Category Archives: Providing Value

How Hugh Peterken ensures value from his endeavours

What they don’t know

Birthday cake
Surprise!

Have you ever been to a dinner and known that one of the guests is about to get a surprise? The tingling excitement seeing their normal carry on persona until “it” happens and everyone shrieks in laughter. Well I sometimes feel IT / Business meetings are a bit like that – each side sharing what they think is important and when problems happen they ask “how could they have not known about that?”

The big IT decisions are taken in leadership governance forums, structured to get the right level of input about the opportunities and threats from the business, and likewise from technology. The trouble is that they don’t know everything that we know (on either side of the table). In fact often we don’t think they have sufficient understanding of the realities of the world we live in (again common to both sides).

People have to take decisions based on their understanding of the relevance and quality of the information in front of them. And if you want to get good outcomes, you have to take good decisions. So how do you develop effective governance in the organization. I have a few tips:

  1. The business side needs to see technology literacy as a core development requirement of its leaders. This is not about giving them an i-pad, but teaching them about the value of frameworks, the role of enterprise architecture and service models. Formal courses are required here and an increased technology focus in MBA courses would be a good start.
  2. There just has to be less optimism around IT solutions and more realism. Yes they are the free lunch that accounting firms drool over (while the IT folk work through lunch); but miracles don’t happen, they are dragged out by strong leadership teams steering a steady course and holding to realistic business outcomes – just like the team did with the Collins Class improvements.
  3. The people mix has to be right. You need governance teams with perceptive insight. These may not be the operationally focussed IT staff who have been promoted for brilliantly resolving the ceaseless IT outages. More likely it is the analysts or architects who will develop to GOVN7 competencies.
  4. The information that is shared has to be just right! The governance meetings may take up only a few percentage of the working week. What information to share and what to leave under the covers becomes very important. For project governance, this is reasonably well understood. As you move to programme, portfolio and business process governance, it comes down to having the right leaders with the perceptive insights of what is really important.

I have been a member of a State Government programme board for one of the largest IT projects in the country. We used to receive 300 page board packs, supplemented with consultants’ reports that ran to 100 pages each.  Fortunately we had perspicacious board members who knew where the really important information was – and it was very rarely in the executive summary!

So how do you think we can improve knowledge on both sides of the table?

Awesome Bill

Bill Gates on Q & A
go Bill

I watched with great fascination the visit of Bill Gates to Australia this week. His session on Q&A was excellent with great questions from a diverse audience. He was also good at the Press Club lunch, although the questions from the press were decidedly average (proving that no journalist can go a lunch and desist from drinking a full bottle of wine).

Bill was spot on the money with his message – that properly targeted resources can make a real difference to the tough problems in the world. He showed us the outcomes, highlighting the reduction in infant mortality as a key indicator of success. He also highlighted the influence that the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has had in driving towards that success.

This set me to thinking why a “software geek” should be so effective when countless billions of aid money from other sources has done less. I think there are a few imperatives that he has learned as a CEO of Microsoft that stand him in good stead for the task:

1. Outcome driven. There was very clear purpose in the work that Bill presented. The purpose could be expressed simply (eradicate Polio) and no matter how complex the issues, all initiatives could be measured against this target.

2. Information Technology. Bill knows that IT is really about the information and not the technology. You have to gather good information, work out what the problem / opportunity is, postulate a solution, implement and measure, react to the outcomes with new programs or improvements to existing programs. Technology allows you to do this at scale, but information and analysis point you in the right direction.

3. Governance. Bill understands how powerful a force governance is. As the world’s richest man, he must be tempted to decide unilaterally, but evidently that is not his style. His position on GM foods was telling – don’t stop the science, but put in place governance structures for countries to decide whether the risk outweighs the benefit.

I contrast this with my experience as CIO for the International Red Cross. I was besieged by donors wanting to put technology in the hands of the poor. The purpose was to provide wings so the poor could fly! I would emphasise that technology costs resources to operate and unless the value proposition is clear it withers (as happened to innumerable high tech aid projects). Where resources are needed is in the systems and data that can be used to improve livelihoods.

Well done Bill for squeezing $80M from Julia for his cause celeb, and well done for inspiring us to keep trying to make the world a better place. I have just one request – please don’t die before you eradicate polio!

