The four faces of IT

 Tother_Triumph Triumphs 2CV  Grace 1


The times they are a changing, and as businesses adapt to the new reality of technology driven value creation, IT departments are changing too (finally)! The scenarios that I am about to paint are not new; what has changed is the scale and ease of action.

These days almost every business function can be enhanced with cloud based information systems – from rubbish collection to retail. The business unit managers are being approached continuously by salesmen with products, and there are compelling business benefits available.  Managers can sign contracts and have working systems in place in a matter of weeks with no interaction with IT. Everything is available through the browser.

Of course problems arise through time – the cost of the system may escalate as more users are put on; the business department has to manage user names and passwords; the reports from the system are limited unless other organizational data can be added; the supplier may have regular outages; and finally the IT department may upgrade systems or security and the system stops working.

If this happens with just one business department, IT can help to resolve the issues; but when it happens everywhere, IT has real resource limitations and cannot respond effectively. This of course drives a further cycle of bypassing IT (maybe by contracting external help).

So how do we deal with this new reality? The answer is first to get on the front foot and work out between the executives what sort of IT department they want from the choices below:

  • Fixer – The business units drive their own agenda, and only occasionally take advice from IT. Often IT cannot influence the outcomes, but has to resolve issues as they arise. The IT department pours its resources into reactive capability and loses control on strategy and architecture. This is happening to many IT departments today.
  • Governor – In this approach, the IT department takes a governing role, collating a single list of technology projects, identifying interactions and pre-requisites but not holding the budgets. IT may set policies on security and service requirements and is likely to get involved in technical negotiations with suppliers. Depending on IT’s ability to influence (and the quality of its advice) this might improve the outcomes but does not deal with issues such as funding for components to tie the initiatives together.
  • Integrator – Here the organization accepts that businesses do not have the skills to procure and manage IT systems. Executives assign responsibility to various departments and ensure that they have the right competencies. For example procurement may need to develop specialist IT procurement skills; compliance would have staff who could take a close look at the technology; audit may verify supplier performance; and IT would take on integration, service desk and other functions. IT is just one of the team with certain key accountabilities. In this model IT has a clear (but limited) accountability and may have to release resources into other parts of the organization.
  • Orchestrator – In this (somewhat scary) model, IT acts like the conductor of the orchestra, ensuring that all components are identified and actioned. The CIO takes accountability and pulls together all the necessary components in a program approach. The IT department has to be agile to meet the expectations of the business and the CIO needs hefty support to ensure that the business department is serious about delivering on benefits.

The key to success in this whole debate is to decide – then do. If you just drift into a particular scenario, it may be very difficult to change to another model.

So are you ready to have the discussion with your executive on which face of IT they want to see?

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?

Why are executives so keen on the cloud? Follow the money

Cloudless sunset

You can tell who vendors are marketing to by where they place their magazine ads. When you start seeing ads for cloud services in golfing magazines, the Economist and airline giveaways, you can be fairly sure that they are targeting the mobile executive and not the IT department. So how do executives ensure that they get best value from this opportunity?

There is a growing view amongst those who know that cloud is the future and that IT departments are not embracing it quickly enough. The impact on IT costs should be understood by the business leaders:

1. Cloud is a different financial model and budgets need to change. Traditionally IT departments have lived on budgets with two components – and operational budget and a development (capital) budget. It has been thought that a 70/30 split is good practice. Cloud could change all this.

IT systems need constant maintenance and every 5 years or so they need major upgrades. The maintenance is an operational cost, whereas upgrades can be capitalized under accounting rules. I have seen many cases where business conditions have led to delays in upgrading systems, often associated with howls of pain from the users. After a big capital injection everyone is happy for a few more years.

With cloud, there is no upgrade cost. You pay an ongoing fee and if business conditions are good you can increase your services for an incremental cost. When business conditions turn, you can reduce or cancel the service. This is a huge relief to users and IT Departments alike.

There will be a rebalancing from capital to operational budget, but the capital budget will no longer be buying depreciating systems. It can now be spent on business process improvement and organizational change.

Key tip – Ensure a granular recharge so that business units know exactly what services they are paying for.

2. Cloud should be cheaper – but then they said that about outsourcing! The key to reducing costs is to buy commoditized cloud services. These are services that are used in the same form by many customers. Good examples are email, web sites and Amazon servers. Providers can leverage economies of scale and can multi-tenant systems (house multiple customers on the same gear).

Whenever the business identifies special needs, the commoditized model falls down and you start paying cloud providers like outsourced providers. It is important to recognize the non-standard processes that deliver real business value vs those that are driven by personality.

I remember a discussion on how we run our HR systems. The organization had for a long time used dual reporting (some staff members had 2 line managers). This model was not supported in cloud performance management systems – leading to a choice between building something bespoke or changing business processes. We changed to the accepted good practice business processes, lost some flexibility but saved money on IT systems.

3. Extract savings from the IT Department. This might sound like teaching you to suck eggs, but investing in cloud should show savings elsewhere. If cloud is just an extra cost for a new service, you do not have an effective cloud strategy.

Within IT, a move to the cloud may reduce workload on some staff, but their roles may still be needed. Managing a small number of servers is not a full time role, so moving all infrastructure to the cloud adds operational costs without reducing staff expenditure.

IT departments should be re-organizing roles around a short term and long term view of which services will be provided internally and which bought from the cloud. I suggest planning to move systems to the cloud at the time when a major upgrade cost would be incurred.

My experience with moving services to the cloud is that the financial impacts can be difficult to understand. I was able to extract savings in the network costs by moving some servers to a cloud based “infrastructure as a service” model. I was also able to extract savings on licensing through purchasing a cloud solution that replaced a number of onsite solutions. I have no doubt that I reduced the long term costs of IT by moving services to the cloud, but I never managed to reduce staff numbers based solely on purchasing a cloud service.

Is your main interest in cloud to save money?