Eric D. Brown, D.Sc.

Data Science | Entrepreneurship | ..and sometimes Photography

Tag: Strategy (page 2 of 12)

Use Cases for the Cloud

Cloud Use CasesIf you’ve spent any time within IT over the last few years, you’ve probably heard the term ‘cloud’ more than you really wanted to. The cloud has become something of a buzzword over the years.   Buzzwords are created when a term is overused, and the cloud has been overused quite a bit in many organizations. It seems that any time a problem arises, the first solution is to use ‘the cloud’.

IT professionals are usually the first to scoff at buzzwords, mainly because their experiences have shown that buzzwords generally mean more work for them with very little value gained for the organization. That said, when it comes to the cloud, these same folks who turn up their nose at most buzzwords are often the first to look toward the cloud as a solution to their problems because they know that the cloud has generally lived up to the buzz.

The problem with any type of technology buzz is that most people within an organization don’t really understand the ‘use cases’ for that technology. They hear everyone else talking about it just assume it is a platform or system that will work for them.

With this in mind, I wanted to take a second to highlight what I think are the ideal use cases for the cloud. These may not be your ideal use cases (and if they aren’t, I’d love to hear what yours are) but they are what I’ve found work best for me and my clients.

Use Cases for the Cloud

In my experiences, there are five main use cases for the cloud. While there may be some overlap in some of these use cases, they are about as high-level as I can make them. The use cases are:

  • Disaster Recovery – The cloud makes perfect sense for disaster recovery. It gives an organization an almost instantaneous redundant backup and recovery solution.
  • Data Center Extension / Expansion / Replacement – Many organizations are in the midst of data center transformation projects. These projects include expanding, optimizing and even replacing their data centers. In many instances, the cloud has been driving much of these transformation projects by giving organizations the ability to quickly add capabilities to aging data centers.
  • Development & Test Environments – The cloud makes it very easy to turn on new development and test environments.
  • Enterprise Modernization – Modernization is a fairly large issue in some organizations. They’ve allowed their data centers and other aspects of their infrastructure to grow old and, because of this, they’re often unable to quickly deliver new services and solutions for their clients and groups within the business. The cloud allows an organization to modernize and prepare for the future fairly easily and cost-effectively.
  • New System Development – If an organization needs to build a new application or system from the ground up, the cloud is usually at the top of the list for the ‘where’ that app or system will be built.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the use cases for the cloud.

This post is brought to you by the VMware vCloud Air Network.

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 a “Supply Chain” CIO or a Strategic CIO?

Supply Chain CIO or Strategic CIOOver on the Gartner blog, Michael Moaz asked a great question in a recent post titled “CIOs can be supply specialists or maestros of innovation. Who are you?”   The question is implied within the title of the post but I’ll paraphrase it here for the benefit of discussion.  The paraphrased question is “Are you a Supply Chain CIO or a Strategic CIO“?

When I say “Supply Chain CIO”, I’m not talking about your industry…I’m talking about your approach to the role as technology leader within your organization.  Are you an order taker that does whatever the ‘purchase order’ says? Are you a logistics manager who just pushes orders around the data center?

Or…are you a Strategic CIO who is helping to lead business initiatives within your organization?

As a supply chain CIO, you’re helping the operational side of the business tremendously. You are ensuring that the lights are staying on, the data center is running efficiently and technology is available to help the business. As a supply chain CIO, you and your team are known as the ‘tech team’ and are brought in when something needs to be implemented or ‘fixed’.

There’s no question that the supply chain CIO brings value to the organization. Every company needs someone to drive operational efficiency. Every company needs someone to make sure technology is being managed for optimum performance.  That said, companies don’t need a CIO to focus on the operational side of things. There are plenty of other people within IT who can focus on operations. The CIO needs to be strategic in their thinking and in their actions.

As a strategic CIO, you’re helping the whole business, not just the operational aspects of the business. You’re helping direct the organization’s use of technology to solve the business problems and add business value. You’re driving your team to focus on the user and the client and not on the technology itself. As a strategic CIO, you are and your team are known as the ‘problem solving’ team brought in to help your organization think about how to solve business problems and deliver business value through the use of technology.

