One of the topics that keeps coming up in the social events I go to, is an effective IT strategy.
A short answer, given by a few friends and colleagues – if in doubt, look at organisation strategy and and align with this. You can always build on that as your IT capability matures and you take on more responsibilities. I’d argue it’s more important to start with a solid vision and mission statements for your IT organisation. Relevant strategies (architecture, development, demand, delivery, operations, CSI et al) can be built on those statements. Not to be forgotten that mostly the IT is enabling function. If it doesn’t deliver the basics well enough it becomes irrelevant – either the organisation neglect it and seek help elsewhere or go out of business.
Some of the best IT strategy examples I’ve seen are displayed on a single page. There the focus is on the following items:
core purpose of IT (kind of obvious but often lost in translation)
key capabilities and operating model (what IT does and doesn’t do)
core values (how the unit behaves)
These areas provide answers to basic questions – what IT is, why it exists and how IT operates. I’ve run workshops in the past with aim of defining the IT strategy. We’ve started with the three points above using familiar language to the organisation. As an example it could read:
“The purpose of organisation X IT department is to ensure the IT systems and services consumed by the organisation meet its needs by being designed with the user in mind, adequately provisioned, secure, available and resilient. The IT department does this by developing mix of in-house and external capabilities. We partner with subject matter experts in the field to develop and support key business applications, and integrate those via API interface with supply chain and customer facing resources.”
Or something similar that is relevant to your case.
What makes a suitable operating model for your organisation?
It is really down to you to define. Whilst the statement may seem blunt you shouldn’t try to emulate your competitors or other types of organisation you are not.
IT leadership need to understand the mission of the organisation theirs is key part of and become one with it. Not just align, but be integral part of. It helps to write down the purpose of an IT organisation / department / team and ensure everyone (at least in it and wider SLT) buy into it. The purpose stems from what the parent organisation needs IT for and at what level.
IT vision could read as “IT is to ensure company X will reach market domination within 5 years. This will be achieved by continuously investing into robust products and services that form the backbone for the company. IT aspire to become the partner of choice for the organisation when it comes to [your strengths] enterprise architecture [cloud platforms, integration of data, reporting], business processes [improvement, automation] and … We do this by understanding the business challenges and aspirations, and partnering with the right organisations to deliver desired outcomes.”
So the operating model need to reflect the capabilities parent company need IT to provide. It does help to have the IT organisation development mapped out. Regardless of aspirations being honest with oneself is a must here. We may choose to believe the business views IT as trusted partner or peer, but its unlikely to be that if we fail to provide basic services and lack processes around demand, commercial and change management. Hiding behind failing service provider will only reduce the value of IT in the eyes of those approving investments.
Depending on the size and type of the organisation there are some key areas to keep in house and to outsource.
Once you have defined the desired future state you need to work out how to get there. That’s about developing delivery strategy.
A friend penned a post on millennial workforce and currently prevalent business culture asking a number of questions at each section. I thought about it and felt need to chip in. As I do.
First things first. I think the behaviours Nicolas describes in his post do not only apply to the Generation Y and Z, they are seen to take root across the business landscape. Not everyone is directly contributing to digital economy yet many are affected by the changes it has brought about. Take any traditional trade. A brief look at its state today shows how much has changed within past 15 years. Supply chain has become global, primary distribution channel is online, delivery often by gig-economy workers who get paid per delivery and are not seen taking pride in their work as the quality suffers. Many early retirees have returned after realising the type of lifestyle their pension actually supports. Many are freelancing – not out of choice but necessity. Often they have no option but to as the organisations they work with (not for!) have their business models dependent on reduced staff overheads. Add what we sued to call “cost of doing the business” and you have no business. In some areas its global trade, in others high business rates. We have moved from stable, permanent positions to short term contracts. Many of us who have spent around 20 years working have changed their jobs three times at least, some even more. Even those of us on permanent positions don’t tend to stay with the organisations for more than three years on average. Careers built merely on longevity are out, sharp minds and clear objectives in. Or at least should be so. We are likely to see inequality in workplace for some time until the Big Reset comes. And it will come, either in form of Universal Income or nationalisation of (by then still traditional) industries.
