Tag Archives: technology

Real SMB IT: Automate

In the small to medium enterprise, everybody is stretched thin.

Everybody wears many hats,and nobody has enough time.

That includes your IT team. Fix that issue, support that problem, assist someone else with another.

However, in many cases, your IT team has a way to begin getting out of that assistance rut: automation

One very large key to reducing your IT costs and staying sane is to ensure that you consolidate as much as possible and even more importantly to automate as much as possible.

I have seen technical support issues that routinely took excessive amounts of time to resolve, when the issue was a configuration or connectivity issue that can be automated through various tools or methods.

When something is done repeatedly and routinely, do your best to find a way to have it automated.

ITIL – Without the ‘Word’

I’ve written about ITIL quite a bit on this blog, and in fact I am using ITI L in an IT service management form in this new role of mine, but here’s a little secret; I don’t think I’ve used the word more than a dozen times.

OK, OK, ITIL  is an anagram, for IT Infrastructure Library, not a word. (yes, I know!)

Here’s the thing, our organization already has a strong engineering and project management framework in various processes and disciplines. So let me ask you a question? Does it make sense for me to try to teach a new language, a new discipline or a new protocol, or just continue to use the words and language that we are already using?

Language, and words are powerful devices. And for us the language and the words already exist.

As a business we have a strong understanding of lessons learned, a strong understanding of risk reduction and mitigation, and we already have ISO 9000 certified processes.

Perhaps as we make our first steps away from the little baby steps that we are currently doing I may change my mind about the terminology, the words, the semantics, but for now?

ITIL is predicated on learning problems from incidents that occur, so what is the difference if I ask what lesson did we learn from that incident?

For me?

I’ll stick with the words, the terms, and the language that we, as a business, already know.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Order Taker or Solution Maker

A good read by by Eric Brown titled; Are you building an “order taker” or “solution maker” environment?. Now, Eric writes for IT Professionals, however for any executive or general manager in the small to medium business space, I urge you to read it as well. (And I would like to add one more thing to Mr. Brown’s post!)

The IT teams in most SME’s are Order Takers. They may not know it, and they may not really think about it, but orders come from executives or committees that provide marching orders for some new server or tool. IT just chips in and gets it done. (usually quite well too)

We can consider a spectrum, with Order Taker one one side – and primarily being in a reactive posture, then moving to the Solution Maker on the other side of the spectrum which we can be consider as being in a proactive posture. But allow me to be quite blunt, moving an IT team from Order Taker to Solution Maker is not a linear event.

Moving to the Solution Maker side of the spectrum requires organizational maturity levels that are orders of magnitude higher, perhaps even logarithmically higher than the organizational maturity required at the Order Taker side of the spectrum.

And I would argue that the first step for moving across that spectrum is for IT to have a true plan, and then be able to provide feedback and options when these Order Taker initiatives arise. Without a formal plan, you never will get beyond the Order Taker side of the spectrum.

Let me ask you a few questions, the last time you decided to purchase a large ‘IT system’ such as Service Management, Financial Management, that good ‘ole boy ‘ERP’ system, or any larger technology tool, did you….

1) Have someone draft a requirements plan?

2) Have all business units add their ‘must have’ bits and pieces that they are adamant they need?

3) Then nod sagely when a vendor describes the mysteries of a ‘gap analysis’ and listen to them solemnly state that they certainly can do all of that for you?

Oh yes, one last little question; Did your IT Team ever give you a bit of feedback (positive or negative), push back, or any other method of raising caution signs?

Here is an example that you, dear Sir or Madam have probably done yourself……

You decided to renovate one of the rooms of your home, came up with an idea or two, added in a rough budget limit…..

Ahhhh! then the real shopping begins, and upgrade after upgrade leaves that initial budget and plan  blowing in the wind….

Yes! that project that started as ‘reface the cabinetry and replace the sink’ ended up with granite counter tops, tile flooring, new cabinetry and the latest high end appliances…..

Providing feedback and even some argument that you are deviating from plan may not be critical with kitchen appliances, but it can be costly in IT.

The first improvement in your IT level of organizational maturity?

Is to get your IT team clearly articulating that those business unit ‘wish lists’ are going to cost money – lots of money, specifically if they are wandering off of your plan. As one example, when one Vice President was advised that a tiny part of one wishlist alone was six figure dollar amounts to implement:  “No damned way I’m spending that …” was the response.

Moving across the spectrum from order taker to solution maker is hard work, but to start, you need a plan, and you need your IT Teams to able to demonstrate when, and even argue, if you are beginning to deviate from that plan.

