Book Review: IT Savvy

November 30, 2009

I recently finished IT Savvy by Peter Weill, and Jeanne W. Ross. An excellent book, but I actually had to debate writing this review.

Quite simply, this blog is dedicated to you, the hard working executives and managers in the SMB space. And this text is applicable only to the largest SMB’s, with heavy emphasis on the larger enterprise.

That caveat aside, the authors present  an excellent prescriptive text on developing  a clear, vision forIT Savvyincorporating IT into a businesses strategic planning processes.

The first sections of the text walk through the definition of, and providing examples of, defining your unit operating models, because the linkage between the model and IT is critical. Correctly defining your operating model (ie competing as lowest cost provider, or innovator etc) is critical, because as the authors state;

Information technology does two things well;  integration and standardization

This emphasis is placed because it is that precise definition of your operating model that is needed to align the business with the high level requirements of the IT functionality required to support that model. In other words, choosing the wrong IT strategy for a particular model will not provide the benefits you are looking for.

The next section dives into the requirement of applying the correct funding model to your IT investments. As these funding decisions will determine that you are allocating funds to the right places, and for the right reasons, and receiving the appropriate returns. (as the authors state, if your funding decisions are made on the golf course, you have some work to do)

IT funding allocations must be transparent, repeatable and consistent and activity based in their costing formulas.

The next step? Optimizing your IT investment, this is the point where you are digitizing basic business operations, this is the cost reduction stage where you emphasize standard processes or improve data flow. Again depending on your operating model. One key quote I want to pull from this section;

A much tougher piece is the implementation of enterprise process

This is that key warning that applies to business of all sizes; tools such as ERP or POS software are dead last in the people, process then technology equation.

The final sections of the book close off with the critical concept of governance. As simply as it can be put; governance is the mechanisms, roles and formalized process that clarify accountability to fulfill strategic business objectives.

The authors define the following five elements as key in the governance process;

1) IT principles
2) enterprise architecture
3) IT Infrastructure
4) Business needs and project deliverables
5) IT investment & prioritization

And finally – the text closes off with the key leadership attributes needed to drive this change as this quote states; (emphasis original)

No vendor can drive value from IT for you. You can take a partner on an IT Savvy journey with you

Disclosure: Just as anyone that has studied any of the basic sciences can understand the concept the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, it takes much more skill to actually use it. And as a manager in smaller SMB’s, this concept is the same for me. Certain of these concepts apply to many smaller businesses, but the actual execution of this in larger enterprises is beyond my pay grade.

Just so you know!

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I was recently talking with the president of a SMB, and during that conversation he mentioned some technologies he was thinking about implementing to improve some of his internal processes.

It is a constant refrain.

Prize Ribbons

Technology Takes Last Place

Technology should be a distant last place in your considerations.

Technology is a tool that can be used by people.

A tool used by people to generate business results by following business processes.

Read these two reviews by John Caddel, and Bob Sutton referencing the same study on improving medication processes in hospitals. To quote Mr. Caddel;

I’ve seen both these situations in action: the ability of front-line personnel to understand and fix problems with the processes they use, and the effectiveness of often-overlooked simple and low-tech solutions.

The SMB Takeaway

Technology tools can help standardize, they can help speed up existing business processes. But if those processes don’t even exist right now. Don’t think (or let vendors convince you) that a software tool will be a magic bullet that can do it all for you.

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Photo Credit bunchofpants via flickr

Software Installation

For B2B vendors that are in the business of selling software, One common method of driving customers to your product is providing a time limited, demonstration version of that product.

This can be a great way to let prospects try before they buy. When done correctly and simply, It can give prospective customers a real world look at the basic features and functionality of your product.

While there is nothing wrong with providing demonstration versions of your software;

If you don’t do it right, don’t bother!

A story of the the demo that can only be used by experts.

I have been looking for a particular software tool for my organization. The market and vendors in this tools competitive space has hundreds of products, so it is not as if there is zero competition. In my research I found one vendor that had a product that looked to have the features I was looking for, and it also had a demonstration version of the product. My first thought was great!

I downloaded that demo and then looked on their web site for installation instructions. None.

I extracted the downloaded package and searched it all for installation instructions. None.

I called their sales team for instructions. None.

Let me give a little bit of background, this tool is not a stand-alone product that you double click the SETUP file and follow the bouncing ball until it tells you to click FINISH.

This software is a departmental tool that can be configured to use a few different Web Server products for the front end portions that people interact with, plus several different database products for the back end data storage. The installation and configuration of this type of software gets a little more complex as you have to get the pre-requisite components  (web server and database server) properly configured and set up first.

What happens?

I start the application installation, then get some cryptic error message that kills it dead.

Now, unlike my my previous rant about graphics and tutorials, at least software and servers are in my skill level!

So I have been able to overcome the errors and blow ups one by one to determine what is happening after the installation dies! I fix that one piece, try again, it dies again, I track down that reason, try again….

