Repetitive Redundancy and the Search For New

Search Help By misterbisson on flickrI’ve been reading a lot of new blogs lately.

Not really sure what I’ve been looking for, but I feel like something is missing. I feel like I’ve been reading and writing about the same thing over and over (and over).

So I’ve been surfing around reading a bunch and really good stuff in the interwebz – most has been around topics not related to my core areas of IT and  technology.

I worked my way through tons of blogs and read some great posts…but there was something in my subconscious gnawing at me.

I wasn’t really sure what that something was until later when I jumped over to my Hootsuite tab to take a glance at what was going on in twitter-land. The stream looked kind of slow and repetitive so I jumped over to one of my saved CIO & IT streams that I like to look at for ideas for new posts and it seemed repetitive to me too.

And then it hit me. I realized what I’d been searching for. I was searching for something new.

That’s what my blog surfing was all about. Something new. New insights. New stories. New directions.

And my CIO / IT twitter stream helped highlight it for me.

Why?

With no disrespect meant to anyone on the stream, what I was seeing felt like the same thing I’ve been seeing on the stream for many months. Lots of people talking about the same things. Cloud computing. Virtualization. IT Leadership. IT Innovation. Alignment. Etc Etc.

Don’t get me wrong…all excellent topics and all worthy of discussion…but I don’t see anything new out there. Nor do I see any real change happening. I see a lot of people talking about the need for new thinking, re-thinking and innovation in IT. I see people talking about aligning business with IT.

But…all things that have been talked about for months and years. Has there been any real progress on any of these topics?

Oh sure…I’d like to think there are plenty of people out there making these things happen in the real world…but I haven’t run across anyone really talking about the “new IT”. I haven’t seen anyone talking about the real-world implementation of the Re-imagined IT group. I’ve yet to see any new case studies or new stories about real-world IT groups taking the reigns and leading innovation within the business or recreating themselves to make the ‘new’ IT a reality.

Am I just missing these stories? Or…are those stories just not there? Perhaps all of us blogging and tweeting about it are just talking amongst ourselves while the real IT pros out there are keeping their head down and doing their jobs to the best of their ability.

So…what’s my point with this post?

Its not really a critique of the IT & CIO bloggers and twtitterers….er…tweeterers….er…twits…er whatever the name is. Not at all….I love reading these guys. Heck…I love writing about IT, the New CIO and other topics. I grew up in IT and technology and will continue to write about these topics.

But I have to ask….is it doing any good?

Is the stuff I’ve been writing about, thinking about and reading about for the last few years doing any good? Are we making any difference in the ‘real world’? I’d like to think we are but for some reason I keep seeing the same topics repeated year after year.

That repetition tells me that most in the IT world are working too hard to ‘keep the lights on’ and a lot of what is being written about is ignored. Does this mean all of us bloggers and writers are just talking amongst ourselves? Or are we just not hitting the topics that real-world technologists and IT pro’s are looking for so they can do their jobs better? Or…am I just missing out on the real deep case studies from those companies that are doing the things we are all talking about?

I realized what my subconscious was telling me. I’ve been subconsciously searching for something new. New topics for IT. New Topics for CIO’s. New topics in marketing / technology. New topics for you and for me 🙂

I’d love your thoughts on the subject…what are some new topics that you’d like to see covered in IT, Marketing, Project Management and Technology?

Image credit – Search Help By misterbisson on flickr

Time for IT to Evolve

It is time for IT to change

It is time for IT to changeMark McDonald over on Gartner’s blog network wrote a great piece this week titled Everything is up for grabs, making it a great time to be in IT.

In the post, Mark argues that everything in the world of IT is up for grabs and things are changing.

In it, he argues these key points:

  • The enterprise is up for grabs
  • IT’s traditional role is up for grabs
  • The application space is up for grabs
  • The Infrastructure and Operations are up for grabs
  • The IT organization is up for grabs

Jump over and read Mark’s article…he’s spot on.

