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.

Links for Nov 18 2012

  • Change Trumps Technology

    Quote: So, do I think your organization should be advancing into the digital/social media world? Absolutely. But you’d better FIRST build your organizational capacity to change your own management to meet the needs of today’s environment. That’s what gets you into the playoffs–and digital acumen is what puts you on top.

  • Big Brother? Sits right on your mobile

    Quote: In this age of free(mium), it’s common knowledge that you pay with your privacy. Facebook is the best (or should I say worst) example of the dance around your data, yet there are many more tools that you use, which have access to everything that you carry with you: all the data on your phone. Not only can they read that, they can also change it – and even “impersonate” you

  • A VC: How Well Do You Take A Punch?

    Quote: Life punches you in the face and you might get knocked out. The question is can you get back up and keep going.

  • What supercomputers and Schrodinger’s cat can teach the electronics industry — Tech News and Analysis

    Quote: In the near term companies are eking more performance out of chips without using too much power by using co-processors taking a cue from the supercomputer industry. In the long term, though making faster and more efficient chips will take place at the subatomic scale.

  • Jim’s Notebook: Technology Immortalizes Bad Practices

    Quote: For all the benefits that technology can bring to an organization that adopts it to automate tasks, it has a smothering effect on innovation.  This likely elicits a incredulous “harrumph” from those who are of the opinion that technology alone is innovation – but there’s a good case that it isn’t, and that it is most often used to ensconce bad practices and prevent companies from being innovative.

  • The Value of Being Original in an Age of Knock-Offs – Nina Garcia – Harvard Business Review

    Quote: It’s the companies that have integrity and stay true to their aesthetic that are ultimately more profitable. Those that cut quality and turn to knock-off designs just don’t survive long-term.

Move. Move fast. Move true.

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

true By pittaya on flickrI just noticed a post over on the Enterprise CIO Forum by Joel Dobbs titled What CIOs (and other executives) can learn from Research In Motion’s dramatic decline.

Its a good read with some good points about the downfall of what once was a great company with a bright future.

A few key points from Joel’s post:

  • It’s a long way down from the top. Being the biggest, the best, winning a prestigious award, whatever the “top” means, a fall from there means a long and painful decent.
  • When the fall starts, do something! Failing to recognize the problem and deal with it early leads to a long, sometimes rapidly accelerating, decline that will only get worse until no fix is possible.
  • Everything happens fast these days. The pace of life in general and business in particular is accelerating at a remarkable pace.

In Joel’s post, he’s using the above bullet points to highlight lessons learned from RIM. At one point in the not too distant past, the Blackberry was the device everyone wanted. It was THE phone.  Then…something happened.  Apple released the iPhone.  Google released the Android OS and Motorola rolled out the “Droid” phone.  RIM tried to keep up with a touch screen device but it never really caught on.

Today, RIM is a shadow of its former self. The company is in a bad spot and I doubt it will survive as an independent company.  I suspect there are companies out there right now looking at RIM for a merger play…if only for the intellectual property that RIM holds.

Its really too bad. It didn’t have to be this way.  RIM could have done more to save itself but I suspect the RIM leadership and culture wouldn’t allow it to recognize that things were bad and they needed to do something.

To expand on Joel’s “move fast” and “do something” call to action, I’d add the following: Move True.  In other words…Move. Move fast. Move true.

Now…in order to ‘move true’, one must know how to align any movement to ‘true’.   In other words, you’ve to be thinking ahead and planning for these movements.

Of course we can’t plan for everything, but you should be able to plan for most things that come along.  Whatever change comes along shouldn’t come as a surprise to you if you are doing your job well. There shouldn’t be any real ‘surprise’ in competition. Nor should their be a ‘surprise’ in technology or governance methods or processes.

As a CIO, what can you do to be prepared to move fast and true?  Here’s a few tips to be prepared to move:

  • Look to your team. Allow your team members to attend conferences, training and other ‘outside of work’ activities. Keeping them cloistered in the office is a great way to keep the blinders on. Involve your team members in the decision process for change – they may surprise you with their ideas.
  • Look to your competitors and your partners What is your number #1 competitor doing? What are they planning for? Of course…this is a tough one…but…we all know the IT world is a small world. CIO’s know CIO’s.  IT professionals know IT professionals. People talk.  Listen to what they say. What about your business partners…what are they doing?
  • Look at the Non-IT groups in your organization. What are your biggest areas where “Shadow IT” is most prevalent?   These areas might just be the areas you need to move the fastest in. What are the biggest requests for technology?  If they are asking for it, its most likely needed. Or not…but you need to understand the requests to better plan.
  • Build culture of ‘agile’. I don’t mean “Agile” as in methodology….I mean ‘agile’ as in flexible, nimble and lightweight. Build processes, procedures and governance in place that allows for flexibility and ‘pivoting’ as needed.
  • Stop the spreadsheet engineering and start planning. Just because you can create a spreadsheet, doesn’t mean you should. Too many times, CIO’s and IT professionals build a spreadsheet to ‘plan’…but that’s not planning…that’s numbers.
  • Build “what if” scenarios and be prepared to move when change occurs. Don’t overdo it. You don’t need 500 pages of documents to be prepared…but put some thought into what your next steps are if ‘X’ happens and what you’ll do if both ‘X’ and ‘Y’ happen together. Much like Disaster Recovery Planning. In fact, this is Disaster Prevention Planning in a way.

Change happens…and when it does, you should have your plans in place to move. These plans should then allow you to move fast and move true.

Image Credit: true by pittaya on flickr

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

The Changing role of the CIO

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

I’ve been writing for months (years?) about the changes coming to IT and the role of the CIO.  My “New CIO” topic is littered with posts about the changes being seen today and those changes that are coming down the road.

Many others have been writing about it too. Joel Dobbs talks about topic (and his previous musings on the topic) over on the Enterprise CIO Forum in a post titled The times, they are a changin’—Fast!. There are many many others out there writing about the topic too. At last count, there were 976K results in google on the “changing role of the CIO”.

So…obviously there are a lot of people thinking about the topic and writing about the topic.

I just wonder…who’s doing anything about the changing role of the CIO?

Is the CIO and/or IT group taking the reigns in hand and driving their future?  Or…are we in IT allowing others to plot our course for us?

Reading some of the articles/posts out there…I see many instances where the organizational leadership is directing the changes being seen by CIO’s and IT professional. Take for instance, the description of the creation of the “Chief Digital Officer” by Starbucks. This doesn’t appear to be a CIO or IT driven change.  Also…take a look at the recent hiring of a Chief Technology Officer at JC Penney’s.  Again…doesn’t appear to be a CIO/IT driven change.  But…both changes will lead to a dramatic effect on IT and the CIO role.

These organizational driven changes are happening for a reason. For too long, the CIO has been focused on ‘keeping the lights on’. They’ve been plumbers and electricians doing what they are asked by the larger organization…and charging an hourly rate to do it.

Now…every organization needs someone to keep the lights on. We need IT operations…a much aligned and overlooked aspect to IT. But…IT operations is becoming a commodity (or has become a commodity).  Do we need a CIO focused on operations…or do we need a CIO focused on strategic initiatives and how the organization can use technology, information and knowledge to grow and be more competitive?

The answer…at least for me…is the latter.  In fact, I wrote a post last year titled Splitting IT – Operations and Innovation where I touch on this very topic where I wrote:

I see organization talking about, and moving to, a split between Operational IT and Strategic IT.  Most organizations have already done this to a point…but i see this split happening much more broadly in the near future. Operational IT contains much of what we see today with IT operations. Security, servers, infrastructure, Support and all those things that help ‘keep the lights on’ for organizations. Strategic IT contains the enterprise architects, business analysts and business technologists.   This is the team that drives innovation. This is the team where you hire extremely creative people and point them at the business problems and ask them to solve those problems.  Maybe the name of this team/group changes from Strategic IT to something more along the lines of Business Technology…because that’s what they need to focus on.

A lot of the changes I’m seeing today in organizations are following this same type of thinking. The old IT guard are being relinquished to the “operational IT” group while the more progressive and forward thinking of those in IT are being asked to help drive technology from a strategic standpoint. These people are being moved into other groups in the organization and given “non-IT” roles…which is sad…because they could just as easily have done their role within the IT group…if the CIO & IT group would have had the foresight / ability to drive real change and value.

CIO’s and IT Pro’s – what do you want to be in 2 years….the person/team that keeps the lights on…or the person/team that gets to play with all the new technology?  I prefer to be a part of the teams that get to play with the new stuff and I’m helping my clients move in that direction.

What about you…are you driving your change and complaining about others forcing change upon you?

Image Credit: change By busy.pochi on flickr

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

An IT Revolution, Evolution or more of the same?