You get the idea. frustration. Hours of time wasted and I am not even at the stage where I can actually evaluate the product!

Would everybody keep doing this trial and error install? For a demo version of software? Probably not!

Who is the audience of your demo?

If the target market of your demo software is senior marketing, sales, or operations staff. Would they be able to try it on their own? Do they even have an IT team available for the hours of what I went through?

Or will this type of frustration have them just saying forget it?

The three choices; easy, difficult, and the hard way

The easy way to provide a software demo is to ensure that it is entirely self contained, no external dependencies at all. Everything your software needs is installed automatically.

A little more difficult is acknowledging the dependencies mentioned above, but at the minimum having explicit warnings and instructions on what is required, and what will be expected.

The hard way is the trial and error that I have been going through.

If you are planning your demonstration software the hard way – you probably have killed any benefit of your demo!

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Photo Credit Doug Becker via flickr

Two incidents prompted this post, the first incident occurred directly to me, the second was a conversation with strategist and researcher Esteban Kolsky that started via twitter when he was stranded in an absolutely wild  number of airports on an attempted flight home. That conversation continued into several blog posts.  For the background to this, read Mr. Kolsky’s full article here.

Esteban’s Story;

After the twitter conversation and blogging about his trip from hell, (if you have not read that full story yet, follow that link!) some social media monitoring staffer at the airline concerned actually responded. The response included some token gesture, but no ability to go further to drive change within the organization.

My Story;

Mine was much simpler, via a social media channel, someone broadcast a request that basically stated; Hey I need this…”

I responded that; “hey, we do that…let me get one of our sales folks to give you a call ” (ok that was the shortened version, we actually connected via the phone)

In Esteban’s case, the ‘social media’ responder was powerless to do anything about the root cause of his problem, in mine, I don’t have the position to enforce a response either. So no one bothered.

Here is the thing.

What we loosely call the marketing (or reputation) side of social media can provide another channel for both raising awareness of your brand (or business) or to assist in defending that brand. (ie support / customer service)

But there is absolutely zero reason to go through this effort, if you have no intention of acting on what you have learned!

If you do a mystery call with your support or customer service team, and they state that for your particular problem, that the corporate policy is something along the lines of; we don’t give a damn. Do you think that the same response via a social media platform is going to make any difference?

Ummmm no

In Esteban’s story, the social media monitor actually offered a token gesture for his very long issue. Which in  my opinion is a company that has a t least started to try to improve. (Can you imagine how many hours the legal teams at a mega-corporation would argue about some front end staffer being able to give even the smallest token gesture?)

Now I really don’t like the word empowerment. It reminds me too much about Dilbert cartoons.

But like it or not, it fits into the theme of this post.

In their Harvard Business Press book IT Savvy authors Peter Weill and  Jeanne W. Ross state;

every employee who interacts with customers can be armed with information on the customer and the firm’s products to ensure a quality interaction.

So go ahead and talk about it

Sure, monitor it.

But if your staff can’t do anything about it – If they can’t make a change. Even if that change is simple acknowledgment that a voice has been heard and recorded,

What good is it?

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One common method of driving customers to your product or service can be a little freebie teaser to get prospects interested in talking to you. That type of freebie content could include case studies, white papers, and the topic of this post; The Tutorial.

While there is nothing wrong with providing context specific tutorials in principle;

If you don’t do it right, don’t bother!

The purpose of utilizing that tool is to demonstrate what you can do for me, increasing the likelihood of me purchasing from you.

If you just frustrate the hell out of me, you fail at that. Big time.

The Tutorial (not) for dummies

Yes, I am a tech manager. But one thing I know squat about is graphics and graphic software. Whatever your graphics software of choice is, I won’t be able to use it – trust me.

Anyway, I was pointed to a tutorial that would enable beginners (Me!) to use a pre-built template to add a particular graphic theme to a background image. I thought the idea was great, and downloaded the instructions and template.

The tutorial may have been perfect for someone with a graphic design background (not that anyone with that background would likely need a tutorial) but it pissed me off because it neglected the first, and most important part;

Step number one!

Yup.

Step number one was missing in action.

This tutorial assumed that my uber-excellent graphics skills would enable me to insert my graphic image of choice into that template, and that I could then joyfully follow along with the remaining steps in the tutorial.

I failed at step one. It did not tell me the basic information needed to get started. Namely how to put my image into their nice magic template. Finally in frustration I just deleted the thing.

When doing a tutorial, you cannot assume that just because you know step 1, that everyone does. In fact, if you are going to assume, assume the opposite, that we are all idiots and need it spelled out in capital letters.

But what if???

Of course!

If your tutorial has an implicit understanding that it is only of value to those with existing PhD’s in aeronautical engineering, just say it!

You will save the rest of us frustration and time because you are defining your audience right up front.

The Definition Of Insanity

November 19, 2009

Can be defined as doing the same thing, the same way every time, and expecting the results to change. (try W. Edwards Demings’ red bead experiment!)