The idiot’s guide to going digital

Hercs the rabbit
clever rabbit

As an independent consultant I work with different sized companies who are all have the same challenges. They are fighting a war to survive and prosper in an environment where every dollar is precious. Meeting targets is a hard slog and at the same time the digital economy is transforming the world they know.

So how can business owners jump on the digital bus when their energy and precious resources are focused on keeping their head above water. The typical IT project would involve a strategy, a business case and one or more projects run by consultants and specialists. While this may be the right way to do things, it does not fit the reality of many businesses.

I was recently asked to put together a cut down digital strategy for an organization of 3 people. It was clear that many of the issues were common to larger firms (unclear requirements, conflicting expectations, lacking policies), but the opportunity to properly address these was limited. In their favour was flexibility and a tolerance for risk. They were looking for a trusted adviser (myself) to give them an answer – an idiots guide to going digital.

Here is what I recommended:

1. Pick a social platform and establish a presence. In their case it was LinkedIn, but other organizations may prefer Facebook, Google +, Reddit, Twitter or some other

2. Develop a web site based on WordPress. Linking this to blogs was important to them. A commercial content management system such as Sharepoint or VistaPrint is another option

3. Start using Yammer for internal collaboration. Knowledge management is a big part of the business

4. Develop an online policy (I start with the ABC Social Media Policy) and decide who decides on content

5. Put in place some basic tools to manage the systems – a password file, documentation, training and backups of core data

The recommendations fitted the capabilities of the organization, as did my bill.

Do you feel like you need an idiots guide to going digital?

Invest to succeed

strategic wrapper
strategic wrapper

As I have described many times in this blog, investing in IT solutions is notoriously risky. Just 1 in 5 projects succeeds and failures can bring down companies and governments. How then do enterprises manage this risk?

The answer is challenging to the project sponsors, who just want IT to get on with the job. With other areas of the business they assign accountability and expect the business unit heads to deliver on outcomes. With IT this approach is ineffective given the number of stakeholders and the limited ability to control events.

One example that springs to mind was when I introduced a recruitment and on-boarding system. The project was well run with a solid business case and good governance. Unfortunately the HR staff were too busy to contribute as a result of a high recruitment load from a major mining project. Rather than delivering a poor product, I slowed the project to allow them to engage. The final system was very successful, but the project ran over budget and over time.

To deliver on time, budget, scope and value, you need a strategic approach. The best way to do this is with a strategic wrapper, run by someone who can bridge the business / IT divide. They should by preference be independent from project delivery.

The wrapper has 4 components as per the diagram above:

1. Framing question. This is probably the most important step and is designed to test the business engagement. In an accelerated workshop format, the key senior stakeholders agree to the high level problem statement and commit to change. A great outcome is an email from the CEO to all staff “We are making this change for this reason and expect it to deliver this”.

2. Business case. A well written business case will surface any inconsistencies between the project and the organization’s strategy. It then sets out the options, scope, benefits, costs, risks and timeframe. Once this is agreed by all stakeholders, you can use the document as a bible for all future steps.

3. Project governance. The people delivering the project will put in a governance process. This needs to be made accessible to senior stakeholders and you need a highly experienced individual to ensure that you make the right calls on the difficult decisions.

4. Value delivery. This step is so often missed out on IT projects. Organizations commit to the investment, they should also commit to the return. An independent analysis of returns against the business is guaranteed to focus the efforts of business unit leaders.

The strategic approach will cost money – typically 10% of the cost of a project. The approach is likely to deliver many times this benefit from a focused project that does not spend money on unnecessary features; cost reductions and quality improvements from best practice processes; and more business value delivered at the end of the project.

Does your business approach IT investment this way?

Great customer service

a satisfied customer
a satisfied customer

A colleague recently told me of a poor experience she had with the IT department. She was involved in an international video conference and one of the remote sites could not connect. A call to the IT department went to voice mail. When IT was finally roused, they called the remote end, could not make contact so left a message and placed the incident on hold.

The impression this left was of an incompetent IT department, leading to the comment “… if they can’t even set up a video call, why would we trust them with any part of the business strategy?”