Everything in IT IS up for grabs…as I’ve been saying for quite a long time.  See my posts titled What’s wrong with today’s IT?Building Tomorrow’s Organization – without today’s IT? and The diminishing role of IT and the CIO (?) for a few examples.

The business world is changing and the old approach to IT will no longer work.  You can’t centralize everything. You can’t control everything.

And the faster IT leaders and professionals understand that, the faster IT groups can restructure and refocus.  I like how Mark says it here:

The possibility of refocusing people formally engaged in operating the IT infrastructure to evolving and innovating the enterprise creates an opportunity to define IT as a new center of excellence around enterprise productivity and performance.

Love it.  Absolutely love it.

Now…let’s hope more CIO’s and IT groups start realize that everything IS up for grabs and start innovating and evolving to become tomorrow’s IT group.

Complexity & IT

Complexity & IT

Complexity & ITRay Ozzie is leaving Microsoft.

After it was announced that he was leaving, he published a memo on his blog. The memo, titled Dawn of  a New Day,  is an excellent read. In fact, I’m in awe of people who can write like Mr. Ozzie can.

While reading through the memo (yes…I read the whole thing)…i hit upon this nugget:

Complexity kills. Complexity sucks the life out of users, developers and IT.  Complexity makes products difficult to plan, build, test and use.  Complexity introduces security challenges.  Complexity causes administrator frustration.

Powerful stuff.

I think those five sentences fully explain the state of IT today. And…they thoroughly explain the basis for the hatred (or at least dislike) that most people within organizations have toward IT.

We’ve built a world within IT that enjoys complexity.  We’ve built a group that thrives on complexity.    But…that complexity is killing organizations.

That complexity is why Shadow IT exists. That complexity is why many groups within modern day organizations are driving hard toward a time when they own / manage their own technology platforms.  Scott Brinker is making a very good argument for Why Marketing Should Run its own Technology.  Mitch Joel is pointing at Technology is being a major part of the Agency of the Future…but I don’t see a CIO in that agency (and that’s not a bad thing).

Complexity does kill….and is killing the IT group.

What can we do to move towards a more simplistic approach to IT?

The answer to that question will determine The Future of IT.

Culture of Failure?

Do you know Hutch Carpenter?  You should.  He write’s some awesome stuff over at I’m Not Actually a Geek.

Hutch recently wrote a post titled “Apple iPad and Google Buzz: Harsh Reality of Innovation” where he argues (successfully I think) that you’ve got to be OK with failure to really be innovative.

In the article Hutch points at Apple and Google as examples of companies that have amazing successes as well as amazing failures.

Hutch does a great job tying innovation with failure and showing that you’ve got to embrace failure to truly innovate.  It’s a great read.

The best part of the article wasn’t written by Hutch though….it’s a quote from Teddy Roosevelt. This quote really resonates with me and is a perfect addition to this argument. The quote is:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Emphasis mine.

Failure and the CIO

Is it OK for your IT staff to fail?

Have you built the proper culture that allows your teams to step out of bounds and innovate without fear of retribution if the attempt fails?

If you’ve said yes…good for you.  But…what would happen if I asked your team?  Would they say the same?

Think about the last three projects you’ve undertaken.  Have they all been a success?  Have they all been innovative? Can you point to projects that you’ve undertaken that have changed the ‘game’ for your organization?

If you can’t think of any innovative projects that you’ve undertaken recently…perhaps you’ve stepped into the realm of playing it safe.

Culture of Failure?

Nobody likes failure.  I hate it…but I’ve had my fair share of it.  I’ve watched my projects fail and I’ve watched my teams fail.  But…I’ve also seen some amazing things happen by those same teams.

So…am I saying that you should create a culture of failure? Absolutely not.

But I am saying that you need to create a culture that makes it OK to fail.

