading your one pager have a great chance of being on the ‘same page’ as you.

(3) Work the feedback from the customer. Do nothing until you get some form of reaction from your one pager. Use this as your return visit to ensure clarity of proposition and check understanding of the meeting. Nothing rocket science here but I am frankly amazed again at the sales motion that feels its OK to send something to a customer two weeks after the meeting and expect them to remember what it was all about.

I remember a while back a customer in receipt of a new ‘batch of technology’ complaining that because of the upgrade the work he did before was rendered useless. He was hot happy. So I sat him down and asked some questions. It became obvious that because of what he did – architectural consultant – the most common task he performed was producing ‘straw man’ designs as part of the sales proposal process. Yet he didn’t use expensive CAD software and spend weeks producing Microsoft Word documents. No he used Microsoft Excel to produce two dimensional visualisations ( yes Microsoft Excel ) to share with his customers. I had to ask him the Why question and the answer was simple. Everyone has Microsoft Excel so could read his visualisations. They were always very small in size and therefore did not annoy the customer with managing big attachments. They allowed him to produce visualisations very quickly and he had a library of designs built up since the early days of Excel to use. The compelling reasons were flooding in. What did I do? I gave him his old machine back!

So before I go let’s wish for a 2015 where the sales proposal takes on a different form.

Three things to remember.

1. Do your Why How What and rehearse and rehearse again – before the meeting commences or as you close the initial meeting, summarise in this frame of language. Use a colleague to verify your pitch.
2. Produce and send within 24 hours of the meeting a one page summary of the Why How What. It can be a hand drawn visualisation, an email or a phone call. Just set yourself a goal to do it within 24 hours. Helps to tell the customer as well 🙂
3. Chase the feedback to (2) and do not deviate from producing any more sales propositions/meetings/slides until you get it.

Happy New Year.


Collide with me and I will be more productive ; interrupt me and I will be less so.

