The Right Services in the Right Way

I’ve written a bit about the agile data center lately. I’ve previously defined the agile data center as something that “allows organizations to efficiently and effectively add, remove and change services at the speed of the business, not the speed of technology.”

I still stand by that definition but I wanted to expand on it a bit. Agility does allow organizations to ‘add, remove and changes services’ quickly and easily. I recently watched a talk by Symantec’s Jeff Hausman and Drew Meyer that described the agile data center a bit better than my original definition. During Jeff and Drew’s talk, they used a slide (shown below) to help define the agile data center perfectly. They define it as “Delivering the right services…in the right way…to the right user.” (Note: The slide uses ‘resources’ instead of services…I paraphrased a bit). That’s a perfect definition (and one that I wish I had come up with).

Symantec-Agile-Data-Center

My original definition still stands as it fits well into this new definition but I really like having a focus on the ‘user’ that this new definition brings. By expressly adding the user to the definition, it forces us in IT to keep our users and clients in mind when designing new systems or applications and/or making changes to existing platforms.

Building (and managing) an agile data center allows the IT group to do exactly what is described in this slide. An agile data center allows the IT group to deliver the right services in the right way at the right time for the right user(s) within the organization.

In addition to the definition itself, the above slide provides some excellent insight into the use of Software Defined Data Center (SDDC) technologies, Platform-As-A-Service (or Software-As-A-Service), agile / elastic infrastructure and ‘metadata’ to help organizations make this new definition a reality. In addition, each ‘sphere’ shown in the image above helps to drive agile thinking within the data center and within the IT group as a whole.

If CIO’s and IT professionals keep this new definition in mind when designing and planning their data centers (and anything else they do for the organization), they’ll quickly earn a reputation as a business solutions team rather than a technology management team.

Delivering the right services at the right time in the right way to the right user is a perfect mantra for each and every IT professional today. Now, they just need to find a way to make that mantra a reality within their organizations by building the idea into everything they do.

Additionally, with this mantra in mind, it becomes much easier to plan, build and manage the agile data center within the organization.

This post is brought to you by Symantec and The Transition To The Agile Data Center.

 

Building an Agile IT Group

Building an Agile IT GroupLike the data center in most organizations, IT groups have been undergoing a transformation over the last few years. IT leaders have constantly been on the lookout for new systems, technologies, people and skills to meet the ‘do more with less’ mantra while continuing to build out the capabilities required of their teams.

Thankfully, CIO’s have had the good fortune that cloud computing and virtualization were available to help transform IT operations and the data center. Combining these new technologies in innovative ways has allowed organizations to cut costs, improve flexibility and just generally ‘do more with less.’

Virtualization has allowed organizations to expand their data center capabilities without requiring enormous outlays of capital for new hardware and physical space by allowing companies to decommission underutilized servers and replace them with optimized virtualized systems.

Similarly, the cloud has given organizations access to an almost limitless amount of processing and storage power with low costs, relatively high reliability and a great deal of agility. Companies have been able to quickly and efficiently expand data center capabilities with little capital expenditure or long term commitments by turning to cloud vendors and platforms.

Both virtualization and cloud computing have completely transformed data center planning and operations. They’ve also planted the seeds of change within the IT group itself by forcing IT professionals to think more about adding business value rather than narrowly focusing on the technologies they are managing and implementing.

Many organizations have been pushing data center transformation projects while neglecting the transformation of the IT group itself. These companies have transformed (or are working to transform) their data centers from a monolithic, underutilized liability to an agile and valuable asset, but they’ve often failed to push agility as a core concept for IT professionals working within their IT groups.

In order to continue to improve and provide value, CIO’s need to be thinking about their people as well as their technology and systems. They need to think about how to include concepts like agility, business value, cross-training and laser focus on customer satisfaction into the fabric of the IT group.

While I can’t provide a ‘recipe’ for CIO’s to use to create an agile IT group, I have provided a few guidelines that have worked for me (and others) in the past. These guidelines are:

  • Focus on the User: Many times, IT is given a set of requirements and they go off to build a system to meet those requirements. Rarely do we take a step back to look at the requirements from the user’s point of view. Rarely do we spend more than a few minutes talking to the actual end users who have commissioned the work. Rarely do we see the stress and strain they are under to do their jobs. A focus on the user will help IT professionals understand the need for agility and flexibility in their jobs.
  • Rethink your Operational Delivery Model: Use the cloud and virtualization to rethink and rebuild your delivery capabilities so that your team can more easily say “yes” when asked for help from the business. If your IT staff can say “yes” easily, it will become second nature for them to continue to say ‘yes’ whenever they can. And saying “yes” is what agility is all about.
  • Invest in Skills and Training: If you want your team to change, you really need to focus on training and skill development to ensure your team has the capabilities and knowledge to perform their jobs in a fast-paced environment like an agile IT group.
  • Cultivate and Eliminate: Cultivate the skills, ethics and abilities that you want to see in your agile team while eliminating those that you don’t. This may mean hiring and firing but not everyone is cut out for an agile IT group so you shouldn’t try to force people to ‘fit.’

In order to compete in the future, CIO’s and IT professionals need to remain agile. They’ll need to continue building the agile data center but they’ll need to also focus on building an agile team to get the most use from the agile data center.

This post is brought to you by Symantec and The Transition To The Agile Data Center.

Perceptions Matter – CIO’s Take Note

CIO Magazine has released their “2015 State of the CIO” report.  I look forward to this report every year as it provides some great insight into the minds of CIO’s and the roles they are playing within their businesses.

