Innovate in the Cloud

inspiration from the clouds
inspiration from the clouds

One of the hallmarks of the digital world is the ability to innovate. People can convert a good idea into a saleable product with much less investment than 10 years ago. There are all sorts of digital tools being made available in the cloud either for free, or very inexpensively, in every area from knitting to customer relationship management.

Our new generation of digitally enabled workers, see the opportunities from these tools and want to apply them in the business context. Individuals with a passion to improve the quality and quantity of their work will put in the extra discretionary effort to utilize cloud solutions in the workplace. Unfortunately if they ask the IT Department how they can do this, the answer is often “NO!”

In my CIO roles, I was constantly challenged with finding ways to enable these digital evangelists to innovate. Unfortunately we really did not understand the information that might be shared using these tools. It could be as benign as a list of building defects, or as sensitive as the plans for a military base. There are real risks from putting unknown information in the cloud with minimal opportunities for contractual redress if it is shared or stolen.

So how can an IT Department enable cloud innovation and manage the risks? I have a few suggestions:

1. Categorize information. Make sure that the organization has a single categorization of sensitivity (e.g. unclassified, restricted, confidential, and secret). The ideal way to implement this is through an enterprise content management system, but make sure you get an intuitive system that your Grandmother would be comfortable with.

2. Educate the managers. Most managers deal with business risks on a day to day basis. If they are informed of the risks inherent with the cloud, they should be able to balance that against business value, and assume accountability. This is not about frightening managers with worst case scenarios but about realistically assessing and documenting the risk in the enterprise risk framework.

3. Simple business cases. Staff who want to trial cloud based solutions should be encouraged to document the outcomes that they hope to achieve. They should undertake a post implementation review and evaluate whether solution should be maintained, scaled up or discontinued.

The paradigm required to successfully innovate in the cloud is a co-operative relationship between stakeholders. Businesses are using technology to evolve outside the purview of IT, and this isn’t going to stop. There will always be information and systems that require the robust processes of an IT Department. Where this overhead is not justified, the business should be given every opportunity to hop on the digital bus through easily accessible cloud solutions.

Does anyone out there think they have control over innovation in the cloud?

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?

The wrong trousers

stylish?
stylish?

You may have seen the Wallace and Grommet animation “The wrong trousers”. It is foolish and funny, but many business leaders feel like their IT systems are the wrong trousers. The technology that is supposed to enable their business is not sufficiently flexible, is not user friendly, takes too long to change and costs too much. So how did we end up here and what do we do about it?

The core reason for this poor fit is mis-alignment. The business wants one thing and the IT systems deliver something else. It is likely that when the systems were purchased they did not properly incorporate the business requirements. Then as the business has changed over time, there has not been an effective feedback loop that modified the systems. Other systems may have been added, with dependencies that make any changes very complex. Once this mis-alignment becomes severe, the system is often replaced rather than modified.

So how do we stop Groundhog Day when we decide on a replacement? Here are a few tips:

1. Business change. Any technology project must be seen as a business change project. The real costs of change will almost be much higher than the cost of the technology.

2. Business process approach. Identify the business processes early on. They will provide clarity for the business case and are critical in selecting the solution.

3. Service management. Ensure that one of the outcomes is a set of IT services. These should have defined performance, cost and governance for future changes

4. Value delivery. Drive change in the business to deliver on the business case benefits. Make this value visible and the CEO may be less likely to chop the IT budget next year.

The core to this advice is that any IT investment must be strategic and not tactical. I have heard business managers railing against the strategic approach – “We just need to do this..” or “Doesn’t such and such a system do what we need?”. It is tough for CIOs to stand up to this and propose a more comprehensive (and more expensive) approach.

I recall a time when a mining executive wanted specific software to manage stocks of tyres. He pushed for an accelerated project to install the software on the basis that it would deliver significant savings. The lite business case stacked up with a low IT investment and a high return.

I insisted that we did a more thorough business analysis. We mapped the business processes and compared the features required against that available on the market. At this level of detail, it was evident that the projected return on investment would not be delivered by the systems available. We could create a better outcome with spread sheets.

We saved some costs from cancelling the project early, but more importantly we did not hobble the business with a system that was not adapted to their needs. Of course no-one thanked me for this.

