Tuesday, 13 December 2011

You might be an email junkie if...

  • You get a buzz when you check your inbox for the first time each day.
  • You use your inbox as a task list.
  • You haven’t turned off new message alerts in Outlook.
  • After a desk-side chat with a colleague that raises an action, you say “can you send that to me in an email?”
  • Things that aren’t sent to you as emails don’t get done.
  • You forward emails to yourself to move them to the top of the pile.
  • You’ve deleted your inbox out of anger/frustration, only to restore it later out of fear.
  • You start conversations with “I’ve just sent you an email about xyz” and then repeat the content verbally.
  • You use inbox folders as a project management tool.
  • You wouldn’t know what to do next if your inbox was empty – not that it ever will be.

The “death of email” saga continues, with the old guard still trying to work out what could possibly replace it.  The rest are either saying "from my cold dead hand" or putting their trust in generation-Y to solve the problem for them.
It’s time to cut the cord but the reality is that there won’t be a big bang shift from email to shiny new collaborative tools.  Why?  Because until all of your customers have dropped email as a main communication channel, you can’t drop email.  One organisation deciding to ban email internally is not a turning point.  If they pull it off, it’s a proof-of-concept - but a few “this wouldn’t have happened if we were still using email” statements uttered in the board room could pull the plug on the whole thing.

I’m looking forward to the day when I see a LinkedIn discussion “What ever happened to email?”  In the meantime, here’s a tip that most people could benefit from (including myself):

Next up:  Why anybody who attends a meeting with no agenda should be shot.

Monday, 12 December 2011

The Hybrid Organisational Model

I've been listening to another podcast of The Bottom Line,  discussing organisational structure - the pros and cons of flat and hierarchic companies.  It occurred to me that although organisations tend to be either more flat or more hierarchic, there is no such thing as a purely flat or a rigidly hierarchic organisation.  It simply wouldn't work.  Some hierarchic structure is required to support decision-making and control, and some 'flatness' is required to support cross-functional business processes that deliver outcomes for the customer.  A company with a 100% rigid hierarchy will suffer fatally from closed silos and an entirely flat organisation is a headless chicken with no leadership.

Mike the headless chicken lived for 18 months - 
That's 12 months longer than most loft-based new media companies.

Long-established blue chip multinationals typically have rigid hierarchic structures and struggle with internal communication.  Ideas coming from the shop floor are often watered down as they get pushed up the ladder to the point where ‘Chinese whispers’ takes effect and the idea becomes warped and ineffective.  However, to a certain extent, a well-defined structure is necessary to support the massive bulk of the organisation which would otherwise collapse into chaos under its own weight.

Smaller, more dynamic start-ups favour flatter organisational structures, often because they don't have the massive workforces of the blue-chips that require a tighter organisation and want to cultivate the sort of collaboration that drives agile innovation and rapid execution to compete with the blue-chips.

Where hierarchic organisations favour strong leadership and control, flat organisations promote collaboration, information sharing, productivity and innovation in day-to-day operations.  Hierarchies have their place where large-scale organisation change needs to happen - the communication of vision and the control that is required to execute that vision.  The trick is the timing of where to enforce the hierarchy and where to let flat collaboration reign.  The truth is that successful organisations use a combination of both, switching between one and the other to encourage collaboration yet retain control and solid leadership when it is required.

 Managing a 'flat' organisation takes strong leadership.  Mustache optional.

So what has this all got to do with IT?  The same principles apply to the IT department, an organisation within the organisation.  It's all about balancing the leadership and control of a well-defined structure, with the collaboration and innovation that comes with flattening out and breaking down silos.  IT needs to be part of the management function setting and communicating vision in a structural context, and needs to work with the business units that IT supports in a flat context.  In IT operations - where service delivery and support lives - a business process management view focusing on the customer outcome is critical to service provisioning that works.  This is more achievable in a flat organisation where separate functions work together in a coordinated manner to draw together service components.  Break-fix support is more about problem solving so a flat organisation also lends itself to the sort of cross-departmental collaboration that it required to solve the problem quickly.