I personally favour UI route. When set at 70% minimum wage it will enable people to just get by (on council property – hey, different topic!) and top up their earnings by freelancing and working with the organisations of their choosing. Some argue that it should be minimum wage, though latter camp will have hard time standardising this even in EU context (€1400 as minimum in France is above average in Estonia). Money will be digitised and all income over certain threshold is taxed as now, hopefully reducing incentive and options for fraud. Getting rid of physical money will also reduce the asset ownership cost to central bank and thus should again leave more to fund UI. Quartz @ Work has a very timely piece on full employment and fulfillment. Full employment is felt as cornerstone for Western society and people find usually hard explaining the gaps in their careers. Instead being out of work should choice when people feel they need a break followed by successful return to work provided people have necessary skills and attitude to perform as expected.
The themes Nicolas writes about are well covered by many – empowerment, ownership, flexibility, purpose, opportunities and new types of work. Let’s look at each once more then.
Many, not just younger expect to be empowered to make and have ownership about their decision making and outcomes. They expect to be treated as equals. Not equally capable and experienced but to get equal opportunities. Many have argued, especially about apprenticeships schemes that it’s all about them and not us, the employers. But this statement is untrue. The young, when motivated and allowed to make small mistakes, learn from them and not be punished will pay back with energy they have and willingness to throw all they have to complete the project on time. They are willing to shed that shy self in order to achieve the deadlines. Many more seasoned colleagues would try to delegate the task to someone else and stay in mediocristan. Working with apprentices 18 years ago in my own small IT business and recently with fast -streamers has shown me time and again how much value these young people can deliver with right level of coaching, delegation and independence. But wait, this applies equally to more seasoned employees as well. To ensure they don’t actively avoid decision making and taking ownership however, the organisation need to have reached necessary level of maturity. Not quite teal level, but micro-management must be out and trust in.
Flexibility in workplace is nothing new. Also not new is the notion of flexibility when it comes to choosing the place of work. I have a few friends who have been working from home study since mid-nineties. Fine, their jobs enabled this (editor, consultant, marketer, software programmer) but were never seen as revolutionary, rather as their choice. What is new is not just where but when we choose to work. Dan Pink spoke in recent RSA event about timing. I can attest to his conclusion of timing the work. There are generally three stages – peak, through and recovery. In my case its a bit like this:
I’m usually switched on in the mornings and can stay focused for long periods of time until noon. Sometimes longer. This is the time to work on analysis and produce written content. Then comes the slump where I’n not the sharpest pencil in the box. That’s the good time for admin. Neither of the periods is suitable for meetings. When we are in focus mode, we find hard to accept others’ ideas. During the through we are simply unable to absorb any information. This is worst time for any meetings or workshops. Hence I try to schedule all my meetings (virtual or in person) either right before lunch or after 15:00. When the recovery kicks in, we are all more agreeable. This is flexibility we should grant to all our colleagues. We should deploy tools that allow people to submit the best time they are ready to collaborate in, and avoid any meetings outside this space.
You could say that people fall into two categories. First is static, second dynamic. The second crowd are after opportunities to prove how good they are. Get some testosterone going, tick that thing off the list and get dopamine kick. Feels good, right? It tends to be the younger crowd who are looking for ways to either gain some new knowledge or participate in that new venture. Perhaps it pays off. And if it didn’t, no biggie. Next time they’ll try again. What we need to encourage is looking for opportunities in the organisation. These may be incremental improvements to the process or product that drive our businessesuu forward. It’s very rare when a groundbreaking change is introduced and effectively managed to production. Th rest of the time everything is in beta. And changing. We need to create culture where risk is seen as both threat and opportunity, not just first.