If you are struggling to define yourself as a CIO, make sure you push yourself into the strategic planning aspects of the role. Make sure you keep yourself and your team focused on the business problems and the users that are affected by those problems. If you can’t (or won’t) become the strategic CIO your company needs, you may find yourself as a Sidelined CIO in the not too distant future.

The Delivery Gap

Close-the-GapA while back I wrote a piece titled The Strategy Disconnect where I wrote:

Millions can be spent on the ‘perfect’ strategy, but if that strategy isn’t understood and accepted by the people within the organization (and its customers), that strategy is worthless.   If that strategy isn’t grounded in reality, it is worthless.

I stand by that statement wholeheartedly. Strategy is worthless unless the people associated with your company accept it. That includes the customers of your business. If they don’t buy into your strategy, you don’t have a viable strategy.

In 2005, Bain & Company released a study titled “Closing the delivery gap: How to achieve true customer-led growth” which reported on a survey of 362 companies to try to understand how these organizations are delivering to their customers.  In that survey, Bain & Company found that “80% [of companies] believe they deliver a “superior experience” to customers. But when we asked customers, they say only 8% are really delivering.”

That’s a huge gap.

There are plenty of reasons for this gap. Bain & Company identified two main drivers for the gap:

The first is a basic paradox: Most growth initiatives damage the most important source of sustainable, profitable growth-a loyal customer franchise. To increase revenue and profits, businesses do things like raising transaction fees that end up alienating their core customers. Efforts to pursue new customers compound the problem, distracting management from serving the core.

The second is that good relationships are hard to build. It’s extremely difficult to understand what people really want, keep your promises and maintain a dialogue to ensure you meet customers’ changing needs. Even initiatives to “better understand” customers can backfire, drowning firms in a sea of data.

I won’t (and can’t) argue with those two reasons. Relationships are extremely important.  Without trust between customer and vendor, there’s very little business long-term. That trust can be eroded very quickly when companies continue to find ways to ‘nickel and dime’ a client as seen in the first driver.

There’s another driver that Bain & Company missed. That driver? Strategy.

When an organization has the right strategy in place and the right operational systems and people in place and everyone has bought into and understands the strategy, your organization will be much closer to closing the delivery gap.



Why Convergence?

convergence-370x229“This post is brought to you by End-to-End Solutions for IT Pros and Dell.”

When I talk to clients about the technology and systems challenges being faced within their organization, I tend to hear a wide variety of responses. Challenges within the data center seem to exist in just about every client discussion. These challenges revolve around a myriad of issues but most can be categorized into areas like efficiency, energy usage, management, agility and utilization.

There are many reasons for organizations to be worried about the data center and the challenges found within. We live in a world of data and that data has been growing exponentially and it will continue to grow in the coming years. Big data initiatives and the “Internet of Things” (IoT) are driving enormous growth in the amount of data collected and stored within organizations. Along with the increased storage capacity required to manage this data, an increase in processing power, and networking capabilities are required to manage and analyze these constantly growing data sets.

CIO’s and the IT group are now faced with the need to scale their data center’s capabilities. At the same time, they are being asked to lower energy costs and reduce spending across the data center. Additionally, many organizations are undergoing data center consolidation projects which can create even more challenges for the CIO to scale the processing, storage and networking capabilities within the data center.

These challenges are pushing organizations to look for new systems and technologies for helping reduce total cost of ownership (TCO), improve the return on investment (ROI) and to help scale the data center capabilities.

This is where convergence make the most sense. Converged systems are self-contained systems with computing, storage, networking and management systems combined in one platform. Using converged systems, organizations can quickly add new systems to the data center without adding a great deal more complexity.

These benefits have led many organizations to investigate and/or implement converged systems. In a recent survey conducted by IDG, it was found that a majority of respondents (72%) are planning to use converged systems or have already begun to implement converged systems. Of those organizations that have implemented converged systems, 43% claim that “50% or more of their organization’s applications are supported by converged systems”.