You can listen to the full podcast of The Bottom Line at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b016ljjd

Friday, 2 December 2011

ITIL is dead. Long live ITIL.

Isn’t it about time the idea of publishing best practice books was killed off.  It’s an inherently flawed idea.  Yes, the books have served a lot of organizations well - but like any book it’s out of date as soon as it’s printed.  Yes, it gets updated, but not often enough.


People seem to be drifting away from ITIL and I think this is because it’s presented in the wrong format for the dynamic world we live in.  When will we see a collaborative, expert-moderated ITIL Wiki representing up-to date best practices?

Where a book suffers from a page limit and thus a scope limit, wikis are free to grow and branch out to solve some of the limitations of the ITIL books - like covering more prescriptive best practices for each of the industry verticals.  If ITIL is to survive, it needs to be made more valuable, accessible and pragmatic.

"Hang on, I'll check what ITIL has to say about it"

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

IT Maturity: The law of accelerating returns

Last week I had my gall bladder removed, for which I must first say thanks to the surgeons and staff at Murrayfield Hospital.  Being away from the operational distractions of the office for a whole week I have been able to think more clearly about some strategic issues.  It’s a luxury that few people have time for, particularly right now.  The economic climate is constricting resources which means keeping the lights on takes precedence over improvement initiatives.  Consequently, organizations tend to shrink back into the comfort of a low cost, low risk operations-only mentality – sitting out the economic downturn safe in the knowledge that battening down the cost hatches will see them through the storm.  However, the fact is that companies that invest during lean times almost always emerge in a stronger position – by leapfrogging their shell-shocked competitors who are shying away from risk.

It is a commonly accepted 'fact' that an average of 70-80% of IT resources are used to provide support and therefore do not contribute anything new to the business.  With only 20-30% of IT budget going to new developments - some of which is fruitlessly wasted on projects that deliver no business value - it is no wonder that IT never reaches the ‘star player’ status.

Most IT organizations are stuck in the operations rut 
Many IT organizations are stuck in a rut - where the new development portion of their budget goes towards perennially catching up with business requirements.  In essence, there is no budget or resource dedicated to innovation that can close the gap and develop IT as a business leading organization. Few companies can afford to dedicate time to innovation, but organizations such as Google very cleverly built this into their company culture at a very early stage to guarantee long-term success in the market through ongoing commitment to innovation.  Organisation's need to shrug off their industrial-age thinking and start thinking in the context of a modern, fast moving global enterprise market where innovation gets you noticed.  The trick is to find the 'wormhole' to the next level - and often, it's a very small wormhole.

The IT Ops Managers Reunion 2012

Step on the gas
In essence, a nudge is required to release resources for innovation and push IT out of the operational rut.  A single, prioritised improvement project can start the ball rolling and create some forward acceleration.  However, the selection of the right project is critical.  A set of initiatives should be analysed and evaluated in terms of the capital expenditure, required resources and benefits that will be delivered.  If the selected project is predicted to release sufficient resources and deliver sufficient cost savings to meet the cost and resource requirements of the next project, inertia will be maintained and IT can continue to make progress with the roadmap.  Of course, no budget means instant failure, so it is vital that IT communicates the value of this ‘wormhole project’ in both standalone terms and as the critical first step in a holistic IT maturity roadmap.

"I'm an IT department and I have a problem"
Realising the problem is the first step towards a solution.  Admitting the problem is the next step (difficult as this might be) but it is also an opportunity to build credibility.  Politics enters the equation and to a certain extent the status quo can be considered a legacy situation that has built up over many IT ‘administrations’ allowing IT to pass the buck to the ghosts of IT past.  IT organizations should aim to gear up morale internally and create organizational enthusiasm by planning and communicating a way out of the rut that is crystal clear.

Who are you calling a 'legacy situation'?

Critical Success Factors
  • Risk assessment must be stringent to foresee and negate project pitfalls to minimise risk of failure.  It must be kept in mind at all times that failure in step one will destroy organizational confidence in the whole roadmap, making it very difficult to re-start.
  • The cost savings and resource benefits of one project should meet or exceed the input requirements of the subsequent project or a shortfall will be revealed and IT will have to go back to the CFO with cap in hand.
  • The CEO must recognise the strategic potential of IT and provide the resources (in other words the breathing space) they need to embark on an improvement roadmap.  Clamping budget helps nobody but your competitors  - who see the strategic potential and recognise that there is a price tag associated with achieving Innovation Technology maturity.

