Don’t let the big (or small) words win – The New CIO Series

In the world of  technology we tend to use either really big words, really small words and/or acronyms.

What do you think of when you think of  ‘the cloud’ what do you think of?  Do you think about Amazon‘s EC2 or S3 or do you think about  “Parallel and Distributed Processing”?  Both could be right but neither are instructive to the ‘business’ user.  For that matter, is “the cloud” instructive to the business? Probably not.

The New CIO & Language

There’s a lot of talk in the business world about finding IT leaders who can speak to the business. I agree wholeheartedly…but I also think the business needs to learn to speak to the IT world too….but I’ve covered that in detail in a post titled Information Technology Leadership and Alignment. Moving on.

To help align business and IT, The New CIO needs to first look at the language of IT.  Get rid of the big words….and perhaps the small words if they aren’t clear enough.  Look at your IT group’s language to make sure acronyms and tech-jargon are purged from the external facing documentation and communication.  Take a long look at what you communicate to the organization and how you communicate to make sure you aren’t letting the tech-speak take over.

Want to really take it up a notch and make sure you’re communicating what the organization needs to hear? Bring in a marketer and a   communications person to build an IT marketing and communication plan for your team.  Your organization has marketing plans for how you’ll attack the market, why can’t you have one for how you’ll communicate to the rest of the organization?

Be careful though…you don’t want to get too far into business language or you’ll end up using the same marketing/business jargon that every other group within your organization uses.  Keep it simple and real and you’ll be fine.

Next time the CEO asks you “what’s this cloud computing thing I keep hearing about?”, how will you respond?  Big words or the right words?

The New CIO is a weekly article about the challenges facing today’s CIO as well as what can be done to prepare for future challenges. Join me next week for another article in the series.

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Cloud Computing and the Enterprise

I ran across an absolutely amazing blog post from Mark Masterson titled ‘The Enterprise Cloud‘ that really shed a lot of light on Cloud Computing in the Enterprise. Cloud Computing seems to be one of those nebulous entities with many different definitions by many different people.  Take the following definitions as examples.

Frank Gillett @ Forrester – “Most of us confuse two fundamentally different types of compute clouds as one. Server clouds support the needs of traditional business apps while scale-out clouds are designed for massive, many-machine workloads such as Web sites or grid compute applications.” Geva Perry @ GigaOm – “Although it is difficult to come up with a precise and comprehensive definition of cloud computing, at the heart of it is the idea that applications run somewhere on the “cloud” (whether an internal corporate network or the public Internet) – we don’t know or care where.” InfoWorld – Cloud computing is “a way to increase capacity or add capabilities on the fly without investing in new infrastructure, training new personnel, or licensing new software. Cloud computing encompasses any subscription-based or pay-per-use service that, in real time over the Internet, extends IT’s existing capabilities”.

After all of that, it’s safe to assume that cloud computing can be thought of as another ‘system’ that can be used to add capabilities to your IT infrastructure without the expensive data center and operations staff. So what is Enterprise Cloud Computing?  Mark Mastersondescribes it as:

a type of cloud computing that is suited to the specific requirements of existing companies, and allows them to leverage resources in the Cloud to provide economical ways of adding capacity to their existing environments.

Nice description..simple and straightforward with no techno-speak…especially the ‘economical ways of adding capacity to their existing environments’.  I’d say every CIO is looking for economical ways to add to their IT Infrastructure and capabilities. Is Cloud computing the right way to go for every organization?  Probably not…but it does give you an opportunity to do a lot more with a lot less….which is what people are looking for today. Mark’s blog post is long and detailed….and a great read.  Jump over now and enjoy. For a real-world example of Cloud Computing within an enterprise, jump over to CIO.com and read the article about Bechtel’s move to the cloud. The article starts with an interesting question:

If I were starting from scratch, what kind of IT systems would I build to support my business today?

Great question…and one that would probably receive the answer of ‘not what I have today’ in many organizations today. Geir Ramleth, Bechtel’s CIO, asked this question at Bechtel a few years ago and found that the answer was “no”….so he set about to change how IT was delivered to the organization.  His answer: Cloud Computing. But…Ramleth and his team didn’t go to outside vendors for all their cloud computing needs…they built data centers and standardized on hardware and software and began to deliver IT solutions across the enterprise using internal cloud computing resources. In effect, Bechtel built a SaaS model and began offering these service to their internal and external clients.  According to Ramleth (as reported in the article), the goal of the new SaaS platform is to:

create a Google-like experience for enterprise application users. Log in to the portal, pick a task and get it done in a few simple steps rather than logging in to an assortment of applications.