interruptionsAn interesting article in the HBR recently ( https://hbr.org/2014/10/workspaces-that-move-people ) discussed how workspaces are changing and becoming ‘cathedral’s of faith’, as employees are moved into environments where ‘the best decisions are made in hallways and cafeterias”.  A quote in this very readable and thought provoking article comes from Samsung Semiconductors as they discuss their new US HQ building which is designed to “spark not just collaboration but that innovation you see when people collide. I reflected that as the shift towards new ways of working creates a workspace setup to encourage ‘walk by collisions’ to drive the way ‘we do business’, then the mind-sets of the worker will need to go through some level of evolution above the physical environment. In fact, attention to the mind-set will be paramount. The word collision an interesting one, given the connotation of a collision is not always a good thing, and that for many, the thought that colliding with a colleague in an open working environment  being a good thing, may give up different impressions of conflict and disharmony. Why ? Well because for the majority of us ( sweeping statement I accept ) the  hard wiring of our brains actually avoid collisions at all costs due to deep routed traditional ways of working and insular appreciation of collaboration. Despite all the physical changes that new ways of working introduces – spaces, facilities, technology – the transition of the mind-set is often the most overlooked ( or just plain assumed ) aspect. Of course, I imagine Samsung like many other large technology biased organizations find the immersion of new ways of working a lot easier than perhaps in a mid size engineering firm, a hospital ward or legal practice, where technological cultures are less ingrained in the workforce. I sense that before an organization reaches this ‘collision drive positive hallway idea generating culture’ there is a fundamental element of the average working day that needs addressing  – how do we coach our people to ‘manage interruptions’ before they can ’embrace collisions’? It may come as a shock but we cannot multi-task. Forget whether its a man thing or a woman thing. It’s a brain thing. Or more accurately, a mindset thing. Over the decades technology has slowly given us this background of interruptive workplace experience. It probably started way back with the invention of the telephone, the electronic calculating machine, typewriters, mainframes, PCs, the web and so on. At each technology wave our propensity to be interrupted turned up a notch. And it was all good so what’s the problem? Well the problem is our brains. The brain is easily wired into set patterns and procedures as we strive to understand what we need to do at work, and quite easily as groups of workers we are driven to following what everyone else does. Of course as we know the last twenty years has seen such an explosion of technological advancement the ‘norm’ has been destabilised to the extent that workers are now exceptionally individualistic in how they choose to set up their approach to the working day. The automation of tasks has been breath-taking as the software has removed significant manual effort thus freeing us with more ‘thinking’ time. A key change because our minds ability to take in new processed information is limited. Automaticity gives us more headspace. Automaticity however also increases our interruption attack surface because we convince ourselves we can ‘do more’ so juggling interruptions is ‘part of the job so bring them on’. However, when people are constantly interrupted, they develop a mode of working faster (sending more emails, kicking off more IMs, ringing more people, leaving more messages)  to compensate for the time they know they will lose by being interrupted. Yet working faster with interruptions has its cost: people in the interrupted conditions experienced a higher workload, more stress, higher frustration, more time pressure, and effort. So interrupted work may be done faster, but at a price. Interruptions lead people to change not only work rhythms but also strategies and mental states. Another possibility is that interruptions do in fact lengthen the time to perform a task but that this extra time only occurs directly after the interruption when reorienting back to the task, and it can be compensated for by a faster and more stressful working style.  And of course our happy bedfellow called technology sits there and allows us to soak up all this speed and pressure by giving us little ‘how can I help’ moments designed to make us manage interruptions smarter. We convince ourselves that because the ‘tech’ gives us multi-channel ways to communicate we believe we can compensate for lost time by utilising simultaneous methods to catch up on time we have lost.  We take advantage of time saving tips and tricks, often based in software, to help us manage calendars, To Do lists and team priorities. For some though, even these time saving ‘applets’ can become a significant interruption themselves. And of course, all of this can be now be achieved from the comfort of the beanbag or coffee lounge that you call ‘your desk’. The problem is that our brains are still sufficiently hard wired to work the way we used to when we had more structured working days, where technology was quite analog, communications were manageable and the working day was more set to static hours where we came to work and then left for home. Sure some of us have embraced the ‘change’ and have completely rewired our brains to become the ‘techno’ worker, content to work in any environment, slipstreaming multiple communications and information flows. However, mixing the hard and rewired brains together doesn’t always work – quite often across teams, business divisions, and as individuals too. No matter what technology we are using. As we are presented with open and collaborative tools and workspaces there is a great chance that without discipline and rigour our working day will be interrupted whilst we feel we are being super efficient because its the cool thing to do. It was Alan Turing ( when not solving code breaking challenges ) who talked about that ‘computer algorithms’ will never replace intuition, and our ability to pull facts from the morass of data, documents and information that surrounds us like quick sand. Just having a device ( or cloud ) that can access things faster and continuously is not making us smarter workers. No its our ability to make sense of things. How we observe events around us, and interpret how we as individuals, and as team players, make us of resources to achieve tasks. The quality of our minds is now the big deal and in this new ways of working paradigm shift, it will become one of the most important assets a HR department can focus on. Allowing our workers to think conceptually, critically, metaphorically, speculatively, spanning conscious and unconscious cognition, reason and inspiration will be hugely exciting. Of course this is what Samsung and others especially people like Google have set their hope on. I am not an expert but I pretty much guarantee its a lot more than having the latest’ tech’ , pleasant surroundings and flexible working policies. Having the right mind-set is too often overlooked. I believe in 2014 we are still living through the transition from ‘old school ways of working’ to ‘new ways of working’, and that we have probably one or two generations to go through to get to a place where ‘we can collide’ and spark in such a subliminal unconscious way that turns us all into the empowered workforce that our bosses dream about. For the first time ever, our brains have to cope with a level of interruption unparalled in the ways we work. Everything is changing – technology, business process, buildings, communication policies, culture ethos – and mould them into an ‘tightly coupled’ experience. Yes tightly coupled because being honest, technology has allowed us to believe that because we are now ‘free’ to make choices each working minutes of the day, and this ‘loosely coupled’ approach does not sit well with the majority of the workforce today. Losing concentration is the real killer for the modern worker who thinks that their brain is suitably wired to cope with a multi-channel feed of information. Incorrect. The more we allow our brains to consume information the more we distill our capability to complete even the most simple tasks. And you know the problem? No one has coached us to work in these new environments. They just thought we ‘would pick it up’ and become super efficient. What has happened is that the ‘leaders’ have noticed the ‘brain rewirers’ ( perhaps it is them  ) and took that to mean everyone has got it. Employee engagement surveys may have had the immediate impact as the worker applauded the change to their working environment, but if someone had looked under the hood to how interruptions and collisions were being managed, they would often get a different outcome. I applaud those organizations who are ‘creating’ experience coaches’ people who have pragmatic and mindful ways about them to sit with someone even for 5 minutes, and ‘engage them’ into how to use their workspace ( and headspace ) to its fullest extent. You see for a lot of ‘hard wired’ people there is a problem. They don’t like to admit they don’t understand how to use all the ‘new stuff’ and by stealth manage to get under the radar and still behave like they always did.  Look at the modern car. Or smartphone. Most people still only use the bits they used to use before and never really get the ‘experience coaching’ they really need to maximise their enjoyment. Perhaps the next wave of worker – the millennials- will overcome this because they have the layers of interoperability ingrained in their psyche from the off and do not need ‘coaching’ like we do.  Watch a teenager bounce interruptions to their day with commensurate ease, using multi-channel feeds, operating a range of devices and you see that they have suppleness in their minds to receive, process and discard information at a level that far surpasses our own. Maybe the answer is that any organization embracing a better ways of working strategy should appoint ‘young coaches’ – people with soft wired brains who can coach those with hard wired brains to manage all the change around them and build mechanisms to cope with interruptions successfully, whilst immersing themselves in the collisions. Brummie.

Modern workers struggle every day to cope with tight versus loose ‘coupling’

Isn’t it amazing how every day words are now used in such casual ways these days to describe technology. I mean look at how we as an industry have taken the word cloud and built unbelievable momentum – both real and completely made up. TV programmes and Hollywood films now use cloud in the context of technology as if it has been the only way to describe computing.