A Bad “Green IT” Survey

I received a call from some survey shop about sustainability in IT purchasing and sourcing, that current ‘Green IT” buzzword. Unfortunately the survey questions were really poorly designed.

Each question was simply answer ’1′ for low priority to a high of ’5′ for maximum priority on questions such as: “Do you give preference to purchasing IT assets with lower power consumption..” And; “Do you give preference to vendors that are improving their sustainability..”

Every one of my answers were at the low end of their scale. So at the end of their survey they will collate the data and my response will look like I’m in the “strip mine Earth now, get the other planets later” camp.

And nothing could be farther from the truth.

I am concerned about ‘green’ initiatives and sustainability. In fact at home I have three composters, and with a tip of the hat to comedian Jerry Seinfelds ‘Soup Nazi’ episode on his popular televesion show, my family call me the ‘Recycle Nazi’ as I grope through the garbage making sure nothing recyclable gets missed.

So, if I am concerned about sustainability, why were my answers at the low end of the scale? Why is purchasing assets with ‘lower power consumption’ not high on my priority list?

To answer this, let’s take a look at technology. Not technology in general – but technology in your car.

It was just a few years ago that if you wanted built in GPS navigation systems or hands free bluetooth capability for your phone, you shelled out large dollars for top end premium cars with the built in Navi and phone systems. However,as this technology improved and matured, its price has dropped to the point that entry level cars have equal to (or even superior) technologies than their premium priced brethren.

And this analogy holds true in my purchasing of IT assets. Powerful environmental groups push manufacturers to improve their supply chain sustainability. Global 2000 sized businesses with IT assets in the 10′s of thousands also push vendors to improve power consumption. Companies of that size can save millions of dollars in electrical costs with a percentage point or two improvement in power usage. And they will willingly pay that premium price.

For me? with a meagre handful of computer servers? The percentage point or two of power saved (and my lack of scale) at that premium price would not pay for the premium price, let alone provide a positive return on electrical usage.

But here is the thing, today BigCompany is paying a premium for that technology. And when I buy my next server three months from now?

That premium technology will already hve trickled down into the vendors ‘entry level’ products.

The servers I have right now are far more efficiant than the ones I bought three years ago, and three years from now I know that they will be even more efficient.

That is why a percentage point or two improvement in ‘Green’ is a low priority for me. As a smaller business, the heavy lifting on that front is being done by the CIO at BigCompany and and the staff at various environmental groups. And I benefit from their work – Me? I don’t need to worry about it……

On Stories

First? I have to let you know that this post was written the old fashioned way; using pen and paper!

It was also written at 36 thousand feet with 1413 miles of 1780 left in flight number one of a five day, 5 city (plus 9 flights) road trip. For all of you uber travellers, yes I have a laptop with with me, but in the cheek by jowl, fully loaded cattle class confines of an Embraer 190, well, it means I really, really don’t want to try digging it out of the 18 cramped inches of foot space.

Just before I left for this whirlwind trip, the image you see below was re-circulating around the interwebs. (it seems to circle around every year or so – which is another story…)

You can click the image to see it full size, if you don’t want to; it pokes fun at our business technology and IT. (justifiably so) You wanted a tire swing on rope on that huge tree in the yard, the picture then pokes fun at what the analysts, architects and the like translate that simple swing into.

Start with a story!

In our business technology – there are bundles of binders, reams of paper, and untold numbers of words compiled into documents we call requirements, or standard operations procedures. (and that is only two examples)

And I cannot even begin to number the cases I have seen where the minutia of these documents led to confusion, frustration and failure as different interpretations of the same minutia from the same meeting expand and balloon into paralysing chaos……

It does not need to be this way.

Step number one: What is the story? Not a long, drawn out spiel, but a story! in the below image that simple story would be: “I want a good ‘ole fashioned tire swing on that there Oak in the yard…”

A simple story of why. A simple story of the end result. When teams are stuck arguing about the minutia in the thousand pages of requirements, the story can bring bring reality back into view.

Do I walk up to my CEO and ask him to tell me a story? Sure you may chuckle – but I don’t usually do that. (Although I have in some cases)

But I can ask questions;

“In a perfect world where what you want will appear tomorrow, what would that look like….”

“What is the ultimate business goal you see after this initiative….”

Many of us have heard the terms looking through different lenses, or re-framing the the conversation. I can tell you that nothing helps change those lenses or re-frame that conversation as quickly as a story. To give an example, I was talking with the president of a SME a while ago that was lamenting the trouble he was having considering ‘ERP’ (Enterprise Resource Planning) software to help him grow his business to the next level. After just a minute or so of casual talk about his ‘story’, I personally don’t think ‘ERP’ software will do him any good. He fixes and repairs (services) incredibly complex machinery. To re-frame the conversation; in my opinion, what he should be looking at is a good service management application that can track parts inventory, serial numbers, etc. Not a generic ERP system.

