Are You Asking Questions?

October 7, 2010

A nice article titled; The electronic health record meets the iPad from IT World Canada.

The articles demonstrates how Mr. Dale Potter, chief information officer at the Ottawa Hospital improved IT services at the hospital exponentially.

There is one key quotation that I want to point out regarding Mr. Potter’s work;

….. asked physicians how much of the information they needed in their work was available …

Look at the very first word in that quotation.

Asked

Asking questions.

How often does your IT Leadership actually do that? Or do they try to be prescriptive without asking those questions first?

The SMB Takeaway

Ask questions and then truly listen. Only then can you begin thinking of solutions or alternatives. It won’t always be easy.

Ask Questions

Photo Credit Leo Reynolds via flickr

On IT Resistance To Change

October 5, 2010

I met a consultant a few days ago that provides SME organizations with implementation assistance in the CRM (customer Relationship Management) space.

In his career,  he saw the writing on the wall and had migrated his skills from dealing solely with on premises software (where you shell out money for servers, software licenses and then try to glue it all together in your office) to tools supplied as a SaaS, or hosted  model.

In our talk he made a comment that I found all too indicative of many IT organizations in the small to medium enterprise. I can’t remember the exact words, so I am paraphrasing a bit here;

.. in larger SME businesses, the most resistance to the SaaS model is their IT departments, it is as if the IT folks need to be able to hug a server..

That is – unfortunately sad….

Because when any part of your business starts thinking in silos, it  leads a business to operate in silos too. That goes for your IT Leadership as well.

In the Small to Medium Enterprise, your IT Leadership must be thinking beyond hugging servers. Beyond the silo of what they prefer, or what they like.

As Philip Papadopoulos of the Papadopoulos Group mentioned to me on twitter;

IT should always be pro-active, approach the business with ways to solve their problems meet their goals

Strategy, Goals &  IT

If your IT Leadership feel that unless they are hugging a server they are really not doing their job, then there is some internal IT change that needs to be taking place.

Your business technology must support your organizational strategies and your business goals. And that can include the tactical decisions you make to support those goals.

Mark McDonald at Gartner writes; (emphasis mine)

The strategist has a point in that new technologies and service models are changing the foundation and underpinnings for IT. The move from IT functions, to solutions and now to services reflects a major change in the way IT works that will require CIOs and leaders to prepare.

The SMB Takeaway

In some cases ‘hugging a server’ may be the recommended solution for a business requirement. But for your technology team to refuse to look at the way technology is changing, and to refuse to look at the ways that this changing technology will impact costs or growth, then they are not doing their job.

Simply but, there is no right answer for every business or situation. But you won’t ever get a right answer in your business technology if you aren’t even asking the questions.

Systems, Support Process

September 29, 2010

In the technology part of our businesses, words – and I mean simple words can be be confusing.

How about the word system?

First there are the definitions that we know from a standard dictionary.

Then there is the word System in the context  of  Systems Theory, which states that while individual parts may be independent, they also are interacting, therefor problems in one input can affect other outputs further down the value chain. (Which is a lot of the basis behind Theory of Constraints process modeling)

And finally, a common usage in business technology; a System being the computer server, storage, and/or software that provides a particular resource. As an example we talk of an E-Mail System, or ERP System.

All of these uses of the word are completely in line with the definitions that we have in our trusty dictionary, but what will get your technology projects, investments and communications into trouble is the over use of the word system in relation to the business process that your system is trying to help.

I found an excellent article by Bob Lewis titled; Business change methodology gaps. The article is written about business change, but one quote demonstrates how often we abuse the word system when used in relation to technology supported business process changes;

Most organizations are still stuck thinking in terms of system deployments rather than process changes. Don’t believe me? How many companies title their projects something like <System Name> Implementation? When the project title misses the point, how likely is it the organizational change will be on target?

Do your sales staff give a damn about a CRM System?

No – they don’t.

Your sales staff have issues ranging from managing communications to effectively managing the pipeline. They need a business process that alleviates the pain points in managing their communications and improve that pipeline management.

Managing those communications or pipeline issues requires looking at the business process. And asking how that process can be improved. And then leading the change for that process.

Once the process is looked at and understood, and a new process designed, can technology help? Certainly.

Technology can then help you standardize or automate parts of that business process.

The SMB Takeaway

I believe it is time that we seriously reduce our use of the word System when it comes to any corporate IT enabled project, change or initiative.

As Mr. Lewis states, lets call it what it is. It is business process. It may be process changes. But calling it a System just confuses the issue.

For many IT leaders in the SME space, thinking about technology is easy.

But thinking about how technology affects the goals and problems of other parts of the business, or external customers is harder.

Technologists tend to look only in the mirror. This type of business introversion is similar to the old adage; when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

To improve IT performance smash that mirror and start looking out the window. If you want to borrow another old adage; walk a mile in their shoes.Walk in their shoes

Can you describe the goals and problems facing your sales team? How about marketing? Now how about your customers?