Monday, 14 November 2011

The Value of IT: A Real Life Example

How IT could have saved BAA £220 Million
I’ve been listening to The Bottom Line this week - one of BBC Radio 4’s flagship business programs presented by Evan Davis (better known for presenting The Dragon’s Den).  In the show, Alison Carnwath, Chairman of Land Securities, took the opportunity to pin down BAA Chief Executive Colin Matthews over how much time passengers spend circling London before landing at London Heathrow, one of 6 airports operated by BAA in the UK.

 "I think I'd like to get off the plane now"

The Business Challenge
Flights arriving in London Heathrow are circling the city waiting for a landing slot due to congestion at the airport.  The challenge is for Heathrow to land more planes more quickly and reduce time spent in the in the sky above London without cutting the number of flights using the airport.  The benefits of solving this problem are three-fold:
  • Improving the passenger experience by reducing delays in the air and queuing on the ground
  • Improving airline customer satisfaction by reducing fuel overheads incurred as a result of extra time spent circling the city.
  • Maintaining and indeed increasing the number of airlines and flights using Heathrow - a core source of BAA revenue.

The Business Problem
The problem is one of capacity.  They need to be able to land more planes more quickly.  Initially, the most obvious solution was to build additional runways and more terminal stances to meet rising demand.  However, on top of the huge cost of building and maintaining this infrastructure there are other factors, including huge public resistance, which made this a contentious solution. The plan for a third runway was subsequently scrapped by the UK Government in 2010.  However, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.  If extending infrastructure is not an option, then an organisation must improve the way demand is managed to fit around the existing infrastructure.

The Solution
Matthew’s suggested solution was to manage demand more effectively by better integration of what Air Traffic Control with the allocation of runway slots and terminal parking stances on the ground.  This might relieve congestion in a limited way but it only addresses half the problem.  The cause of congestion lies both downstream and upstream of air traffic control.  Poor management of the runways and terminal stances creates a bottleneck downstream.  Upstream variation in flying times means arrivals deviate from the schedule and flights miss their allocated landing slots – so they are left circling in the stack until a new slot is found.

 "Hi, is that the tower?  I hate to rush you but..."

The weak point is NATS lack of visibility outside of their own airspace monitoring systems.  Mark Elborne, CEO of GE (UK & Ireland) was quick to plug GE Aviation’s Performance Based Navigation (PBN) system which allows air traffic control to track incoming aircraft from takeoff at the departing airport to landing, giving better visibility of delays before they enter NATS airspace.  This allows them to plan further ahead, reorganise landing sequences in advance and work with the airport to manage landing slots, terminals and parking stances to fit changing demand.  According to Elborne, this is already happening in China, Brazil, Australia and Sweden - meaning this is becoming an emerging best practice for aligning air traffic and airport operations.

I have no idea whether BAA will end up implementing such a system.  The point I want to make is that this is a prime example of an opportunity for IT to solve a business problem more cheaply and effectively than the alternative.  As such, CEOs need to integrate CIOs and IT executives into the decision-making process to explore all of the possibilities before making a decision.  BAA spent £220m buying property in the village of Sipson – the site of the proposed third runway.  This money could have been saved and a lot of bad press avoided if IT had been involved at an earlier stage.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Has IT really moved on?

This week I have been reading an interesting yet somewhat antiquated book first published in 1993 by Harvard Business Revenue called "The Business Value of IT".  Comprising a set of detailed, real-life case studies written by a number of CIOs and IT managers in high profile global companies, the book covers the challenges that they faced and the IT strategies they used to achieve success.

Given the age of the book in relative terms, you would expect this to be a quaint snapshot of a bygone era, but the really interesting thing is that the problems these guys faced in the early 90s would be easily recognisable by the CIOs of today.  This raises a somewhat embarrassing question - have things moved on in IT, or are we actually just going round in circles?