Interesting concept.  I’d be interested in how the end-users at Bechtel are feeling about these new SaaS applications. Interesting stuff…isn’t it?  There are few companies  today as advanced as Bechtel in their adoption of Cloud Computing in the enterprise, but I think we’ll see more ‘noise’ in the coming year(s) as organizations try to ‘do more with less’. Know of any other real-world examples of cloud computing in the enterprise?  Share them with me in the comments.

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The Problem(s) with Linear Thinking

Question: Want to know one of my pet peeves (hint: re-read the title of this post)?

Answer: Linear Thinking (Books on Linear Thinking).

What is linear thinking? A very good description can be found at this website:

To continue to look at something from one point of view. To take information or observations from one situation, place this data in another situation (usually later), and make a conclusion in the later situation.

Linear thinking can doom an organization and/or a person. As an example, consider the organization that hires new employees who have backgrounds that match the employees that were hired in years past without any thought given to future needs and/or direction of the organization. Consider the following example:

You are a manager responsible for hiring a new Project Manager to manage consulting service delivery projects. You receive few resumes for the position and start to weed through them. While thinning out the resumes, you run across a resume from a candidate (#1) who has been a consultant and project manager for your closest competitor and another from a candidate (#2) who has been a consultant and project manager in various industries but little experience within your industry.

These two candidates have completely different backgrounds with candidate #1 having a BS in Business, an MBA, PMP certification and 10 years experience while candidate #2 has a BS in Computer Science and an MS in Marketing and 10 years experience. Which candidate would you choose?

I have a strong suspicion that many people would argue for hiring Candidate #1 since they have “industry experience” or because they have the PMP certification. Of course there isn’t a right or wrong answer to the above question since many factors would come into play (communication abilities, culture fit, salary requirements. etc) and a persons “gut feeling” about hiring will always make its way into the hiring decision.

The point of the example was to show an aspect of linear thinking that exists in organizations. As I mentioned, there really is no right or wrong answer to which candidate should be hired, but a person who is able to employ critical thinking abilities and think in a lateral manner just might have looked at the above candidates in a different light. Instead of hiring Candidate #1 who has similar experiences as other people within the organization, why not consider candidate #2 who might be able to bring a fresh outlook to the organization? Assuming that candidate #2 has the ability, shouldn’t they be considered just as much a fit as candidate #1? I think so.

I believe that linear thinking is an easy way out for organizations, hiring managers and recruiters. Its much easier to hire only those people that fit a narrowly defined job description than it is to open up the candidate search to people with a more diverse background. If the two candidates in the above example were both able to show demonstrable evidence of their ability to do the job, candidate #1 would still be the only candidate considered in most organizations because they ‘fit the mold’ that the hiring manager has created for the candidate search.

This might be a good time to bring in a quote from the person who inspired this entire post, Steve Neiderhauser. Steve discusses the the dangers of hiring non-linear employees when he writes:

In business, it’s important to hire ambidextrous employees — people who have business and technology skills. For they can imagine the future. If you don’t employ multi-talented professionals, you lose out on business opportunities that cannot be imagined by the linear worker.

Linear thinking is not just a challenge in hiring new employees. Linear thinking can cause “group think” and other dangerous mind-sets to develop within an organization and this type of thinking can absolutely kill innovation.

In addition, linear thinking can destroy projects. I haven’t run across any research on the topic, but I believe that part of the reason for the large failure rates within the project management community, especially within IT Project Management, is related to the inability to think in a lateral fashion. Project Managers have been trained in formal methodologies to use to manage projects and the strict adherence to these guidelines can cause a severe case of linear thinking. Again, Steve Neiderhauser puts it more eloquently (and succinctly) than I can when he writes:

Hypnotized by linear improvements, project management at many companies is stuck in a rut. Don’t let PM knowledge frame problems in a way that limits your ability to perform the unthinkable

How do we cure linear thinking within organizations and people? Not sure that I have the answer, although I’m still thinking about it. I do think that a healthy dose of creative and critical thinking would help, but how do you create a system to educate an organization on the dangers of linear thinking and/or the benefits of lateral thinking?. Interesting questions and something that I will be thinking about more in the coming weeks.