Changes Coming in the Workplace

I’ve written several times about changes that are affecting IT, hard problems and the rise of collaboration thinking.   Gartner Group a while ago published an interesting list called, Gartner Says the World of Work Will Witness 10 Changes During the Next 10 Years which is most interesting.  The ideas in this post are very similar to the idea we see in the Enterprise 2.0 writings such as the ideas around weak links, work swarms, being hyper-connected and working with the collective.   All these are clear collaboration related ideas.

I’ve had the opportunity to visit several places recently where I’ve seen teams working in this fashion. Real offices and teams where the people work well together, move fast, can complete one another’s sentences and genuinely have fun every day.   It is really a joy to see a group of people working together in a fast paced, fun, highly connected fashion.  The trick in the corporate world is to get this kind of environment to scale up and across a geographically distributed workforce.   It is a real challenge.

Technology can and must play a role in helping things scale up.   Collaborative tools like Google Docs, Sharepoint and Confluence can make a huge difference in the workplace where teams can have ways to work together that simply did not exist 10 years ago.   Improved search plays a role in helping connect people to each other and to answers quickly.  Improved mobile platforms from phones to slates together with connectivity back to the enterprise for email through BI can transform how a team gets things done.   Remember the dramatic impact your first Blackberry had on your connectedness and productivity?   We in IT must keep delivering those breakthrough services to our business partners, suppliers and customers.

However, all of this requires change in thinking too.   Individuals and teams have to learn to work together differently in this new world.  Collaboratively editing a document online together feels really different.   Your document that you are presenting next Tuesday might be edited simultaneously by 2-3-23 people over the course of a few days to make it perfect.  You won’t control the document because the group is working on it!  This is a lot different than someone making a draft and emailing it around for comments.   Online collaboration is different.   You have to get used to it.    You also have to learn to trust the cloud and trust that the network will be there.    IT has to make it reliable and you have to learn to trust that it will be there.

So, Gartner Groups article above is true.   All those points might not be true, but change is upon us.

(I wrote this months ago and forgot to publish it!)

How much for IT?

I’ve been pondering the question of how does one determine the proper investment level for IT in a company if you don’t start with the current spending levels.   In other words, how does the leadership of a company determine the right dollar amount to invest without referring to the run rate?

There are various benchmarks that can be used to see how an industry sector invests.  For example, we can find out the average for the insurance industry or the retail industry.   But I’ve not seen anybody provide 2nd order statistics for the industry groups that would help us understand the spread around the mean.   I’ve also found cases where the companies in the study for my industry group were not at all like my company.   The grouping itself can be flawed.

Even if one knows the average for an industry group, what does that tell us about whether we should spend more or less?  I don’t typically want to be average.  It might make sense to spend a lot more than the average based on the specifics of your company and its situation.  One company might get huge leverage on their IT spending and thus more spending is appropriate and warranted.

There are two key components of IT spending.  One is called the Run component and it consists of the spending required to keep the lights on.   Typically, one would want to minimize this spending while maintaining a proper service level.  It does no good to keep cutting the Run spending if the quality of service is going down along the way.   The second component is a Grow or Innovate component and this is used to characterize projects that can help the business grow or innovate.  This second component is where the real discussions should take place and where conversations with the business leadership can make all the difference.  IT should be there to enable the business to move forward.   IT has to spend minimally to keep it running but it also has to spend to help the business innovate.

I think the answer to my question is that there are two answers and they are answered differently.   If there is lots of waste and redundancy in the Run part, then more spending might be warranted to streamline and consolidate to enable the Run component to get smaller later.   If the Run component is already lean with single instances of everything, etc. then perhaps Run can be determined based on what is required to keep the same steady-state.

The Grow/Innovate component is a conversation and partnership with all involved.  This part is where you can spend more or less depending on the story and ideas involved.

Wicked Problems

Gartner Group IT Expo and Wicked IT Problems

The upcoming Gartner Group ITExpo is having a workshop on Solving Wicked Problems and it is a CIO session.  I’ve signed up and am looking forward to the discussion.   Hoping to visit with Mark and Diane about the topic while I’m there.   I’ve not attended this conference in several years but I’m making the time this year as the content is usually quite good.  If you are there, look me up!

I wrote about Hard Problems in IT a few weeks back and will be adding some additional thoughts on those topics in the coming weeks.  I’ve been traveling for a while so I’m behind here.

IT Hard Problems

the current IT hard problems are not well-defined

I’ve thought a lot lately about the hard problems in IT.   There was a time that an ERP upgrade was considered about the hardest thing an organization could undertake and certainly those involve a lot of work and time and cost.   ERP upgrades also have a lot of risk associated with them and we’ve heard the stories of blown conversions, delayed conversions, cost overrun conversions and even blown quarters at companies that are blamed on the conversion of an ERP environment.

ERP upgrades and similar large-scale IT projects are certainly hard and require a lot of focus and attention to execute those moves successfully.  However, they are mostly a very advanced project management project.  By that I mean there is a starting point, there are many big and small milestones in between and there is an ending point.  Furthermore, there is a specific set of outcomes from the effort that are either met or not.   In short, it is a well-defined goal that has an end point.  Yes it might take 18 months and 300 people and $15M in costs to complete, but they are rather well-defined.

I think the hard problems today are not well-defined, they don’t have end points and they may not have clear goals.   I wrote earlier about the challenges of managing software licenses and if I expand that into full asset management, vendor management and software license management, then this is an area that is hard to define, hard to keep under control and has changing rules (by vendors).   It is easy to lose track of some parts of our hardware stack as changes take place over multiple locations across the years.   Throw in some M&A activity and it gets worse.   Vendors like to change the way they count licenses over time and they like to change their licensing strategies and policies over time.   In short, this is a very hard area to keep in control.