The iPad 3 will incorporate a new, intuitive user interface.

These guys, speaking from within very notable companies such as British Petroleum and Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) faced the big strategic decisions that are still current today:

  • How to respond to rapidly changing customer needs
  • How to make IT more 'human-centric' - what we would now call Business-IT Alignment
  • Whether to insource or outsource IT
  • How involved should CEOs be in IT decision-making?

So why haven't things moved on?  Almost 20 years later, shouldn't we be living halcyon days of a mature IT organization playing the shining star in the business? - driving the business forward with fast-paced innovation.  The truth is that we're not quite there yet, but we're getting there.  As the old device-oriented perspective is pushed aside to make room for more service, business and human-centric paradigms, the IT body of knowledge is finally growing out of adolescence into maturity.

We don't know what it is, but they said it's going to solve all our problems

It has become obvious that those IT organizations that have achieved notable success in supporting business with a competitive edge have been driven by people making the right problem-solving decisions, not the implementation of raw technology as a silver bullet.  To twist the words of Ronald Reagan in his inaugural speech - technology is not the solution to the problem, technology is the problem.  Technology is a means to an end, and will only ever deliver true value when deployed in the context of good strategy, good processes, good people, and good business decisions.  If any one element is missing, or one link in the chain is weak, there is a higher risk of project failure and IT will continue to tread water.  Much time is wasted on continually changing one enterprise technology toolset for another - and every time the promise is that 'this one is the one that will solve our problems'.

For those that are interested, "The Business Value of IT" is available from Amazon. A brilliant, readable book for anyone involved in IT.

So has IT moved on?  Has IT delivered what we were promised?  Answers on a punched card.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

IT Futurology: The Impact of Cloud Computing on ITSM

The world is changing and so will IT
The baby-boomers that shaped the post-war commercial landscape are retiring, the entrepreneurial Generation X have settled down to become the new business leaders, and the Digital Native generation Y are moving from the schools and universities into the global workforce, bringing a self-directed tech-savvy approach to the workplace.  This cultural shift combined with new technologies such as cloud computing, will cause major and disruptive changes to IT in the next decade.  Changes that will further unbalance the position of the established blue-chips at the top of the food chain.

The real impact of cloud computing hasn't even begun yet
The cloud computing model is driving a fundamental change in the way IT services are delivered.  Powerful ‘web 2.0’ technologies allow for much of the user interface functionality associated with installed apps to be utilised within a Java-enabled browser.  This will in turn enable a massive shift from on-premise installs to the delivery of apps and services in the cloud.  The end result will be a massive reduction in the scale of the internal IT estate.  For some organizations, in-house IT service delivery and support requirements may be eliminated completely.  Organizations will need to completely re-think their strategy and ask one critical question – what is it that is really important to our business?  Is it owning a massive, expensive IT estate, or is it the technology that the IT estate delivers to business units?  The answer is obvious, and it represents just one of many major shifts in thinking that will happen in the next decade:

 Anyone for spaghetti?
Businesses will see major shifts:
  • A shift from a technology focus to a business outcomes focus
  • A change from the old device-oriented IT approach to a top-down Business Technology approach
  • Management of IT services from a service supply-chain perspective
  • A move from large in-house IT estate to a more lightweight SaaS-powered IT strategy
  • Complex in-house service management will give way to service vendor management
  • Use of personal IT to simplify the corporate IT estate

The dawn of the disposable desktop
In turn, this will impact a company’s hardware requirements.  Effectively, the browser will become the operating system, and the OS itself will shrink to cover basic processing and the human interface aspects – the monitor, the keyboard, the mouse, etc.  Not quite a return to the dumb-terminal era, but not far from it.  With much of the processing being done in cloud data centers, desktop specs will drop to a level low enough to make the disposable desktop a reality – where the cost of investigating a problem with a base unit is higher than simply unplugging the unit and replacing it.  With all application, data and processing happening remotely, there is no user footprint on the desktop unit and end user downtime will be reduced to the time it takes to unplug one unit and plug in another.  With simpler desktop management, the desktop support department can be downsized (or even closed) as desktop problem management is no longer an issue.  Time spent finding and removing viruses will be eliminated.  Window re-installs will be a thing of the past.  Disposable desktops will be bought in bulk from vendors with windows pre-installed and ready to go.  ‘Broken’ desktops will go back to the vendor who will recycle and re-issue the desktop.