This year’s report has some great content but I wanted to point out one particular aspect of the report related to ‘perceptions’ of the CIO and IT group.  In the slide below – taken from the2015 State of the CIO report – results of questions related to how business leaders perceive the IT group within their organization are provided.

State of the CIO for 2015

For a small minority (13%), the IT group and the CIO are seen as business leaders. These are the CIO’s and IT groups who’ve figured out how to work in the ‘New’ world of business. These are the teams that view themselves as solvers of business problems, not technology problems. Another 30% of the respondents see the IT group and the CIO as business partners. I’m actually pretty excited to see such a large number.

There’s a disheartening aspect to these results though with 43% of respondents calling their CIO’s and IT groups business partners or business leaders. The majority of respondents (56%) see their IT groups as a necessary part of the business but not something that truly creates lasting value for the business or the clients of the business. With 18% of respondents perceiving IT as a cost center and 38% viewing the IT group and/or CIO as a service provider, we see that many companies still view IT as just a budgetary line item rather than a real, value-driven part of the business.

I’m sure there are plenty of CIO’s and IT professionals who believe they are more than a cost center or service provider, but based on the respondents in this survey, the majority of those folks would be wrong.   I wonder how many CIO’s out there would put themselves in the ‘cost center’ or ‘service provider’ bucket if they were asked?

Perception matters. How is your IT group viewed by your organization?

 

The New CIO Revisited

New CIOOver on The CIO Leader, Ian Cox asks “Are CIO’s running out of time?”  In the article, Ian provides an excellent analysis of the current state of the CIO and argues that CIO’s are definitely not running out of time especially if the CIO realizes that the role today is different than it was in years past.

Ian writes that CIO’s need to better understand the New role of the CIO and follow a new model. He writes:

In this new model, rather than being the gatekeeper of the technology budget and the provider of all technology used by the business, the new type of CIO and IT function act as brokers, providing advice, guidance and access to the technology required by the rest of the business. It is a far more important and valuable role but it requires a different type of CIO and a different type of IT function.

Emphasis mine.

There are some CIO’s out there that have embraced the changing landscape of IT. These CIO’s have figured out that their future lies within a collaborative environment with other groups within the organization. They’ve realized that groups like Marketing and the Chief Marketing Officer have been increasing their technological knowledge exponentially over the last few years. They’ve realized that the future of the IT group and their future as CIO lies within their ability to help lead technology solutions within a company without having to ‘own’ that technology or the budget for that technology. I’ve given these CIO’s a new moniker. They are New CIO’s.

While these CIO’s have figured out the future of their role and the IT group is changing, there are many other CIO’s who’ve yet to figure it out – or at least have yet to accept that changes are coming (or have already arrived). These second types of CIO’s are looking for ways to get their ‘old’ lives back. They’re looking for ways to own all technology budgets, projects and systems and are constantly fighting the CMO and others to regain the control they once had. Just like the New CIO’s, I’ve given this second type of CIO a moniker as well. They are Old CIO’s.

I know…I know…not very interesting names for either, but stick with me in this journey and you’ll see they are perfect monikers for the two types of thinking. Not only do they perfectly describe the difference between the two types of CIO’s I see today but the monikers describe the difference in the types of thinking that is required of CIO’s to build the digital organization of the future.

Throughout my career, I’ve generally found myself at the intersection of business strategy and technology.  I’ve spent many years working as a consultant to CIO’s, CMO’s and other’s within many different types of organizations. I’ve worked with large and small companies and IT groups from one to one-thousand people.

Over the course of my career, I’ve watched many companies struggle with technology and technology management. I’ve watched companies languish in the Old way of thinking and I’ve watched companies grow revenues exponentially with new thinking.  I’ve watched companies shrink and layoff staff because they just couldn’t move away from Old thinking. I’ve watched other companies grow their technological systems and capabilities while keeping staffing levels fairly constant with New thinking approaches.

I think the New CIO and the New IT group can bring a more value to an organization than any other part of the business. As CIO, you can continue doing things the way you used to or you can reimagine your role and the role of your team plays within the organization and deliver more value to the business than ever before.

I’ve heard some people say that the IT group (and the CIO) are irrelevant in today’s world. I disagree. The New CIO can make IT and the CIO role more relevant than ever before.

Are you looking at all aspects of your business to identify cost savings?

Savings AheadI just read “Businesses prefer to cut in-house costs than challenge providers of outsourced services, survey finds” and just had to write a bit about the article.

The article, which reports on a survey by Alsbridge, claims that many businesses today are focused on cutting internal costs rather than looking at outsourced providers and services for cost savings.

According to the article, “managers are reluctant to question service providers because the multi-vendor ecosystems they have built are too delicate to tamper with and too big to fail. Instead, businesses looking to cut costs are focusing ‘excessively’ on in-house labour costs.”

Seems a bit strange doesn’t it…only looking internally for cost savings?  If you are looking to cut costs, wouldn’t you want to take a look at your entire operation to look for efficiency gains and places for savings?

According to the article, the reason companies aren’t able or willing to look at outside vendors is due to the complexity of the services those vendors provide and the intermingling between multiple vendor’s services and systems.  I realize modern organization’s are complex and the technology infrastructure to support these organizations is also complex, but complexity shouldn’t be a reason for not doing something.

I can’t think of a single argument that any CIO or IT leader (or any business leader) could make that would convince me that they shouldn’t look at every single aspect of their operation to identify places for cost savings.  I can’t imagine any level of complexity that would keep me from looking at every aspect of the business for places to save money.

What about you and your organization? Are you looking at all aspects of your business to identify cost savings?