As management expert and author Tom Peters has written, a story is more ‘engaging’ and that includes;

“..a question that as readily applies to a revised business process”

I have to agree with that…..

Swing

Real SMB IT: On ‘Technical Debt’

What is Technical Debt?

When you take out a loan, you understand that the money you receive today comes with a liability of repayment, and of course, that repayment comes with interest.

If you are an executive or manager in the small to medium business space, you should understand that a similar type of debt comes along with your IT spending too.

The term Technical Debt was coined several years ago, primarily as a way of demonstrating risks in the application development life cycle. (in other words when writing or modifying software programs- and before you state that you don’t write software programs, that contractor modifying your ERP or sales program? Yes, you got it…)

I believe technical debt goes beyond developers though. As soon as you have signed the check for some new piece of software or business tool, you are already incurring some technical debt. This is because you are now going to be living with that decision for a while.

As an analogy, imagine that you have recently purchased a 2012 model year car, then imagine that you visited your local auto show and you see that the upcoming 2013 model of the same car has twice the features, better fuel economy, and even a little bit less expensive.

As nice as that 2013 model may look, if you are like most of us, until you have fully paid the lease or loan payments in full, that fancier model is far out of reach.

That type of technical debt is unavoidable. Yes, you can argue that if you don’t buy anything, that debt does not exist. That is a truth, however you are also not obtaining any possible efficiency or value either.

Then, there is the interest payments due..

This next level of technical debt is both insidious and expensive. (and the reason the term was coined)

This technical debt results from poor standards, poor planning, poor or non-existing documentation as well as lax or non-existent controls.

I am not going to explain this one in detail though! Because Andrea Dallera has already done that perfectly in this post titled; On technical debt (now with chickens!)

Photo Credit Alan Levine via flickr

On The C-I-No

I received a surprise this morning, my made for radio face was prominently displayed on George Watt’s Pragmatic Cloud blog in this post titled; IT: Where Great Ideas Go to Die

And for the record, yes there was a lot of twitter traffic that afternoon regarding IT resistance to change, and how the consumerization of technology is forcing change on corporate IT Departments.

Again for the record, the tweet that George prominently displayed on his blog was a true gripe I made. And yes, I twisted the title of CIO (Chief Information Officer) into the term C-I-No.

If you are a business of any significant size, you may have experienced this;

You: “Can we ….” 

IT Team: “No…”  (now you get the idea of C-I-No)

The Tale Behind the Tweet

We needed to get a large amount of multi-media content to a senior business manager at a large customer of ours, and we needed to get it to him quickly. The problem was that this content was quite large in size. (these materials can be many hundreds of Megabytes – as much data as can be found on a standard CD-ROM)

With that much data, sending it by e-mail would not work.

We deal every day with large amounts of this type of content, so we have a server dedicated to FTP (File Transfer Protocol) exactly for this purpose – namely getting a CD or DVD sized amount of data moved to customers and suppliers.

Except this business manager had not been graced by his IT iron fisted overlords with permission to use FTP over the Internet (they blocked it)

So now this manager is on the phone, and four of our staff are clustered around my desk debating how do we get him his data?

OK, next idea, I have a personal account on Dropbox which is a ‘cloud’ based file storage provider. I upload his data to Dropbox, and share the data to that specific manager. Failed again – the C-I-No blocks Dropbox as well.

Alarm bells for deadlines are ringing, the number of people around my desk has doubled, and I am on the phone with a senior manager that needs his bloody data trying to find a way to get him the content he needs. We were stymied at every step.

IT Leadership has the very real responsibility to ensure that the hackers, viruses and other nasties that exist on the Internet don’t run rampant within your company. However IT Leadership that make it impossible for business staff to perform their jobs – they will fail.

When it comes to risk?

I coached that manager on how to download the content on his home computer and a USB memory stick.

Which would be more risk than allowing him to get his data from our FTP server.

It is not an easy balancing act, worrying about security, and worrying about people unable to do their jobs, but it is a balancing act that must be done.

 

YOUR Skills And Technology

This post was inspired by something a little different. Simply enough I received a vendor sales pitch for advanced business process tools and consultants for a particular software environment I have used before, and it sent me down a slightly winding path through memory lane. So it is off of my regular topic -

What are “High Tech” careers?