Now let me give you a couple of ‘new’ words that are also just plain old every day (non technical ) yet to me represent perfectly the subtle differences in how a modern worker accesses their ‘stuff’, and how the people making the big decisions need to consider whether their strategies are landing correctly. The words?loose v tight coupling

Loose v Tight.

Both words may make you think about ‘tight jeans’ or ‘tight spot’, or loose floorboard or loose tooth’, but I would like to think about your day at work, and think about the way you access information.

Think about the devices you may use during the working day – and perhaps at home, during social time, as you sneak a few ‘work’ minutes under the radar from your family.

Think about how you ask for support from the company you work for when things go wrong. Your interaction with the service desk and their knowledge of your surroundings and requirements.

Think about the application you use the most every day and how you interact with it, such as, how you log on, how you find data you need, how you add data and how you share data.

Now think about your mindset as you do all these things. Are you positive and productive? Are you negative and frustrated? Bit of both right? Perhaps you are better when you work alone, as you find the ‘tech’ is a barrier when working with colleagues who are using different ‘tech’.

You see we are all spending our days switching from a loosely coupled experience, and a tightly coupled experience. Every minute of the day. All of us. Some work in very tightly coupled environments all day, perhaps in a small office where all the workers sit round the same desk. Or some of us travel considerable distances and rely on loosely coupled environments to ‘do our work’ And a lot of us mix all of these environments together as we strive to communicate and collaborate with more people, using more ‘stuff’ and ideally, doing it smarter.

Let me explain a little more about ‘coupling’.

Being tightly coupled represents an experience where you are immersed in your company’s technology. For example, you are tightly coupled as you walk into the office and begin the coupling experience as you swipe into the building. As you logon to the network. When you open corporate applications to communicate with colleagues and clients. When you print. When you search for documents on the company intranet. And for this, the IT organization has a whole host of hardware, software and services to ensure you stay tightly coupled, because they know ( quite rightly ) they have a great chance to deliver an optimized service, protect you and therefore the company from security threat, provide you with key services when you need them, and ensure that all the IP produced by you and colleagues ends up on company disks’ so they can back up and protect the business asset. All those systems of record evidence this tight coupling as they direct you to use their disks and application interfaces to record vital corporate information that is necessary to run the business – ERP, Finance, HR and so on. Security layers keep you channeled into places where your activity is monitored and recorded for audit processes, and where service desks can identify you and resolve issues based against your tightly coupled configuration.

On the flip being loosely coupled represents an experience where you are immersed in your own technology. For example, you are loosely coupled as you take out your corporate supplied smartphone and check Facebook or Twitter. Again, as you use your own equipment to access a corporate application, say your email or a CRM app, you are experiencing loose coupling. Or if you are ‘allowed’ (who can stop you ? ) to store work in progress into a free cloud storage platform. Or it may be a simple project sharing tool that you and colleagues use to spin up fast project workgroups. These systems of engagement are more about your experience and because of the nature of the ever changing landscape for free apps and cloud software, we all admit to using such applications to enjoy the freedom that being loosely coupled allows. In these environments, you enjoy this freedom often at a price, as the IT folk cant see you when you are loosely coupled, and therefore lack the ability to give you proactive support, verify that your information is backed up and that their security policies are being applied to your loosely coupled environment.

Of course none of us identify with these words – tight and loose coupling. We may feel different experiences ( cloud is easy to use for work stuffor having to ‘VPN in’ to access my work is really hard ) but we dont associate with the words – nor should we as we judge the success of IT using more basic metric – it works for me or it doesnt. Black or white. On or off.

However, the IT organization really does identify with these words. They have  a real challenge on their hands as they deliberate daily – “how do we provide tight coupled access to our corporate assets and information whilst allowing the right amount of loose coupled access to support how the business.” In the ‘old’ days the referred to  a loosely coupled system as one which each of its  components has, or makes use of, little or no knowledge of the definitions of other separate components. People immersed in Service Orientated Architecture ( SOA ) for example will be really familiar with this term. Computer scientists know all about coupling.

But for those responsible for delivering IT to support the ‘new ways of working’ and ‘front office’, the challenge of coupling is something relatively new to them – and they struggle with it. And its a challenge that often sits above and below any strategic decision making they may have. This makes it an even bigger challenge. Why? Well because of this relentless speed of change, the IT decision makers are faced with a question that they have never been equipped to answer before. Which is this.

If more and more people are becoming loosely coupled to my organization through events outside my control, how much influence do I really have on the development of the tightly coupled services  I am expected to deliver for an ever reducing operational budget?

Put another way, If more and more emphasis is placed on loosely coupled workers and the rise of their  expectation levels , are we compromising our focus ( and skills ) on making sure we maintain the tightly coupled platforms, infrastructures and governance necessary to protect the core engine for the business to function.

Some of the everday ‘coupling’ questions an IT organization has to face include:

  • What device do I need to give this user based on their ‘coupling’ – tight or loose or both?
  • What infrastructure do I need to buy or procure to  support the shift to more loosely coupled access?
  • What security measures do I apply that enforce the right level of governance across all tightlu and loosely coupled access?

I don’t see anyone with the complete answers to these questions; fascinating isn’t it?