So if your organization is wearing the wrong trousers, will you tackle your next technology investment any differently?

The reluctant CIO

executive lifestyle
executive lifestyle

There is a lot of focus in Queensland right now on getting on board the digital bus. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry completed its digital readiness study and Brisbane City Council has its Digital Brisbane Strategy. These initiatives highlight that Queensland businesses have a long way to go to capitalize on the digital economy. This set me thinking about who should be dragging their organizations into the technology age.

In many organizations this is not the Chief Information Officer; it is either the Chief Executive Officer or the Chief Financial Officer. Very often these people are reluctant CIOs, forced to become the IT strategist because the IT department is 100% focused on day to day issues. So how do reluctant CIOs achieve success?

1. Insist that IT becomes transparent: open up the opaque layers that technologists use to obfuscate issues. Projects running over time and budget, dissatisfied customers and investments with poor or no return must be identified and fixed. The business needs to understand how their actions drive costs through a granular recharge arrangement.

2. Invest well: these days this does not mean servers and data centres. The areas that do need the right investment are strategy, architecture, processes, documentation and training. It is hard to put money to these areas when there are other immediate priorities. In the long run, these areas bring order and discipline to IT spending.

3. Get help: doing things wrong in IT is a very expensive mistake. Selecting the wrong system not only stymies the business, it means the investment must be repeated. In the most extreme cases the cost can exceed the initial investment by factors of hundreds

Many reluctant CIOs would like to find that silver bullet that repositions technology in the organization as a true enabler. While a slick app on an iphone may provide some gratification, the true path to success is through a good IT strategy, implemented with vigour and patience.

It takes a long time to put the right technology in place and create real business value (Gartner believe up to 15 years ). The new cloud based platforms might accelerate this, if you pick the right platforms in the first place.

For the reluctant CIO to become a digital leader they need to identify and realise opportunity for business improvement and value through IT. This might be a whole new set of skills and finding a trusted advisor is the key to success.

Is your organisation likely to get on the digital bus?

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?

How much should we spend on IT?

Budget evolution
Budget evolution

Times are tough, as everyone playing in the consulting game would know. The March quarter Westpac pulse survey shows business is generally getting more optimistic, but this has not translated into increased sales and revenue. Organizations have streamlined and cut back on costs over the last 3 years and the IT department has participated generously in this (with another 10% cut in overall expenditure last year).

Is it still reasonable for executives to ask whether there are further cost savings available? The answer is of course yes and no. To illustrate I have taken a graph published by MIT’s CISR – a fantastic resource for IT research. The graph represents the IT spend graphed against technology maturity. In this case they measure maturity in the effectiveness of an enterprise architecture.

The baseline is 100% for an IT Department in an immature organization. This is typified by different services being offered to different parts of the business and dispersed infrastructure. If you are in this position you are definitely spending too much on IT.

A solid effort on standardizing hardware and software, consolidating infrastructure and improving procurement will deliver a 15% saving. The next 10% comes from standardizing and simplifying business processes onto core enterprise systems.

The surprising outcome is where businesses go next. Once the IT monster has been tamed inside the IT department and the business, organizations become more comfortable about investing in IT. They actually increase their IT spend as it delivers real business value and the IT budget ends up 20% higher than when they started.

So where do you think your organization is on the maturity curve?

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?

Upgrade or perish

Good old technology
Good old technology

The Voyager 1 spacecraft was launched in 1977 and will continue operating until 2020 (43 years), approximately 18 billion Km from earth. The NASA team built a dedicated control room for this and other deep space missions. This means they can continue to use the original computer and communication systems through the decades without continually upgrading operating systems.

A few years ago I visited the European Space Agency Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany where they had developed new approaches to dealing with the technology cycle and were building shared control rooms for their multi year missions like Rosetta and Cluster II. This is a complex challenge as operating systems become unsupported, programming languages change and engineers move on or retire.

Unfortunately most organizations do not have the luxury of ignoring the upgrade requirements from the technology cycle. IT departments put significant resources into continually upgrading products, often for no tangible business improvement. One of the biggest challenges around upgrades is the computer operating system. In April 2014 the XP operating system will no longer be supported by Microsoft and yet 38% of computers worldwide still use XP.

