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Posts Tagged ‘executive issues’

by: Robert.hillard
19  Feb  2012

Technology gardening

There is little that is guaranteed to soothe the stressed mind as much as a well-structured garden.  It brings together order and nature in a magic combination.  From a distance, the garden follows a clear plan that has probably been laid out by a landscape architect.  Up close, each garden bed logically leads to the next.  A good garden tells a story, describes its own purpose and combines aesthetics with function.

While the information technology profession often uses the building metaphor for its projects perhaps gardens might be more appropriate.  Where a building architect is operating to a clear project plan with a beginning, middle and end, the landscape architect may have a vision for an end but it will be many years before it can be fully realised with a long evolution along the way.  Before realising the landscape architect’s vision, the goals of the garden are almost certain to have changed in some way and the gardeners who are charged with planting, pruning and maintaining the garden will morph the plans as they learn more about what thrives in different part s of the garden and observe the preferences of the users of the garden (the public or the individual owners).

Perhaps the most frustrated members of the technology team are the architects.  They set standards and try to impose discipline across the enterprise.  They often feel like they have made a breakthrough with everyone agreeing to very sensible principles at the start of projects, such as adopting just one set of business intelligence tools, adhering to integration standards or consolidating all online activity through a single platform.  Unfortunately real world complexity conspires to cause the project team to rapidly break these agreements.

There is no doubt that information technology is the foundation of modern business.  With something so critical, compromising quality should not be an option.  It might be expected that senior executives would be prepared to invest and plan ahead.  Similarly, project managers are engaged with a goal in mind and yet are often forced to abandon the plans laid out by the very same information technology architects that they themselves engaged.

Increasingly organisations are looking to adopt more evolutionary approaches to technology projects.  The methods often encourage a high level outline of the project’s goals and then experiment or test different approaches in a series of structured mini-projects or “sprints”.  Perhaps adopting the gardening metaphor will lead information technology strategists to evolve the entire technology landscape across the enterprise leveraging both the techniques of agile methods combined with the principles of developing a good garden.

An enterprise approach to technology which adopts landscape gardening principles might think of vendor choices not in terms of a single standard but rather what will suit the needs of one area while retaining the aesthetic or integration needs of the whole landscape.  Decisions about system priorities might be expected to change over time as the business moves through its natural cycles, just as gardeners change their focus as the environment moves through good and bad seasons.

More than anything else, though, an organisation adopting the garden metaphor would embrace rather than fear user empowerment.  These organisations would seek to plant many technology seeds to find out what grows best and then be willing to prune or remove some of newly grown systems to keep the overall landscape in line with the vision.  In this model, users focused on their own little patch will create fertile or barren ground without putting the enterprise goals at risk.  Not everyone needs to understand the garden as a whole in order to be able to meaningfully contribute to an individual plant or tree.

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Category: Enterprise2.0

by: Robert.hillard
21  Jan  2012

The CIO of 2020

What will the role of Chief Information Officer (CIO) look like in 2020?

The CIO role is one that really appeared during the 1990s in response to the increasing profile of Information Technology (IT) in organisations.  Previously, the person in charge of IT was usually called an Information Technology, Information Services or Computer Services Director.  The creation of the “chief” title shows the world how critical IT is in the modern enterprise.

The problem is that the IT world is changing in a way that we haven’t seen in over a decade.  I argue that the first decade of the century was one in which little actually changed in the use of IT in business.  When I take this position in discussions I’m often met with many who disagree.

My argument is illustrated by comparing a typical professional worker’s desk in 2000 to the same desk in 2010.  The year 2000 desk probably had a laptop, telephone that was likely (or soon to be) based on IP telephony making them highly mobile.  It is also very likely that the business applications were little different to those we know today using Microsoft Windows, an ERP such as SAP for business operations and Microsoft Office for email and documents.  Sitting beside the computer was a mobile phone.  The 2010 picture is very similar.

Interestingly the comparison between the 1990 desk and the one at the turn of the century is much more dramatic.  The 1990 desk was very likely to have no computer, a terminal or if there was a PC it would have been deskbound.  The telephone was absolutely fixed to a point using a traditional PABX and there would not have been a mobile phone.  Any software being used would look very different to the products we commonly use today and likely to be bespoke and certainly character rather than graphics based.

This is a trend that we have seen before.  The 1970s saw massive change, while the 1980s was really a decade of consolidation.  While much happened in both the 1980s and the last decade, both were really dominated by a need to simplify and consolidate the role of IT in business.  As a result, we have been lulled into a view of the CIO which needs to focus first and foremost on the discipline of managing a complex but predictable portfolio of systems and projects.

Already in this new decade we’ve seen a move away from a single operating system (Windows) and end-user platform to a wide range of consumer-driven options ranging from tablets to mobile phones.   Similarly we’ve seeing a move away from enterprise servers to a much richer suite of options utilising cloud services.  Just as importantly, we’re seeing the long-predicted “internet of things” coming to life with embedded computing in everything from trucks to shopping trolleys.