"Have you tried turning it off and on again?"

BYOD - Bring Your Own Device becomes practical
In some organizations, it is likely that end users will be made responsible for their own IT hardware - using their own home desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones to operate.  With no hardware burden on the business, the on-boarding process will be simplified down to the issuing of a number of application logins, or a single login to a service catalog providing user-customized access to the complete suite of technology that the end user needs in order to operate.  Only knowledge workers with the most specialized, industry-specific requirements will need to be supported.  Third party device support providers will spring up to fill the gap in device support, with organizations effectively outsourcing their device support or leaving support of personal IT completely to the end user, covering this with a fixed IT allowance paid monthly so that all aspects of IT are fully devolved from the company to the end user.  Desktop management is the most obvious case of capacity wastage that IT never spots.  Everybody who works with a desktop has a desktop at home, and a laptop, and often a tablet and smartphone.  There is no need for the business to duplicate the hardware their staff already own and self-supports. 

Mainstream Adoption
Immature markets represent risk for CIOs who are concerned about negative business impact, so the shift to a completely cloud sourced IT model will follow the usual, pedantic technology adoption curve.  Innovative start-ups will lead the way to gain an agile edge over slow moving blue chips.  Lean organizations who want to focus on core business and outsource wherever possible will form the early adopters group.  However, whilst the model is still immature, some of these organizations will fall foul of the bleeding edge – finding the pitfalls to be avoided by the early majority.  In response, it is likely that SaaS vendors will have to tighten up their service capacity and availability and liability in order to survive.  High performing service management will become business-critical to these cloud service providers.  Organizations that use very specialized software will have to wait longer for the technology to migrate to the cloud, but it will happen.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Business Technology vs. Information Technology

Business technology isn’t about different technology; it’s about a different way of thinking about technology – as a means to an end, not just a raison d’etre for the IT group.  Communication is the lynchpin of a business technology approach, allowing both groups to integrate and understand each other’s objectives and challenges in order to work together towards the ultimate objective of the organization – generate revenue.


Unify IT with the business

The term business-IT alignment has been around for a long time, but many organizations are struggling with putting this somewhat ethereal objective into practice.  IT needs to become part of the business, not just a ‘business partner’.  But what does this really mean?  It is difficult to devise a concrete strategy for integrating IT into the business to form a unified entity and dissolve departmental silos.  Fundamentally, it’s about involving both groups in business processes.  IT needs to be involved in business decisions and the business must be involved in IT decisions.  That means having business and IT people sitting in the same room when decisions are made – getting IT people involved at the earliest possible stage in new projects before there is a clear requirement for IT services and support and getting business units involved when IT is making changes to business systems.  IT can provide valuable automation solutions to business processes, and the business can communicate how changes will have impact in the context of customer interactions and patterns of business activity.  Business Technology goes beyond alignment, beyond integration – it’s about creating a symbiotic relationship between business units and IT to create a single aggregate business entity.

 Burt Reynolds 'gets' Business Technology


Measure IT with business metrics

The accepted metrics for IT mean nothing to the business.  99.999% availability might be considered a worthy goal for an e-commerce system, but if the 5 minutes of downtime that does occur coincides with, or is caused by, the busiest business period of the year then IT has failed to meet the needs of the business.  Business impact is simply not represented in this metric, so it hides a problem that IT won’t identify and ultimately address.  They need to understand the patterns of the business so that they can properly reprioritise incidents, problems and changes based on what is important at the time – e.g. which service interruption is costing the company most money.  In short, Business Technology metrics have a dollar sign in front of them to indicate how well IT is supporting business objectives.


Scrutinize both the business and IT when there is a failure

When IT fails to meet the needs of the business, the failure must be scrutinized to identify the problem and changes that must be made to both infrastructure and business process.  Fault does not always lie inside a little grey box – communication, competence and process could be at fault.  If an IT department decides to take a system offline over a holiday weekend, they might not be aware that it’s traditionally the busiest time for the business.  Is that a fault in IT, or a fault in the way the company communicates?