Security and protecting a companies IP is another example of a hard problem.   The aim is to protect the enterprise and its IP, and while you may think you are doing it well you can’t be totally sure.   You have to keep ahead of organized and disorganized threats, you have to support changing end-point platforms, you have to deal with social threats and just plain carelessness.     You almost can’t spend enough in this area.  The entire universe of security threats is very, very large.

A third area is collaboration related tools and methods.   Today, half the software vendors on the planet are jockeying for leadership in collaboration tool sets and methods.   An IT shop can create a complicated Venn diagram of the overlap between their different tool sets.   Wrong bets can lead a company in a direction that doesn’t end well and might result in expensive conversions later.  And it is hard to decide which direction to go and of course, there are proponents of each solution inside your own company.   I think that Collaboration is one of the keys to an organizations success going forward as the what got us here won’t get us there.    However, it is hard to figure out the road ahead.

The last hard problem I’d mention is around governance of IT and management of trusted agents in the IT setting.   In many recent discussions, I’ve been re-learning how hard it is to solve segregation of duties challenges, authorization/re-authorization/review of trusted agents, and most importantly logging of transactions for trusted agents.   These are not easy problems to solve in a large-scale IT shop.   These are also problems that are hard to define in some cases and you have to think from the perspective of a threat to the Enterprise, much like in the security area.

These ‘hard problems’ are characterized by not being well-defined, having no end point, having changing conditions or constraints and seem to be very complex.   These are the hard problems in IT these days and I think they are harder now than they were 5 years ago.   We need our some of our best people working in these areas.

I told someone recently I’d rather gnaw off my arm rather than do another ERP upgrade.   I’m rethinking my preferences.

Architecture Tool

a needed tool for viewing the IT architecture of an enterprise

It seems that there needs to be a tool that IT can use to document their architecture in a fashion that that allows the architecture to be easily viewed from different view points.   An organization should be able to view the enterprise from some or all of the following views and perhaps others:

  1. business view as in business functions like A/P, Purchasing, etc.
  2. IT system view as in A/P as part of ERP plus any supporting systems.
  3. data view to look at particular data elements across all systems, etc.
  4. physical view of computer systems in data centers.
  5. network view of connections.
  6. organization view where parts are owned and supported by particular groups, as in IT teams, etc.
  7. an external view of how the enterprise is viewed by the outside.
  8. perhaps an identity management view
  9. perhaps a security view that shows the defenses, barriers, authentication methods, etc. across the enteprise

I’m just making up a list of views that would be useful.  Imagine a pivot table type tool where you could spin the views around on demand to look at things differently quickly.   If the tool could be updated by teams and individuals across the enterprise a complete view of  the IT world could be built and used in countless ways and conversations.

Obviously I’m not an expert on this kind of modeling and not an expert on these tools.   I’ve seen business process mapping tools and they don’t go anywhere near this and static PowerPoint files don’t work for this either.    Of course the tools needs to be free, easy to learn, be browser agnostic and create a peaceful attitude in all who use it.

If you know of such, let me know.    Someone mentioned TOGAF to me yesterday and I might take a look and see if it goes here.

Comments welcome.

Change Management

It can not be overstated how important it is to manage change.   IT is frequently ground zero for major changes in an enterprise either by providing new systems and services or by changing those that already exist.   In either case, change management can be the most important part of the transition.  I’ve used the phrase that ‘IT pours concrete’ whenever we do anything.  We also tend to break concrete, with all the associated destruction and chaos, when we change things.

I used to overlook this and think of it as a soft type topic that didn’t need much thought.   Just send out an email and tell them what is changing.   However, in the last few months as we deal with a major change, I’ve been reminded how important it is to manage the change.  I’ve re-learned how important it is to be sympathetic to the person who has to do the actual change and to have concern for their viewpoint and needs and issues.  It is not ok to just make a change that affects people without considering the impact on their day-to-day workflows and lives.   Even if it saves money for the enterprise, it is still not ok and it is a recipe for disaster to not consider how changes effect other people and their lives.

It is really funny to me that the wikipedia article on Change Management is so lame.   That is one article that needs to be updated.  Please, someone go improve it.

So here are my thoughts on change management based on some recent experiences.

  1. Talk to people from the heart and acknowledge the changes you are asking them to do.
  2. Recognize that you are putting more work on other people to accomplish your goals.   They may not be interested in helping you achieve your goals, but recognize that you are asking them for their help.  Literally ask for their help.
  3. Do all you can to help them.  Provide tools or support resources to help them.   Maybe it is FAQs on-line or people on site to help them or just a friendly email, but help them get through the change.
  4. Keep working on it after the change.  Thank them and keep helping them.  Listen to their concerns before and after and keep helping.
  5. Help them understand the business reason for the change.   Don’t just do change for the sake of change.   If someone knows there is a good reason for the change, they are more likely to help.

Most people want to help and make things better.    Just try to help them as they help you and the Enterprise through a change.

Comments welcome.

Fire Fighting

Years ago a colleague told me that if you clean up the problems in your organization and generally set things on the right path, then you run the risk of disappearing and not being recognized or ‘worried about’ much until something breaks or there is a crisis.   There is a really great post on this subject with the title of Why is Fighting Fires More Valuable Than Avoiding Fires which I want to recommend.  The article talks a bit about the current Toyota problems, but it applies all over the place.

In IT and in all parts of the Enterprise, we need to develop ‘eyes’ to look for the people who are holding it together quarter after quarter.  People and teams who:

  1. keep us out of trouble,
  2. who are consistently delivering results in a quiet fashion,
  3. who are researching new ideas and making ongoing, continuous improvements and
  4. those who are just making good things happen month after month.

It is way too easy to run from one fire to another and over look these good people who don’t let the fires happen in the first place.

Something to think about.