Take all of these and… nothing works when people don’t have purpose in their working lives. Purpose and meaning is much coveted topic for the jobs over the threshold where increase in pay will have no effect on quality of output.
The types of work that existed in the fringe have become mainstream in Western economies and those previously taken for granted have disappeared. Manufacturing is a good example. Working for Saint-Gobain in late 90’s and first part of 21st century I saw automation and streamlining of supply chains in order to reduce the cost of product. Robotics found its way into assembly previously required highly skilled workforce performing tasks demanding precision. Need to reduce waste and not optimise but maximise output at highest level of quality will see new plants employing a handful of highly skilled operators work of many machines.
We used to cook at home and only occasionally order takeaway food. Especially in urban environment this has become mainstream – people value their time and are willing to pay for food and delivery. The delivery has often been outsourced to likes of Deliveroo and fulfilled by men on bikes searching their way through maze. They are often as lost as Über drivers. Everyone as taxi driver on their spare time? That’s not really valuing ones time, it may be seen as the only option to earn enough to live in a modern metropolis. Are these jobs going to be here in 10 years? Probably not, technology will develop along with legal framework to automate these jobs.
What will the future of work look like for us in the knowledge work? We’ll have many jobs over our working lives, quite possibly will be looking for work every few years and working for and with many different organisations. This raises need to be adaptable to the change. I thought learning enough but not mastering a single skill was not sufficient. Shallow generalist over highly skilled specialist? A recent Medium post by Michael Simmons nicely builds the case for polymath as probably best placed to survive in the unknown future. It’s not just transferable skills we need. We need to be able to synthesise useful elements from different disciplines to meet the future challenges.
The journey of personal mobile devices started in early 1980’s with first Motorola, Nokia and Ericsson phones. I would recommend looking up those funky handsets. They teach us a lot about ergonomics and evolution of microprocessors.
Basically, this is what our journey looks like:
Motorola DynaTak was first truly portable mobile phone for civilian use. It’s fortunately history by now and you may read more about it here.
Latest Android phone comes from Google, weighs no more than any other handset we have seen in past five years and replaces your computer. Other major OS’s are Apple iOS and Microsoft Windows 10 Mobile (somewhat dead in the water now). We had Blackberry OS, but that’s pretty much gone – all new handsets are running Android. We also had Symbian, but that’s completely irrelevant these days. Nokia is trying to reinvent its mobile business, though they seem to side more with Android than MeeGo. Although Nokia C1 is more of an urban legend – many rumours but no sighting yet…
But none of it would have not happened without underlying infrastructure. Taking the risk of investing very large sums of money into covering has paid off and benefits manufacturers, service providers and consumers alike.
Signal coverage in the UK is relatively good with most areas having voice signal. 4G is confined to mostly urban areas but is growing faster than 3G.
4G standard has many advantages over its predecessors – data speed and improved voice quality. 4G connectivity has also helped many mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) companies to enter the market. There are ones that piggyback to major carriers for both voice and data or just data. In second option user would need to install and use an app to make and receive calls and send text messages. This option bypasses phone OS native apps and offers a few advantages to the provider – provide additional services and sell in-app advertising to keep package cost low.
Nokia, Ericsson and others have been hard at work developing 5G communications standard. Don’t expect that anytime soon near you as devices that support the standard are still not in personal but rather in machine-to-machine (M2M) and Internet-of-Things (IoT) market.
Where are we now?
It’s been an interesting journey people in most countries have been. In many places it has been led by technology rather than policy. And technology providers have been pushing their own (often proprietary) standards, which innovative at the beginning have caused countless hours of extra work to make it functional and integrate with other systems.
Most developed and developing countries have passed mobile phone revolution. Smartphones, however not taken over the mobile device market from feature phones yet, are on path to get there.
I don’t fully buy into Statista’s perception that feature phone numbers are on permanent raise. It’s likely though that what’s classified as a smartphone today won’t meet that designation in 2020. There’s another view that seems more likely, and that was view in early 2015.