So how does an IT Department become excellent at customer service? It may surprise you, but I have a few simple steps (simple to say, difficult to do).

1. Process. The IT department needs good processes to ensure that calls are properly prioritised, escalated, resolved and reported upon. The ITIL incident, problem and change processes are essential. Add in knowledge, service level and configuration management and you’re cooking with gas.

2. People. Staff with a great customer service attitude put their heart and soul into effective communications and getting the customer back up and running. The challenge is to elucidate this talent within the constraints of agreed process. Sometimes front line staff have to go around processes or bend policies, but this must be the exception rather than the rule and non-compliance must be reviewed without blame. It may be an opportunity to improve the process or to re-enforce the reasons why things are done a certain way.

3. Technology. Good people and processes using a well adapted technology is a baseline for any organization to be successful. An IT service desk should have up to date tools – excel spreadsheets only work in small organizations and software as a service applications are available at a very competitive price.

4. Continuous improvement. Every poor interaction with a customer is an opportunity to improve customer service. Measure satisfaction with each interaction, identify underlying causes of dissatisfaction. These can be classified in an improvement register to tackle the high impact, low effort initiatives first. The video conferencing example from above should be solved with changes to process if it is a systemic or high impact event.

There are two qualifications to the above which need to be understood by decision makers. First, customer service improvements are neither free nor immediate. When you invest, the service delivery manager should be held accountable for real improvements in customer service. Second, if the systems that people use are not well adapted to their work, they will be dissatisfied no matter what the IT department does. Effective and timely investment in technology, done correctly, will immediately boost morale in the company.

So how happy are you with your technology?

Is technology too expensive?

Leap of faith
Leap of faith

Successful business leaders ensure that the scarce resources available to them are best used. They focus on all aspects of spending and ask is it absolutely necessary? Is there a cheaper way of doing this? Can we squeeze out more for the same cost?

Given the challenges of the last few years, most of the low hanging fruit has already been harvested. The competitive pressure has not come off and CEOs are looking to balance an increased demand for services with a reduced ability to attract income. There are 3 main options to achieve this:

1. Transformational change. Radically changing the operating model through acquisition, amalgamation or strategic repositioning is an option. James Carlopio from the World Future Society suggests that these efforts fail 50-80% of the time.

2. Intermediation. This is where the relationships between suppliers and consumers is modified and may be as simple as consolidating suppliers to achieve discounts. This strategy can sometimes be affected with little of the risk associated with business change.

3. Incremental. Typically this involves turning the handle on business processes to make them more effective, reducing cost and improving quality. Technology is likely to be a core component and the biggest risks are around organizational change.

As a CIO I have been involved in a number of successful incremental change projects. One example was the introduction of a logistics management application in a large not for profit organization.

The new application had many technology challenges causing delays and frustration amongst the users. The business processes were standardized and simplified, which made some users feel disempowered. Fortunately there was a clear vision from senior management on what they wanted to achieve. The turning point came when a major disaster struck, requiring a highly complex logistics operation.

The simplified processes improved productivity of staff who were working 18 hours per day. The on line nature of the application meant that geographically dispersed stakeholders collaborated effectively. The biggest impact came from being able to analyse the supply chain and optimize ordering, reducing delivery time by a factor of 6 and costs by 80%.

Of course for every success story, there are litanies of disasters where IT investments have soaked up huge amounts of money. I have a few tips for making sure that you get value if you are investing scarce resources:

1. Create a business case. This clearly states the expectations behind business drivers, strategic outcomes, options, scope, benefits, costs, risks and timeframe. If the costs and risks outweigh the benefits, cancel the initiative early.

2. Assign accountability. You need to have individuals who are fully accountable for the business case and in particular the delivery of business benefits. The expectations should be clearly stated in the individual’s personal performance objectives

3. Excellence in delivery. Running IT projects is risky. The concensus from a number of surveys on IT projects is that just 1 in 5 are fully successful. A solid project methodology, experienced project managers and executive support focused on delivering the promised benefits will increase your chance of success

4. Connect initiatives. Running a series of disconnected IT initiatives will lead to lower agility and higher costs in the long run. Plan your IT like you would plan a city to make sure that your roads connect and you don’t build an abattoir in a residential area.

How confident are you about investing in organizational change?