Building a process oriented business is not a set it and forget it operation. It is defining and monitoring the desired outcomes. And identifying that if a desired outcome does not happen, that you have an opportunity for improvement.

In other words, if the desired outcome fails, what can we do to reduce the risk that it will fail next time?

In talking about process, you need to look specifically at what breaks. You need to look at the why, and the how of what went wrong. Is it a people problem? A process problem? or a system problem?

(within the context of ITIL I give some samples starting in this post titled; ITIL And The SMB Part 3; Incident Management)

Although please note that you do not need to go the ITIL route to become more process oriented.

It can be easy to overlook;

When something fails, there is an associated cost. That cost could be rework, lost time, maybe even lost business. Costs can be soft as well, for example, reduced customer satisfaction.

As an example of improving process efficiency, the large package delivery companies load their trucks in a first-in, last-out manner based on the drivers delivery route. This simple step reduces the amount of time finding the correct packages for offload at each stop, and reduces the risk of missing something. And of course missing packages can negatively affect customer satisfaction.

The More Things Stay The Same

When you start building a process oriented business (not just as an IT function) there are two critical pieces to start with;

1) Define the optimum outcomes. A process is nothing without a business outcome. This defined business outcome is also the measure that you can use to improve and monitor your processes.

2) Continually monitor and improve your processes. There are always opportunities for improvement. There is an old saying in music, that the spaces between the notes are just as important as the notes themselves.

The SMB Takeaway

Like the spaces between the notes, process optimization often comes hidden in the areas as work migrates from one individual or group to another.

Improving them, or identifying why something did not work, you need to understand – you need to look at the what the why and the how of what you are trying to perform.

Was it a person error? a process error? a system error?

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This post is the next in an intermittent series looking at your smaller business web site from a marketing perspective –  When you don’t have marketing staff!

This series started with this post, IT In Marketing? here and covers looking at real world web site improvements that SMB’s can make that don’t require major work or extensive help from experts. Stuff that can be typically done by a smaller business either by themselves, or in some cases just basic tech staff assistance.

In the previous post in this series, I wrote about the importance of adding a Site Map to your Web Site. That post also links to a full definition of what a Site Map actually is, and what it does as well.

I wanted to dig deeper into this topic for one reason; When it comes to a Site Map on your Web site, you actually want two of them!

Your Web Site is collection of pieces of content broken down into various pages. These pages could include Contact Us information, products and services you provide, case studies The works. That can be a lot of content scattered over many web pages. These site maps simply ensure that it is easy for visitors to find the information and content that they are looking for. Because if they don’t find it quickly, odds are that they will just go to the next web site.

The first Site Map; For Humans

The first Site Map that you create is for those of us in the human category. It is simply a hierarchical set of links that ensure that people that are on your Web Site don’t get lost. If they find themselves in unknown territory and get lost trying to find the information they were looking for, the site map is a quick way to ensure that they stick around.

Similar to a table of contents, the site map is a link that when a user clicks on it, takes them to a page that gives a quick summary of all content, and the links to all that content on your Web Site, it could look similar to this;

About YourCompany

* Overview
* News
* Our Philosophy
* Why Choose Us
* Our Staff
* Careers

Services & Solutions

* Overview
* Product_name
* Solution_Name

I am confident you have seen those type of links along the side, or bottom of other web sites. Again, need a quick check of where you are in that web site? The above sample tells you quickly and easily.

The Second Site Map; For Computers

More specifically, this second Site Map is a computer readable format that allows the search engines to quickly and efficiently index all the content that exists on your Web Site. You want to ensure that all content is properly indexed so that if some one searches the Internet for; “Who sells this widget in my town?” your information can appear in their search results.

This second map looks a little different, and after you create it, humans don’t see it. The data for this machine readable site map is in a data format called XML and sits in a file called Sitemap.xml right at the root of your Web Site.

This XML site map can be created manually (ugg) but there are also tools that can do it automatically for you. Note that the tool I used to generate this sample is shown in the second line below.

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”utf-8″ ?>
– <!– Created by Devintelligence.com Sitemap Generator
–>
– <urlset xmlns=”http://www.google.com/schemas/sitemap/0.84″&gt;
– <url>
<loc>http://www.yourcompany.com</loc&gt;
<lastmod>2009-11-06</lastmod>
<changefreq>monthly</changefreq>
<priority>0.5</priority>
</url>
– <url>
<loc>http://www.yourcompany.com/about_news.asp#27Oct08</loc&gt;
<lastmod>2009-11-06</lastmod>
<changefreq>hourly</changefreq>
<priority>0.5</priority>
</url>

As you see, this one is not pretty! but again, once you create it and place it on the root of your web site, humans won’t actually see it. The only time the you need to see it is if you add new pages to your web site, make sure the the site map gets updated as well.

The SMB Takeaway

For the human readable site map, you will most likely need the help of your web site developer, the second you can do yourself very easily.

The two of them together ensure that all content on your web site can easily be found, by people, or by computers!

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