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.

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On Context Blindness

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.

Because?

#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!

The Blindness

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.

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!

Yes it is Friday the 13th – and my wife broke a large mirror today – so if you are superstitious, stay home in bed!

Forbes has a good interview with both the CIO and CFO of an organization titled; The Perfect IT Department

In a larger context the article discusses several of the business / IT issues I have written about here for SME business managers. I want to pull out one really good quote;

Because when I look at the maturity of an IT organization it’s not about infrastructure. It’s not about apps. It’s really about information

The SMB Takeaway

Technology by itself should be last on your agenda.

Photo Credit norrix via flickr

Offer Me Alternatives!

April 22, 2010

I am guessing you will agree that for many business technology staff?

Well, they have a great big hammer that is a particular technology skill set, so to them everything looks like a bloody big nail.

They can tie 10 different technologies into complex knots that may not mean a damn thing.

As a general manager in the small to medium enterprise, you have only a problem to be solved.

You should not be worrying about what type of hammer to hit it with.

When they are providing a recommendation, ensure that your IT leadership provides the context, goals and explicit plans that are in that recommendation.

To quote American rockers R.E.M; Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives!

What is the exact plan of action that your technology leadership is recommending? And most importantly what are the other options considered?

Is this recommendation meeting a strategic goal, or is it just because this recommendation uses their biggest, baddest and favourite hammer?

Is it necessary to use a sledge hammer? or would you reduce risk through a simpler solution that may only need a small finishing hammer?

The SMB Takeaway

Your IT leadership should leave their ego (and hammer) at the door.

Technology for its own sake is useless. The business problem to be solved could just require a screwdriver.

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Photo Credit Noel C. Hankamer via flickr

If your perfect beverage at Starbucks is a Grande nonfat no-foam latte, does that mean that it must be my perfect beverage too?

Would you consider that it is reasonable to attempt to define perfect by one individuals personal preferences?

Personally, I think we would agree that humans are a diverse species. What feels perfect for each and every one of us can come from cultural or  socio-economic backgrounds, along with any one of a dozen other reasons.

So we can understand that your perfect beverage at Starbucks will not be the same  as mine.

Perfection In Business TechnologyPerfection is in our experience

For general managers in the small to medium enterprise, I have argued many times in a left brain analytic mode that perfection is not a result you can expect in your business technology function.

Give me license to use that left brain term because I argued this concept with the math of Pareto’s law (the 80-20 rule) and various iterative processes.

The Other Brain

In this piece titled; Why Better Will Always Beat Perfection Tanveer Naseer has an excellent look at a different perspective of perfection;

..the definition of perfection is based not on empirical facts; instead, it’s a reflection of what we’d like to experience.

( Emphasis the authors)

The SMB Takeaway

In technology, if we can never even agree on what perfection is, at least we can agree on what can make it better!

As my Dad used to say; put that idea in your pipe and smoke it!

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Photo Credit Ethan Hein via flickr

It is that easy.

A simple, quick little statement; I  can whip that up for Friday

We can talk of improving process, or getting a handle on where your IT dollars are disappearing to.

We can talk of the communication required, as well as the inherent complexity of IT.

But no matter how much we talk about it, if there is a discussion about an issue and a technology staffer states he or she can whip something up to solve that brief issue.

Then it is done. Chaos has started.

You see, here is what that little statement means.

It means that your work to date on improving your IT just took its first step out the window.

Bandages, scotch tape and baling wire with a dose of some piece of software or hardware that you don’t even know exists is going to be running some key piece of your business.

It will not be documented or backed up. Probably hiding under some techies desk. If that tech staffer leaves tomorrow, know one else will even know it exists.

The SMB TakeawayIs Baling Wire holding your IT together?

As a general manager in the SME space, if you hear a phrase like that.

Be very afraid, be very afraid.

If you hear that phrase, it is time to stop and re-evaluate what you were discussing.

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Photo Credit puregin via flickr