Step back from the problem and think about what “good” looks like

A few weeks ago, I sat down with a Chief Information Officer (CIO) who has a problem. He’s in the middle of a messy “divorce” (professionally, not personally). He is transitioning services from a shared services agreement with another public sector body to a new managed service. His own organisation’s IT maturity is low. There’s an expectation that the new managed services partner will take on everything (except it’s not in a state that is ready to take on). And the shared service provider is both making transition difficult (preserving its revenue stream) whilst ramping up the price to carry on providing services. The divorce metaphor is very apt. 

I was brought in (alongside a colleague with relevant sector experience) to help smooth the pain. I needed to understand what’s holding up the process – why is it so difficult to provide basic information for the managed services provider to take on the service? What are the gaps? How quickly can they be filled? And what is needed to move to the next stage? 

It’s not my usual role, but I’ve been around this industry long enough to be able to take a step back, look at the problem, and try to work out what “good” looks like. 

The challenges

The CIO presented me with two challenges: 

  1. Visibility – of what’s happening. What will be done by when and how far off the target is the transition?
  2. Passiveness – don’t just sit and wait. Bang down some doors and ask for information. If it’s not forthcoming, then flag it. There is no time for delays. 

Searching for a solution

The next day, I was mulling over the issues and I bumped into a friend (on the market in the town where we both live). We went for a coffee, and I told him about my problem (without compromising any confidentiality). My friend has a military background, followed by IT Service Operations and, more recently, security (he’s a Chief Information Security Officer – CISO) so I shouldn’t have been surprised by the advice he gave me. The way he saw it was that there are a bunch of service transition “packages” but the business as usual (BAU) service isn’t complete. Meanwhile the CIO has no visibility and would like to see where things are and the plan for where they will be.

After our conversation my mind was clear. I needed a way to track progress. I wanted a dashboard to tell me the state of each service component or process. Then, the applications, servers and other infrastructure could fall in beneath – but I needed to know there is a service to transition them into. 

There are many problems with dashboards (though the etymology of the word is about protecting riders on carriages from what might be thrown at them from below… so maybe that’s quite appropriate after all). Red/Amber/Green (RAG) statuses can be problematic too (both for cultural reasons and because of accessibility, although that can be overcome with appropriate design). But I didn’t want perfect – I needed functional. At least for the first iteration.

The chosen approach

The Microsoft-focused Solution Architect in me was thinking Power BI but I lacked the skills, time and access to licenses. I needed something that could be developed quickly and updated easily. My initial PowerPoint deck with, “this is what we said we would do”, “This is where we are today” and lots of red, turning amber then green was quickly pushed aside by a colleague in favour of Excel. In fairness, the world runs on Excel – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With the addition of a few formulae, some data validation and some conditionally formatted cells, we soon had a dynamic report. It highlights missing information. It highlights support status. It highlights key dates (and missed dates – because I’m also realistic).

Answering the exam question

The summary sheet should answer the CIO’s visibility issue (once it’s securely shared) and constantly pushing for the detail should strike out any perceived inactivity or a lack of initiative.

It’s not innovative, but it is elegant. And it works. 

So I have the tech in place – now for the difficult bit (the part that involves people) – dragging out the missing information to turn cells from red to amber to green. And the good thing is that, based on a meeting yesterday, it feels like there are a bunch of people in the managed services organisation that can see the value and are invested in the solution (they are even adding sheets for extra information – like tracking risks, issues and dependencies). That’s half the battle. “All” I need now is to get the various projects that hold the information on the various applications, servers, etc. to join in.

I may return to this subject with an updated post when everything goes live. Or I may not, for commercial reasons, but here goes… wish me luck! 

Featured image: author’s own.

Is technology at the heart of business, or is it simply an enabler?

I saw a video from Cisco this morning, and found it quite inspirational. The fact it’s from Cisco isn’t really relevant (indeed, if I showed it without the last few seconds you woudn’t know) but it’s a great example of how IT is shaping the world that we live in – or, more precisely, how the world is shaping the direction that IT is taking:

In case you can’t see the video above, here are some of the key statistics it contains:

  • Humans created more data in 2009 alone than in all previous years combined.
  • Over the last 15 years, network speeds have increased 18 million times.
  • Information is moving to the cloud; 8/10 IT Managers plan to use cloud computing within the next 3 years.
  • By 2015, tools and automation will eliminate 25% of IT labour hours.
  • We’re using multiple devices: by 2015 there will be nearly one mobile-connected device for every person on earth;
  • 2/3 of employees believe they should be able to access information using company-issued devices at any time, at any location;
  • 60% believe they don’t need to be in an office to be productive;
  • This is creating entirely new forms of collaboration.
  • “The real impact of the information revolution isn’t about information management but on relationships; the ability to allow not dozens, or hundreds, but thousands of people to meaningfully interact” [Dr Michael Schrage, MIT].
  • By 2015 companies will generate 50% of web sales via their social presence and mobile applications.
  • Social business software will become a $5bn business by 2013.
  • Who sits at the centre of all this? Who is managing these exponential shifts? The CIO.

Some impressive numbers here – and we might expect to see many of these figures cited by a company selling social collaboration software and networking equipment but they are a good indication of the way things are heading.  I would place more emphasis on empowered employees and customers redefining IT provisioning (BYO, for example); on everything as a service (XaaS) changing the IT delivery model; on the need for a new architecture to manage the “app Internet”; and on big data – which will be a key theme for the next few years.

Whatever the technologies underpinning the solution – the overall direction is for IT to provide business services that add value and enhance business agility rather than simply being part of “the cost of doing business”.

I think Cisco’s video does a rather good job of illustrating the change that is occurring but the real benefits come when we are able to use technology as an enabler for business services that create new opportunities, rather than responding to existing pressures.

I’d love to hear what our customers, partners and competitors think – is technology at the heart of the digital revolution, or is it simply an enabler for new business services?

[This post originally appeared on the Fujitsu UK and Ireland CTO Blog and was written with assistance from Ian Mitchell.]