Ask yourself this question:

Do you want your IT staff to be known as folks that put themselves out there and bring  innovation to the organization….or do you want to be known as the IT group that plays it safe?

It might be easier to play it safe for some, but don’t expect to find and keep the best people if you’re playing it safe.  The best and brightest out there want to work on the ‘cool’ stuff. The ‘new’ stuff.  They don’t want to be relegated to a life of maintaining your COBOL application…they want to build a new app that will make the organization (and world) stand up and take notice.

Build a culture that says failure is OK and you’ll build the potential for a high performance team that can get some great stuff done.  Don’t do this and you’ll be relegated to being the also-ran.

CIO Bad Habits – Still valid 7 years later

I recently stumbled across an article on TechRepublic titled “The seven habits of wildly unsuccessful CIOs” written by Karen Ann Kidd in 2003. The article is an interested read and provides seven things a CIO or CTO can do to ensure they are unsuccessful.

These seven habits are:

1. Acquire technology simply because it’s new
2. Exhibit a knee-jerk reaction against open source
3. Create solutions in search of a problem
4. Eagerly reach beyond competency level
5. Act as CMOs—Chief Marketing Officers
6. Fail to understand relationship between technology and business
7. Don’t communicate well with nontechs

I think most would agree these are valid habits that would make any CIO or CTO unsuccessful.

But…aren’t these the same things we’re talking about today?

Take a few minutes to look around the web and literature relating to the role of the CIO. You’ll find a lot of discussion about how CIO’s need to be more business focused and communicate better with the business.  You’ll also find many conversations about these bad habits.

Seven years after the article by Karen Ann Kidd, We still see many CIO’s with some of these habits (and some with all of them).

So…if we all know that these habits should be addressed (and changed), then why are they still an issue?  Why do CIO’s, CTO’s and IT organizations still have problems with communicating IT’s value to the organization and aligning IT with the business?

I don’t have the answer.  Do you?

I hate consultants

“I hate consultants.”

When I heard those words spill out of my lunch companion’s mouth as soon as we sat down, I knew it would be a long lunch meeting.

Some background

When I was an independent consultant I spent a lot of time in business development mode.  Lots of time going to networking events and meeting new people.  I enjoyed that (and should be doing it now even too)…but some of the people you meet while out and about can be very surprising.

Take “John” (name changed) as an example.

I met John through a friend as a request by me for an introduction.  Upon an introduction during a luncheon, John was pleasant, cordial and professional.  We seemed to have a lot in common and we knew a lot of the same people in town.  After the luncheon, John and I exchanged emails and agreed to meet for lunch the following week.

John was the CIO of a medium sized manufacturing business in Dallas.  The company had been struggling for years to break even each year with some years seeing a profit while other years found the company loosing money.  During our initial introduction and subsequent emails, I made it clear to John that I was a consultant focused on technology strategy and IT and had helped many organizations like his use technology to meet their strategic goals.   So…he knew I was a consultant but I was also very clear that I wasn’t having lunch with him to try and sell him my services.

I met John at a local restaurant for lunch.   We met at the front door, shook hands and traded banter and waited for our table. While waiting, John told me more about his company, the troubles they’ve had for years and how difficult it was to keep the company afloat.

We were shown to our table and ordered and picked the conversation back up.  I asked John if he’d brought in any consultants to help him understand what changes might be needed to help the business become more profitable.

His answer?

“I hate consultants”.

He continued to describe consultants as a plague (his word!) and cheaters/liars and thief’s.   Strong words.

I asked John why he felt this way and was informed that he had been burnt by consultants in the past and after hearing the backstory, I can understand why he had strong feelings against consultants.

The Spark

The story I heard from John was a familiar one.

A consultant was hired to come in and help with technology selection, implementation and development of custom functionality.  The consultants role was to provide guidance during the selection process and manage the development and implementation after selection.