While converged systems appear to be a perfect fit for CIO’s looking to efficiently scale their data centers, there is some uncertainty among IT professionals about the ROI of converged systems. According to the IDG survey, 47% of respondents are unclear or uncertain about the ROI of converged systems.

In addition to the uncertainty of ROI, many CIO’s and IT managers are worried that they don’t have the skills to manage converged systems. This is highlighted in the IDG survey with 40% of respondents claiming that they are worried that they don’t have the right IT skill sets to manage converged systems.

While there may not be a clear cut agreement on the ROI of converged systems, there is plenty of agreement on the TCO of these systems. The ability to implement an ‘all-in-one’ platform to add scale definitely lowers costs in the short term and the long term for organizations.

Convergence may not be the answer to every problem in the data center, but it is a great answer to the problem of fast, efficient and effective implementation of processing power, storage and networking capabilities in a contained system that can be managed together.

“This post is brought to you by IDG End-to-End Solutions for IT Pros and Dell.”

Losing Big with Big Data

big_data1I help companies use big data to work better.  I love what I do and I love seeing companies and people succeed with big data.

That said, I’ve seen my fair share of companies (and people) lose with big data too. Most of these ‘losses’ aren’t due to bad data or poor usage of analytical tools. Most of these losses can be traced to a few simple decisions that were made when a big data initiative was being planned.

There are plenty of things that can go wrong during a big data ‘project’ but most of the real problems that can cause large problems have to do with the ‘strategic’ side of big data projects.  Tactical problems can be overcome but it is much harder to overcome poor planning and strategy.

From a strategic standpoint, there are quite a few questions that need to be answered when planning for big data. A few of the big ones are:

  • Do you have the right people?  Big data requires different people than other data analysis projects.   Big data isn’t data warehousing. With big data organizations should look for ways to get the data and the analysis of that data into the hands of the people closest to the problems trying to be solved.  With that being the case,  you need to have people throughout the organization that are curious, interested in analyzing data and willing to learn. Additionally, you’ll need IT professionals with the same skills and interests.
  • Is your project too ‘big’? Big data can bring big changes to an organization but if you bite off more than you can chew, you may only be wasting time and money in your big data initiatives. There’s nothing wrong with starting small with big data….better to start small, learn and possibly fail then to jump into big data with a great deal of money and time invested and fail. Find projects that let you get some big data experience under your belt without spending a great deal of money. Once you’ve got some experience (and some wins), then start working on larger and larger projects
  • Are you willing to invest for the long term?  Big data isn’t something you put money in one time and hope to be successful.  You can’t just ‘pay once’ and be done. With big data, you’ll need to continue to pay for new systems, new technologies, new skills and new people. 
  • Are you willing and able to open up your data? Some of the most successful companies using big data that I’ve worked with (and heard about) are ones that have opened up their data to their organization. This doesn’t mean that you should allow everyone unfettered access to all your data but it does mean finding ways to allow access to data with proper access rights and security.  Using proper data management and data governance systems and methods allows you to open up access to your data to anyone that needs access.   With open data access you’ll get more eyes on your data and more insight into ways to solve your problems.

I could probably continue with many more questions/issues that need to be addressed but these four are key to getting started on the right path in big data.

I’ve worked with a few companies who didn’t answer these questions before starting up big data initiatives. In some cases the failure was small and easily managed but in others the failure was quite large and expensive.  These organizations lost money, time and revenue from the failure of these projects.

Even more importantly (and perhaps more dangerously), they lost quite a bit of confidence in their ability to ‘do’ big data. They became very very concerned about planning for any future big data initiatives because they felt that it was ‘just too hard’.    But…it really isn’t all that hard.

You don’t have to lose big with big data.  Big data is complex and difficult, but with the proper planning and strategic thinking, you can prepare for many of the challenges that you’ll face in your big data initiatives.

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