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

We in the IT world like to talk a lot about the ‘new’ IT, the future of IT and the the need for IT to ‘change’.

Whether that change is focused on aligning with the business, being more agile, moving to the cloud or just plain providing ‘value’ to the organization….we talk about it as a necessary activity for the survival of IT.

And we talk about it.

I’ve spent many years writing about that change and helping organizations understand the need for change.

Seth Godin wrote a nice piece today titled We say we want a revolution… where he writes:

Of course, what we say doesn’t matter so much. What we do is what matters, and we have far more influence that we’d like to confess.

Very true.

We say we want change in IT. The business says they want change in IT.  IT Professionals want to see change in IT.

But…for the most part…we still see more of the same.

Over the past few months, I’ve been talking to many of my colleagues in the IT world across many different industries and many different countries.    I’ve talked with people from all areas of IT from Senior IT Professionals, Leaders all the way to entry level IT personnel.

What I heard didn’t surprise me.

From the people in senior leadership roles, I heard that their main focus was things like:

  • Business/IT Alignment
  • Delivering value to the organization
  • Moving to a more agile environment
  • Moving to the “cloud”

These are all valuable and noble areas to focus.

You would think these focal points would be the same throughout IT…especially within the same companies…wouldn’t you?

Not so much.

I also talked to mid-level managers and IT professionals within the same organization as the senior level leadership teams…and I get a different response.

What I heard from these people was the same thing I’ve heard from them for years.  I hear things like:

  • We don’t have a focus. Next month, we’ll be going in a different direction than we were last month
  • Our main focus…keeping the lights on.  Next…its jumping at whatever buzzword is en vogue
  • While our managers talk about ‘alignment’ and ‘value’, we keep prodding along doing the same thing in the same way that we did 10 years ago.

The best…most damning response?  This one:

  • Our focus? Firedrills.

Now…while these conversations and responses are anecdotal and non-scientific…they are a real world responses from real world IT Leaders and Professionals.

So…there seems to be a huge disconnect between the organization, IT Leadership and the IT Front-lines.


Is it that the current crop of IT Leaders don’t understand how to lead/manage?  Or…is it that the organization is asking for one thing while demanding another?

Personally, I think there are a lot of issues at play here.  But…I think Mr. Godin hits the nail on the head in most instances.   IT leadership talks the talk, but doesn’t walk the walk.

Don’t get me wrong…there are quiet a few good IT leaders / groups that are doing great things…but the majority of people I talk to fall into the ‘not so great’ camp.  I heard more responses about time being spent on ‘firedrills’ than i did about delivering something of value to the organization.

Its time to change this.  I know…there’s that word “change” again…but its time to do more than talk about it.    I don’t care of its a revolution in IT or an evolution of IT…but something needs to happen.

BTW – The good folks over at IDG and the Enterprise CIO Forum have just published a report on the need for IT to Burnish its image…perhaps there’s something worthwhile in that report that’s worth reading and touches on this topic.

What are your thoughts? Are you seeing a revolution, evolution or more of the same?

Image Credit: revolution By Peej’s Photos on flickr

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

Time to change the ‘sign’ of IT & Technology

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

Plus or Minus (+/-) By Tom Raftery on flickrI just read a short article on the Enterprise CIO Forum written by Charles Bess titled Landing a few points about cloud and the shifting expectations of a CIO.  In the article, Charles talks about a few different things but one sentence really caught my eye. Charles wrote:

Many view IT as a subtractive (a cost cutting activity) as opposed to the additive activity that the business should expect — focused on increasing the value of the enterprise as a whole

I never really thought about it that way…but he’s absolutely correct.

In the past, IT and Technology were some of the first areas to get hit with cost cutting measures.  In addition, most CIO’s and IT leaders are extremely focused on ‘cutting costs’ using technology and ‘doing more with less‘.

The focus on cost-cutting and efficiency has led IT groups and CIO’s to become uber-focused on the subtractive areas of IT and technology.  We’ve become focused on what we can do to save money and increase efficiency rather than what value can be brought to the organization via technology.

Rather than focus on taking things away…how’s about we start thinking about adding to the organization?  Let’s change the default sign of IT from a subtraction sign to an addition sign…and maybe we’ll start changing the attitude toward IT from that of a negative to a positive.

Photo Image: Plus or Minus (+/-) By Tom Raftery on flickr

This post sponsored by the Enterprise CIO Forum and HP.

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