My personal view is that feature phone numbers start dropping in next 24 months as African and Asian countries keep growing. Once a human being has had a taste of a smartphone they’d rather give up other goods and services than this. And why? Technically you have a small computer in your hand that puts world’s knowledge at your fingertips.
It’s not surprising that Android OS dominates the market. You can see interesting correlation between Android OS and Apple iOS. Every time Apple launches something new, there’s a surge and corresponding dip in shipments of Android devices. Yet it plateaus off very quickly and even takes a tumble after initial craze has faded. The gap between the market leader and second option is too vast to close at ease.
This dominance in turn gives Google enormous leverage over vast amounts of users. They are happy to share some insight with device manufacturers but all visible and hidden services of its client OS feeding information back to the company.
New gadgets, anyone?
Near Field Communication (NFC) has been on and off tech news. There are some services being adapted en masse now. Contactless bank cards? Check. Using your latest iPhone (or rather old Android and/or Blackberry) as bank card? Check. Having small contactless bank card companion chip (about square inch in size) attached to your old phone. Like this:
That’s now norm. But where to take this contactless future?
John Mclear was trying to get his NFC Ring off the ground using Kickstarter back in 2013. And what a marvelous idea it was! One ring, two functions – public and private. Public is the outer side of the ring, suitable for contactless payments and such. Inner side of the ring would be for authentication – as in handshake. No puns intended, though you could see two changing digital ID’s during physical handshake.
Then there are printable digital ID’s. These are the ones that can be tattooed or printed on the skin akin to 3D printing. Some films have featured characters with bar code tattooed to their bodies. That’s cool, but… what if your ID changes? Deliberately or not, but change is needed. What then? Well, you’d have to remove and replace old one. Rather painful exercise, I guess. Reprogramming embedded or printed NFC chip is not. And works perfectly so long as only certain authorities can do it. I’d rather travel without physical passport than with one.
Another example of this use – manufactured human spare parts. Ahem, organs and bones, that is. When I get into car accident and my leg gets crushed so badly that I need a new bone (provided that tissue is still usable) it should be crafted for me using suitable material and 3D printer. The cost of prosthesis manufacturing where and when it’s needed would go down radically and the only concern is how body reacts to it. Though manufacturing process would take into account personal characteristics minimising or removing potential negative effect completely.
What should we consider?
With masses of data being sensed, collected, analysed and presented we need to be aware of what we give away to improve our lives. It would be nice to provide 20% of input and reap 80% benefits but 80/20 rule doesn’t really work here. There are really two reasons for it.
First, most smartphone users have dozens of apps on their devices. We are actually really dependent on our devices. Where average amount has been limited to their niche time spent on using the mobile apps has doubled over five years.Those apps as mentioned in previous part collect behavioural information and pass it back to the service providers. he more time we spend on our devices the fuller picture app / service providers have about us.
Secondly, AI and analytics algorithms are improving but are not smart enough yet to provide the service at the cost of contact acquisition. It won’t take too long considering Google AI improvements in navigating London Underground. I can see these services powering the user analytics and being integrated into personal assistants.
What lies ahead?
What should we expect from the connected future? Is it good or bad, and should we be worried or happy?
There’s been an explosion of apps and services designed for smartphone users. Many are duplicating each other, many are using open data, some mash together open and personal data, some work with data providers and others allow user to enhance their experience by linking together services that make up our digital footprint.
We tend to trust our service providers. Or we don’t but compromise as a means of using a particular service. Take Google, Microsoft or Facebook as identity providers. Now add everything these companies know about you – that’s often rather a substantial digital footprint and you need to know what do with it.
There are always privacy concerns related “free” services. Data misuse is a big deal and major organisations have taken steps to deal wit it. Though it manifests itself a bit like this:
The consumer needs to be aware of what information they give away about themselves, who they trust and what benefits they receive in return.