Tackle IT overspend to focus resources

In the past, technology has enjoyed a ‘silver bullet’ status, with technology investment taking a huge slice of the annual budget pie.  The current economic climate is exerting huge pressure on CFOs to identify savings, so they are naturally turning the microscope on the mysteriously opaque IT department and its massive price tag.  As a result, justifying budget is a number one challenge for the CIO.  If IT investment is justified in business terms (a difficult task) then the identification of redundant IT is a useful bi-product of this process.  Software and infrastructure that does not contribute tangible business value can be shut down or reassigned to form an IT function that is more ‘right-sized’ to the needs of the organization.



  • Business technology is technology that adds value to the business.  If it doesn’t add value, it’s probably redundant IT ready for the chop.
  • Tackle IT-to-BT transformation service by service – prioritised by business importance.
  • Extract the silver bullets - consider all IT to be legacy IT until its value has been proven as BT.
  • CIOs should be pro-active about cutting costs now, before the CFO wields the hatchet.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

How a Service Catalog can improve Customer Loyalty

It is widely believed that going above and beyond customer expectation is the key to creating customer loyalty.  However, recent research from the Corporate Executive Board's Customer Contact Council has shown that customer satisfaction does not correlate with customer loyalty in the way that we might expect.  The research shows that loyalty is impacted more by the ease with which clients can interact with your organisation to address their service requests, not mechanism or level of personal contact.

The key point is that often customer's service requests require multiple interactions before the customer receives the required service.  The expectation is that a single request should be enough to trigger delivery of the appropriate service.  In reality, the customer must often make several contact attempts through different channels to get the service they require.

Gratuitous use of stock photography to somehow denote customer loyalty

Many organisations perceive that good customer satisfaction is based on personal contact, and that self-service websites harm loyalty by presenting a faceless interface.  The reality is that as self-service website are becoming more readily accepted by clients as a point of interaction, the expectation of single-contact resolution of their request is simply transferred to this environment.  It is critical that the customer gets what they want the first time. If you can achieve this simple objective, customers will identify your organisation as people who can make their life easier, ensuring repeat custom is more likely.

The key problems with self-service catalogs are that customers often find it difficult to find the information that they need, and this information is presented in a way that makes sense to the service vendor, not the customer.  It is critical that the usability of your self-service catalog is designed from a user perspective - it must be easy to navigate and easy to understand in business terms.  Service vendors should avoid unnecessary technical jargon and industry acronyms.

Continual improvement of a service catalog should be driven by analysis of customer interactions, primarily to eliminate the need for multiple contact attempts.  If your service desk is receiving calls from customers who have already attempted to request a service through your service catalog these cases should be flagged and passed on to the manager responsible for your service catalog for detailed analysis of usability.  Common problems are that the self-service website is too difficult to navigate or understand, or that the service request form itself is not capturing the complete set of information required to deliver the service.

As in every other area of service management, continual improvement efforts must be focused.  Metrics for first contact resolution via your self-service channel should be analysed by service, based on impact to the bottom line, taking into account the number of requests, follow-up interactions and the value of the service and the customer. Improvement efforts can then be focused on services that are weakest, taking into consideration which services are used most and which contribute most to your organisation's bottom-line profit so that time is not wasted on improving under-utilised low-value services. This has a three-fold advantage of improving customer loyalty and reducing strain on the service desk, whilst driving highest possible impact on profitability that will be noticed by the business.

There are three takeaways from this:
  • Customers like the idea of being able to make personal contact with a human being, but it's not the easiest way to request services.  A speedy result is always the client's priority.  Plus, when you add a service desk operative to the interaction and you double the risk of human error.
  • As service catalogs are becoming increasingly commoditised, the business differentiator is not just whether you have one, but how well it works for the client on their first attempt.
  • Focused continual improvement is the key to customer loyalty.  Keep your best customers happiest for maximum bottom-line impact.
 These people need some more chairs