We all hear about current unemployment numbers, some job gains here, more losses over there, it is not a kind environment right now. Being in the technology field, the technology related press repeats this up and down news with IT related job gains over here, losses in this field, etc etc -

What bugs me about these ‘technology’ numbers is that that they really only consider hardware designers with Engineering degrees and Software programmers with Computer Science degrees. Just reading these things makes me shudder because these designations probably turn many people off about thinking “technology” in any shape or form. They associate ‘tech’ with geeks or movie video game type hackers.

To me that is a mistake, the skills that you as an individual possess, can be wonderful if you have the basic computer skills to leverage them in new ways, in ways that simply use a computer as a tool.

What do I mean by that?

I met a young woman years ago whose education was in theater arts, hardly technology right? Sure – not classified as a technology career, but on her own, she learned how to use a computer to model stage sets to the smallest inch, this allowed the theater companies director to determine that Act 2, Scene 3 needed more room on stage right, long before a carpenter was paid to hammer a nail, or before calling the carpenter to rip out what had already been built. (this was a community volunteer theater, not an On or Off Broadway big budget type of theater)

Several years ago we implemented a document management system that was critical to the maintenance and growth of our ISO 9000 certification. (if you are not familiar with ISO audits, they are not very forgiving of errors or omissions) Our most important consultant on this project? An individual with a post graduate degree in Library Science. Library Science you ask? This brilliant woman also knew the software tool we were implementing, but think about it; They weren’t hard cover or paperbacks, but there were over 10 Thousand documents in that tool that needed taxonomies and metadata that would allow them to be found and used. (without a Dewey Decimal System!)

Lastly, I know so many people with educations in Graphic Arts or Graphic Design – Traditionally those skills would be found mostly in photographic layouts or other design – today? We hire these geniuses to use their skills with software tools that create the imagery and video we create on a daily basis – again, not considered in ‘technology career’ statistics.

The Takeaway

Regardless of your education or skills, if you are comfortable around a computer keyboard – someone, somewhere, can use those skills – they may just not know it yet.

So I urge you not to think ‘technology’ is Engineering and Computer Science degrees alone.

Best Wishes in your career

Elliot

Mobile Web Vs. App for the SMB

Mobile devices. From tablets like Apple’s (AAPL) iPad, to Smart Phones. (not to mention what other devices may show up tomorrow) There is no debate about this part; these devices have changed how we consume, view, and manage information.

For those of us in business, we need to be reviewing our internal processes to see where these mobile devices could possibly improve user or customer experiences, improve sales processes, or possibly reduce data entry in field service or inspection roles.

In this post titled; The iPad And The SME I wrote that in my opinion, the power of these devices is the ability to go beyond static online web pages, the power to be able to leverage the touch screen motions to move, size, flip, and change the orientation of images, tap fields to open or to modify – all through the application (or app) that can provide true benefits to our businesses. To quote myself on that post;

….Also imagine inspection or field service roles where checklists of tasks have to be performed. Do it on paper and perform data entry into a computer? or open the App and Tap, Tap that each has been checked?

Writing in a post titled; Why apps are not the future, Dave Winer disagrees with me.

 The great thing about the web is linking. I don’t care how ugly it looks and how pretty your app is, if I can’t link in and out of your world, it’s not even close to a replacement for the web.

To be fair, Mr. Winer is speaking as a consumer obtaining content from media and news outlets. However to me, linking or not, the static web does not have the power that I see providing the largest benefit in many internal business processes.

As an example, if you manufacture high end furniture, you already know that a retail outlet will be able to carry just one of your fancy sofa’s, they will also have a huge binder of material swatches to demonstrate to potential customers what that sofa would like in different colors or fabrics.

To me, a static web page showing the same swatches is useless – but how about a tablet app that shows that sofa staged in every fabric and pattern – full sized glorious images – expand, flip, rotate…

The SMB Takeaway

These new mobile devices are more than just a technology – they are a paradigm shift that we are only beginning to understand. Considering mobile devices as simply another ‘mini-computer’ to view web pages is to miss this shift.

 

Consumerization of IT

An article by Stephanie Overby in CIO Magazine, subtitled; employee provisioning of laptops and PDA’s is the next logical step in the consumerization of IT

“numerous unsanctioned employee owned notebooks and desktop PC’s are accessing network resources”

The article?

It was in the print edition on September 15 2008.

The only thing missing is the iPad and other tablet style devices, and Smart Phones. We haven’t used the term ‘PDA’ in years!House Cleaning

Yes, I was doing some housecleaning.

And also yes, my wife calls me a pack rat.