So how should organizations still running XP approach the end of support milestone. I believe that there are 3 items to discuss at the very highest level in the organization:

  1. The Risk. The primary risk is that when XP stops being supported, Microsoft will no longer issue security patches for discovered vulnerabilities. So how many vulnerabilities remain in XP and how serious is it when they are exploited? The Stuxnet worm (used to destroy uranium enriching centrifuges) used 4 previously undiscovered vulnerabilities. It is a fair bet that someone out there has discovered more vulnerabilities and is waiting until end of support to deploy them and maximize return on investment.The end of support for XP is particularly attractive to hackers. You could end up with malware that is almost undetectable and provides hackers access to systems long after XP has disappeared from your network.
  2. The resources required. There are 3 areas that will cost (and often dearly) – new licenses (either for the operating system or to update old software that does not run on 7); – testing for all the existing applications (almost guaranteed that some will not work first time); and the change project (including designing and deploying the new components and training). $1200 to $2000 per computer is the Gartner estimate, and I ran a project for 900 seats at $1.2M.
  3. The technology options. It is really too late to start an enterprise upgrade project and have it completed inside a year. Even if you get organized internally, the integrators have their resources fully committed to enterprises that have started before you. The situation is particularly serious if your desktop management systems are not up to date.I suggest that you need to look at procuring a cloud based managed desktop. Talk to a few vendors to get a pilot up and running while you develop your procurement documents. Identify and prioritize application testing and ensure that there are nominated business reps to own the test outcomes. Start working with the HR department on a bring your own computer strategy. Most importantly, write a business case that frames exactly what you are trying to achieve and minimize the scope to tackle the core issues, leaving the “nice to haves” until the new technology is bedded in.

One last piece of advice – if your organization “simply does not have the money” for an upgrade, secure your superannuation and check out Seek.com. In the end, upgrades are non-negotiable for anyone except NASA!

Don’t get comfortable, the internet of things is coming

Flat out
Flat out

The role of a chief information officer in a large company has its challenges. They have to intermediate between the messy world of business and the even messier world of IT. Their focus is on the risks, costs and opportunities of today and they have few resources to prepare for the future.

I would argue that the next big challenge in IT is something that most CIOs are not ready for. This is the integration of information technology (IT) with operational technology (OT). It is a question of how we manage the internet of things – devices communicating over the internet without human interaction.

To give a personal example, as CIO I supported the operation of a newly purchased ore crushing machine (OT) at a remote mine site. The machine needed to run optimization software that was hosted on the vendor’s computers. This meant connecting the machine through our corporate network (IT) to the vendor. The vendor had no security accreditation and did not offer the security tools that we insisted on from our regular IT suppliers.

The machine had been purchased and the investment in a second communications link was substantial. In the end we accepted an increased security risk, given the costs of mitigation.

There are 3 big challenges with the internet of things:

  1. Security. As soon as we connect devices to the internet, there is massively increased opportunity for malicious attack. Hackers from anywhere in the world may obtain access, as highlighted by Mandiant. Many suppliers of OT do not have the resources to invest in properly secured systems.It is just a matter of time before serious mechanical or safety incidents occur. The Stuxnet virus destroyed hardware used to enrich uranium in Iran, but also infected over 200 Australian based devices. The Australian Government Computer Emergency Response Team found that 35% of attacks were non-targeted and indiscriminate.
  2. Integration. As the complexity of internet of things devices increases, so does the ability to store and utilize data. This data needs to be exchanged efficiently with corporate IT systems, however there are few standards.One example I came across recently was from an engraving firm. They had a web site through which customers could place their orders. To get the details into the connected engraving machine required them to rekey all the data, leading to errors and wasted time.
  3. Purchasing. The people buying OT hardware and software have a focus on the performance of the system. They are often less expert at understanding the license conditions and costs of ongoing support. It is not uncommon to see the same corporate license purchased more than once in an organization.

Some organizations are taking the bull by the horns. At the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, they have put the engineering services for recording and digital editing under the CIO. The critical infrastructure providers such as the utilities and airports have invested in professional approaches to OT. For many however, this is another problem just waiting to happen.

Do you have any plans for the internet of things?