Google wants to be my personal assistant. So does Microsoft with Cortana, Apple with Siri and Amazon with Echo. And plethora of other services that are always listening using the gadgets we have amassed in our homes.
So with that in mind, how can I benefit from their knowledge about me?
Consider a scenario when your city has been kitted out with connected interactive displays, let’s call them smart screen. Those smart screens are equipped with sensors and connected to each other. The devices we carry are technically beacons which also serve as ID providers. My smart watch is associated with one of my digital ID’s. The smart screen senses me approaching and gives me useful snippet.
Or if I’m rushing to catch my train and smart screen tells me there’s a delay with my train and I’ve got to fill 15 minutes somehow.
Useful? Frightening? Amazing? Whatever we feel about these services penetrating our everyday lives they are here to stay for the foreseeable future. And they are not going to be less smart. They will reduce complexity at the point of delivery making it easier for the users to go about their daily lives and adding useful layer of information.
Should we be afraid of future or jump up and down of excitement when today’s tech news highlights become part of everyday life next week?
I think we should embrace the technology, work with it and reap benefits. When parts of it become too intrusive, we need to make conscious decision to stop using those parts. Not becoming Luddites but understand what is good and what is bad for us.
There’s a transformation going on in many organisations. The focus is less on conventional wisdom and more on what’s actually needed to achieve targets, objectives or need.
New initiatives should always be driven by need. User needs are driven by aspirations, desires and previous experience in situations people find themselves in. In a well functioning organisation needs should stem from personal or team objectives that align with organisational purpose. Overall flow should look like one below.
Still I’m regularly asked “Do you know a tool we could use to do this?”. Default response is to “quantify and define your business problem, and state it clearly”. This is the business analysis phase where business needs to understand their problem, or what they believe is a problem. This is also a point where people often need help form an outsider who is not aware of all the intricacies of the situation or need and thus are not dismissing various options.
Many seasoned professionals tend to stick to tools or vendors they’ve used in the past rather than looking out to market for the most appropriate tool or service that meets their needs. This, however, expects needs and drivers to be identified, listed and weighted against each other, and existing tools – again, what’s your business problem? Is there perhaps a tool in the organisation that will already met this need? Will it meet 75-80% of your must-have’s and the rest can be done using something else? does this tool need to meet 100% of your need? Are you clear on your need?
Concentrating on user needs gives organisation ability to understand its current capabilities and will potentially highlight training needs.
Focusing on existing tooling limits the choice before it’s clear what drives the user need.
How often do we ask ourselves or others – why are we here? What’s the purpose of this organisation, working group or project? Do we understand this or were we asked to be part of it? Have we worked out the problem(s) we are looking to deal with? Do we have terms of reference agreed?
Purpose is a tricky subject and many I speak to are mildly confused about it. How my output contributes to the cause of this organisation?
I think these are fundamental questions people who make up an organisation need to ask themselves. This sometimes happens naturally, especially during the economic downturns or when people feel stuck. In an ideal situation this should take place during the good times – then this is something to hang onto when things go south.
Processes and visibility
When organisations mature business processes are being drawn up to govern the flow of work. It’s important that those processes are reusable by different parts of the organisation, succinct and easy to understand. Often (if not always) it’s also useful to visualise the business process. People process information differently and pictorials help a lot. However it doesn’t help to discover process works against everyone involved.
In mature organisations the process flows often get muddled and people don’t really see at which stage things are. Is it with me or some other party? Who is responsible for this piece of work? Who needs to do what to progress it to the next level?
This is where business process management comes in. If you are interested to find out how to align your initiatives organisational purpose, get in touch.
I stumbled upon an article on a new trend in he US to scan the streets with cars equipped with thermal cameras. It’s all in the interest of public and energy providers to tell the homeowners how inefficient their house is and how much or little it leaks.
Reading this raise two questions for me.
1. How accurate is the measurement as the buildings are scanned mainly from the front. Will the rest be rough guesstimate or scientifically calculated accurate u figure?