If you can’t answer those questions, observe, research, and ask.

What if you can describe their problems and goals?

Congratulations on a great start, unfortunately that is the easy part.

Influencing and proposing methods to improve ‘the way we always do it around here‘ beast is the harder part.

But it is still the part that has to be done correctly.

Image credit ppphotographs via flickr

Chris Dancy of ServiceSphere (@servicesphere on Twitter) tweeted this excellent 10 page (PDF) Executive Overview of IT Service Management (ITSM) and ITIL.

The PDF contains a succinct, and brief overview of the benefits of improving IT Service Management, with some easy to understand demonstrations of visual signs of poor ITSM.

If you are an executive wondering what the fuss is about with ITIL and ITSM, this document is a great summary.

Note, if you have been following this blog for a while, you will note some terminology changes compared to what I have written. This is simply because my experience has been with Version 2 of the ITIL framework, and this document summarizes ITIL utilizing the newer process terminology contained within Version 3 of the framework.

If you are looking into ITIL, I highly recommend checking out ServiceSphere at the above link, on twitter too!

Process And IT Costs

August 30, 2010

Do you know if there is any value at all coming from your technology investment?

Unfortunately for many SME’s, they  don’t know. One reason for this disconnect is that we can have very little understanding on when money spent on IT is an investment, or well, just an expense.

One way to improve your value for price in technology is to look at where that money is being spent. And for many small to medium business, the primary two buckets your IT spending will fall into is supporting your direct activities or to increase their effectiveness. (note that more strategic use of IT for driving growth is beyond the scope of this post)

Process, IT Cost And Value

I want to demonstrate that taking a more holistic look at the way you do business can improve IT spending by ensuring that your IT spend is is being applied to those two buckets.

When there is work being performed, and that work is performed more than once, you can be sure that you are looking at a process. It may not be articulated, or formalized as a process – but it is a process.

As a SME business owner or executive, if you were to write down each step, and each event that happens when a new or existing customer calls looking for your product or service – what would that chain of events look like?

Many of us will make a mistake here!

We have the tendency to say; ‘Well sales gives that information to person ‘X’ who gets it out the door…’

I guarantee you – in most cases, you would be wrong.

I state wrong, because that statement is a generality, nice to say, but usually not the exact steps being performed.

If you look closer at what actually happens, it may look more like this;

a) phone call / email is received – maybe written down on a message slip?
b) if it is an existing customer, perhaps terms or conditions are looked up?
c) if a new customer – perhaps you collect information? even just in email?
d) is a message slip handed over to someone else to look at inventory or availability?
e) perhaps forward that message slip or email to someone else who can schedule or ship?

You get the idea. It is very, very rare that what you think happens in a particular situation is actually what is really happening.

Note: For a real example of a ‘process’ in action read this post titled; Don’t Automate Broken Processes

Once you have taken some time and drawn out each of these tasks and steps, you can begin to see where your technology investments can be made to support your direct activities.

In this case, any IT tools that can reduce manual steps and work in this process can be considered as directly supporting your activities.

To take a step further, look at how long each of the tasks you identified in the previous step take.

Any surprises?

Did you find one area where the majority of time is wasted before your product or service can actually be delivered to your customer?

Real World Example

A company I am familiar with is using an on-line sales force tool to track their sales funnel. In your sales funnel, I know that there are some critical numbers needed to gauge your success. Simple examples could include gross margins, cost of sales etc.

The automation tool that this organization was using had some sophisticated advanced metrics reporting, but as a higher cost option.

Because they wished to avoid paying for this reporting option?

From the president to the sales director, five senior people spend hours per month collating the data required for those metrics!

Looking at the time being wasted in their processes has shown them that getting the additional automated reports is more than worth the cost, in other words, to increase the effectiveness of their process.

The SMB Takeaway

Is a tech spend proposal supporting either of those buckets?

If not – why are you spending it?

How Can I Plan?

August 24, 2010

If you aren’t telling me what your plans are?

My research, and my recommendations have to be based on what your strategic goals and tactical plans are.

If you are the CFO / CEO of a small to medium business and you are responsible for IT, yet in my IT leadership role I have no clue what your thinking?

Then I can’t support those tactics or plans can I?

Would I research and recommend an IT infrastructure upgrade if you have already decided that you have outgrown our facility and are planning to move?

Would I recommend deferring a particular expense if your strategic plan contains a new revenue generation activity where that cost would actually be an investment to get you there?

A simplistic example

If your primary revenue strategy is moving boxes by the truckload off a loading dock, fancy IT tools may be just an expense.

But if your strategy is changing to become the go-to business that gets every box off of that dock and into the right customers hands in the least amount of time – those fancy IT tools may become a critical investment.

The SMB Takeaway

IT investment needs to support your business goals and your operational strategies.

If your IT team has no clue what these are – you are not going to get the IT support you should be receiving.

If you disagree? tell me why!