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.
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.
Photo Credit Leo Reynolds via flickr
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.
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.
September 27, 2010
I was honored to be interviewed by Dave Webb for ComputerWorld Canada in this piece titled; IT doesn’t handle aging well (registration required)
The interview covered my dislike for how the technology field tends to throw out skills and buy new ones, rather than educate or train;
“We do have a bad reputation (in IT) as body shops, looking for two years’ experience in a six-month-old technology,”
And from a second interviewee, Lori Keith;
“without exception, classmates from the IT field were there on their own nickel”
Other industries don’t do this – why IT?
September 23, 2010
And yes! that is a deliberate play on Einsteins’ theory!
We are human, and when dealing with concepts that either we do not understand, or we have an inability to immediately visualize, we tend to try and make a mental comparison about that concept relative to a concept that we can understand or appreciate.
To illustrate, consider all of the press coverage of the massive Gulf oil spill after BP’s DeepWater Horizon exploded and started spewing oil into the Gulf.
If your press coverage was like mine, after numbing your brain with a massive amount of oil measured in tens of thousands of gallons (or Litres), there was usually a reference relating that massive number to; “the equivalent of X Olympic sized swimming pools”
Putting in this relative reference allows our brain to put a rough estimate, or mental framework around what would otherwise simply be a dizzying number.
It is not just gulf oil, how many times in your life have you heard relative comparisons similar to;
– the length of three football fields
– as high as two Empire State buildings
And Computer speeds?
I was asked to get pricing on a new computer workstation capable of very demanding, very heavy duty work. The tasks the machine would be doing included creating and editing of massive digital imagery, manipulating, editing and working with full screen quality video, and other compute intensive tasks.
I checked various machines and their specifications with corresponding prices, then supplied a recommendation.
It went over like a lead balloon
A week or so later, I was asked why a local Big Box computer retailer had computers with the same computer processor, the same amount of RAM (memory) but about one half the cost?
I had made a mistake.
I had forgotten this relativity.
In modern computers, the processor, or brain, of the computer is no longer the single key to how that machine will perform. Basically, a computers fitness for your purpose is driven by many other pieces of the machine.
So, how did I try and recover from my error?
First I told a story, then related that story to the specifications of the computer.
You don’t need to be a fan of auto racing to grasp the idea that taking the engine out of a racing car and sticking it into your minivan won’t let you win the Montreal Grand Prix. (or Brickyard if you prefer!)
Sure, the engine is a big part of a race car, but it has a stellar supporting cast in transmission, suspension, and brake components. And your minivan? well it does not have that all star supporting cast.
I then showed three computer specifications with exactly the same processor, and same memory. One machine was a consumer product, the second a mid range general purpose business machine, the third a high end engineering class workstation. I could then point out visually the differences in this supporting cast of components.
In our race car, the supporting cast includes the suspension and brakes, some of the computer related supported cast includes the electrical speed of the data bus (in MHz) that ferry’s data in and out of the processor. The speed and size of the layer 2 and 3 cache (that increases the predictive opportunity for the processor) The speed and architecture of the RAM chips.
These supporting pieces are what separates the race car computer from the minivan.
The SMB Takeaway
There is more to know than the type of processor and how much RAM is in a computer to determine if it is fit four your purpose.
If the workload is heavy and complex, look at the improved supporting cast. If not? you can get away with out it.
PS, did my recommendation get accepted?
Actually no! armed with that information an even higher powered machine was preferred- but hey – all is good.
Photo Credit Martin Pettit via flickr
September 21, 2010
I am sure most of us have had this happen; you run into someone familiar and then stand there drawing a blank.
You are completely lost for words.
You know that you recognize this individual, but you just can’t place from where.
Then the light bulb clicks on! the familiar face is a child’s teacher, the owner of your local dry cleaner, or the gas bar jockey you see twice a week.
This disconnect when we see people that we are familiar with, but outside of the context that we usually see them, well – it can throw us for a loop. Our mental circuitry seems to have difficulty in making that association without that associations familiar context.
Let me relate a story, and then ask how this type of context blindness may be affecting us as leaders and managers in our businesses.
A Tech Guys Context Blindness (mine)
It started simply enough, about two years ago we bought a new, fairly high end refrigerator. Over the past couple of months we have been getting frustrated as this new machine has been acting up. The first service call had the technician basically tell us that nothing was wrong. (lets not get into service call ‘sometime between 9 and 5’ here)
But the issues persisted, so we called for service again.
I gave the service technician the outline of what the symptoms were, and the technician instantly replied;
I know this area, you have lots of power surges out here….
Before he finished the above phrase – it smacked me like a punch in the stomach.
#1 I have been in technology for 20 years, and I know rule number one! And that rule states that if there is a computer style circuit board anywhere in a device, put it on an electrical surge suppressor to protect it from power spikes.
#2 Logically I knew that the refrigerator had a computer circuit board, simply because all of its controls for the temperature settings, automatic defrost etc. are all digital!
Simply put – my mental context of protecting computer circuit boards with electrical surge protectors, failed to connect the mental dots between what I know about protecting electronic devices, and what I know about this refrigerator.
And yes – the problem with my refrigerator? that circuit board had blown, usually caused by power spikes.
And Our Business?
Do you have a context specific form of tunnel vision? where you know A and you know B, but is there a piece missing that could turn out to be a new product or service?
Have you mechanized your thinking too the point where you cannot notice the pain point that could be crying out for a solution?
Have you been desperately searching for some way to purchase innovation, when managing this missing context is right before your eyes?
The SMB Takeaway
I am entering this week determined to take a new look at everything that I know within the context of our business. Because who knows if another piece of context blindness is lurking around.
PS, I purchased a new computer grade surge suppressor for my refrigerator.
September 14, 2010
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.
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