John tells me that the entire engagement was a debacle.  He hired a consultant that had a great deal of experience implementing this particular type of software but little experience with technology selection.  First mistake.

The consultant comes in and helps work up a technology requirements document and helps the company select and purchase the software platform.  John tells me it just happened to be the software platform that this consultant was most experienced with.   John also tells me that the platform they chose didn’t really fit that well but, because the consultant told them it could be easily customized, it would eventually fit the organizations needs.  Second mistake.

After selection, the implementation phase began with the consultant acting as the implementation manager with a focus on implementation as well as software development for customization.  The development was done by the software vendor and managed solely by the consultant.  Third mistake.

John tells me that the software project took twice as long as originally expected/planned and cost three times more than originally budgeted.  And it didn’t do what he needed it to do. About half-way through the project, John fired the consultant and the developers and brought all development and implementation in-house.

This project was the spark and kindling for John’s hatred of consultants.

Revisiting the Project

After John finished his story, I nodded and told him I’d heard it many times before.  I politely asked if I could revisit the issues and point out some errors that might have contributed to the project failure.

Thankfully, he gladly accepted the offer and listened intently (or at least pretended to!) while I pointed out the three main errors I saw in this technology selection and implementation project.

First, I pointed out the issue of hiring a consultant with zero technology selection experience and tons of implementation experience on one platform.  This is bound to lead to a bias towards a particular platform, especially if the consultant(s) don’t have a wide range of experience on platforms and a strong background in technology selection projects.  

Secondly, I pointed him to the selection of a platform that didn’t really fit the organization’s needs but ‘could be customized to fit’. Everyone knows this is BS and that the approach fails 90% of the time.  If you’re selecting a platform, select the one that fits the best…you may need to customize the software (or change your process) but do your due diligence to pick the platform that is the best fit for you.

Lastly, I pointed out the biggest mistake of letting the consultant choose the out-sourced development partner and manage the development without any involvement by John or his IT staff. This is a huge mistake as it takes the IT organization out of the driver’s seat completely.  Where’s the oversight? Where’s the project governance?   Oversight isn’t something you do for 30 minutes every Tuesday morning during the status meeting.  Have a project manager managing the consultant and/or developers.

When I finished my quick review, John said something that surprised me.

He wanted to bring me on (as a consultant) to help him reorganize and rebuild his IT group.   I accepted of course…but I told him I’d be just as honest and forthcoming while working with him as I’d been during lunch.

A bit of an ego stroke (for me)

Over the next six months, I helped John fix his biggest issues and helped him plan for rebuilding his IT group.  These  plans included building proper project management skills and procedures as well as increasing his team’s ability to efficiently manage IT Operations.

My proudest accomplishment while engaged with John’s organization is actually the easiest work I did with him.  I  introduced John to a young lady who would eventually replace him (after his retirement) as the next CIO of that company.

I’m happy to report that the company is doing well (reportedly because they are leveraging operations and technology for competitive advantage) and are happily using consultants and contractors to fills knowledge & skill gaps.  I like to think this success is in part due to my involvement…at least I’ll keep thinking so 🙂

The Moral of this story?

Think about the mistakes highlighted above….have you made any of them on projects?  Are you making them today?

Don’t blame the consultants for project failure.  Look at your involvement and try to understand what you could have done better to set those consultants up for success.

CIO’s in the past have loved using consultants and contractors because they could have someone to blame if the project went badly.  The New CIO can’t shirk that responsibility any longer….if an IT project fails, it’s on your shoulders.

At the end of the day you have to ask yourself this question – Who hired the consultants?  They didn’t come in and work for free…they had some direction from the CIO and IT group….so both parties are equally responsible for project success or failure.

Next time you start to think (or say) something negatively about a consultant or a contractor because they couldn’t get the job done…think again.  Perhaps it’s as much (or more) your fault that they weren’t able to succeed.

Don’t hate the consultant….figure out what mistakes were made and move on.