2. How will the results be used? Will it be to advise homeowners of potential savings they may be making? Or will the aim be more sinister – to sell the information to insulation installers and impose fines on those who won’t budge?
On the surface nothing seems to be wrong with this initiative. However it’s likely to face resistance from the privacy advocates. As this comes as extra cost to the energy suppliers, someone has to pay for this. My money is on customer.
I have toyed with the idea for a while. Starting last year when more mobile staff started asking for iPads to get job done when away from the office. Their Toshiba R600/700 laptops were lightweight, but lacked in battery life department and remote connectivity was not something to brag about.
They wanted tablets, however I didn’t like the idea of having whole heap of devices (the same staff had also desktop computers). Why? Well, paying double for all support (we outsourced all our IT support) and software licensing is not my ideal way of running the business.
Over many discussions the brief was formulated. The device to be used needed to:
Have a reasonably good battery life
Be able to connect to internet via WiFi and 3G/4G (directly or via smartphone tethering)
Have a good screen resolution
Be usable as product/literature demo device
I also added a business continuity – when office goes offline (post Office365 implementation!), you work from wherever it’s most suitable for you.
Then back in December 2012 HP was debuting its ElitePad 900. Shortly after came Dell Latitude 10. I went with the latter for Windows 8 Pro pilot. Two months later it was clear that Dell Latitude 10 is not fit for purpose. It is designed to hold with two hands, has no proper keyboard folio and Windows 8 drains battery very quickly on standby. Proprietary connectors didn’t help either. Dock was a nice option, but I wanted to connect two monitors instead of just one. Anyway the setup looked awkward and I handed the tablet to a colleague to use during her holidays.
As an interesting side-note I took a phone call form HP earlier this week and our discussion went over mobility. The sales rep was rather adamant that 32GB storage is adequate as “tablets are not storage devices”. I explained the way I see market going and we agreed that event device trail would be wasted time for me.
Looking at options available to us I got an iPad to play with. It’s good and has excellent battery life, delivers my email and works as an entertainment device. And that’s where it pretty much stops. Yes, I agree, there’s an app for anything, but business apps cost as much as on PC on average. Conclusion – It’s a companion device as I knew before and was telling all around me.
Earlier this year I took decision to move from Blackberry phones to new Nokia Lumia 920 handsets running Windows Phone 8. As most of our mobile workforce is now well familiarised with the interface and know what to expect from the handset, supplying Windows 8 Pro tablets seemed suddenly like an option again.
Last month I started investigating the topic again and looked at various devices from Lenovo Yoga to Microsoft Surface Pro. Considering weight, SSD size and screen resolution I got one Surface Pro with 256GB SSD and HP Port Replicator 3 (USB3 version). Running it currently as a pilot the setup includes tablet with two 1080p monitors and USB3 port replicator when in the office and with Microsoft Type keyboard when out. All this under £1000 looks reasonable deal. We’ll deliver Office365 project to all staff within next two months which means roaming users will have access to their files via tablet, smartphone or web browser. All other software is web based and available via secure access.
The only downside of Microsoft tablets (both Surface and Surface Pro) is lack of mobile internet. Some see this as cost cutting mechanism and prefer tethering internet via mobile phone. Let’s hope that whatever surfaces from Microsoft workshop next will be lighter, better connected and have longer battery life.
A good point has been made about the amount of email we receive with initiative to change the way we treat others by email. It is more relevant now where we think of email as part of unified communications. That is – you treat email as every other means messaging – sms, twitter, facebook, IM. Anything, but email that was to carry a message of some importance without too much clutter in it.
the solution is proposed by people behind this site and I encourage everyone to read it through and give it some thought. And where applicable, pass the message on.
I just came across an article or more like hate-list by Jack Wallen from techrepublic.com on negatives when working in IT. This pretty much sums up what it is to work in IT related job. Read it here http://bit.ly/fA21Nd