No aspect of business value chains has been untouched by these changes.  The line between consumer technology and business systems has blurred to the point where customers expect to directly access their transaction data as it appears inside back-office applications.  This level of integration challenges the role of the CIO that has evolved during the last decade as being focused on business systems.  In this new world, the CIO is responsible for technology and information that is used by the businesses external stakeholders (including customers and suppliers).  This new CIO is as responsible for earning revenue as any divisional general manager.

The challenges will be substantial.  The CIO cannot hold onto the same number of staff that has been traditionally needed to run the infrastructure of the enterprise and still expect to take on revenue earning responsibilities.  The CIO is also going to need to lead large-scale innovation across the organisation with the goal of creating new products and finding new uses for the information that is the lifeblood of the enterprise.  This new CIO role doesn’t just serve the business, it also shapes it.

If CIOs don’t take on these challenges, then technology will be distributed across business divisions and an opportunity will be lost to innovate while maintaining the discipline that modern IT has fought to implement over the last thirty years.  This is a battle that is worth having.

Category: Information Management
1 Comment »

by: Robert.hillard
25  Sep  2011

Paying for value rather than activity

Since the 1980s the costs associated with functions that are shared have been increasingly allocated to business units in such a way as to drive accountability.

For information technology this was relatively easy in the late 1980s as the majority of costs were associated with the expense of infrastructure or processing.  Typically the cost of the mainframe was allocated based on usage.  Through the 1990s, costs moved increasingly to a project focus with a model that encouraged good project governance and the allocation of infrastructure based on functions delivered.

Arguably, the unfortunate side effect of the allocation of project costs has been that many business units see information technology as being unnecessarily expensive – whereas many of the costs are really just reflecting the sheer complexity of business technology (see my previous post: CIOs need to measure the right things).  Such an approach to cost allocation has allowed business units to execute projects of increasing sophistication; however it may not be ensuring that information technology is being used in the way that will achieve the greatest possible strategic impact.

The other problem with the project-focused approach to cost recovery is that the CIO’s role is diminished to being that of a service provider.  In some organisations this has gone so far as to result in the CIO seeing external service providers as competitors.

Refocusing the cost recovery to the value achieved has the potential to deal the CIO back into the strategic debate.  As I’ve said before, information technology is extremely complex and requires experience and insight in order to identify the real opportunities to use it effectively to support and differentiate any business.  During the next decade, we are likely to see the continued blurring of the lines between internal business technology, joint ventures and the products that consumers use.  For instance, joint venture partners expect to see detailed financial reports across boundaries and consumers are used to helping themselves through the same interfaces that were previously restricted to call centre operators.

Recently on the web there has been some discussion on whether information should be valued.  At the same time there has been good progress in the development of techniques to value information assets (for instance, see the MIKE2.0 article on Information Economics).  The value of information is a very good way of predicting likely business value, even when the way that value will be realised has not yet been determined.  The disruption to previously stable businesses, such as retail, telecommunications and manufacturing, are very good examples of why it is important to understand value beyond the horizon of current revenue models.

Allocating at least some of the cost of an effective information technology department based on value focuses the budget debate on the development of revenue earning products that will leverage these new capabilities.  It also ensures that those units receiving the greatest potential value are motivated to realise it.  Finally, the move away from a largely activity-based approach to measuring cost reduces the tendency to continually cut project scopes to keep within defined budget.

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Category: Information Governance

by: Robert.hillard
18  Oct  2007

The Board, the C-suite and the Middle Manager

One of the key questions is who should sponsor Information Managements.  The governance sections of MIKE2.0 describes operational organizations and how to get there, but makes the assumption that the CEO, CIO, CFO etc. are supportive of the initiative and will act as sponsors.  What happens when they’re not?

Actually, it seems that this is the case more often than you would wish with many senior executives unwilling to commit to the proper management of information.  It’s not hard to work out the reason why, in most companies (and increasingly in many government organizations) the CEO is only appointed for a short contract with rapid rotation of new talent into the role.  No wonder the CEO acts like a politician looking for the “quick fix” common sense answer that they can put in place within their term and position themselves to be extended (analogous to a politician seeking re-election),

There is hope, however, by looking at the board.  In most companies, board members have a longer tenure than CEOs and also feel more exposed to legal issues.  A quick conversation about the issues of ledger versus non-ledger data (discussed before in this blog) highlights to board members how great their exposure is if they don’t mandate better governance.  Judicious use of passionate middle managers can complete the pincer movement and before you know it the CEO sees Information Management as a mandatory activity and a quick win.

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Category: Information Governance, Information Strategy

by: Sean.mcclowry
11  Aug  2007

Playing Devil’s Advocate on Information Governance

I’ve been reading a book called Why Not? by Yale professors Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayers which provides “four simple tools that can help you dream up ingenious ideas for changing how we work, shop, live, and govern.” – its a highly recommended read. I was fortunate enough to attend one of Barry’s lectures last week and he’s already given me a few new ideas.

One idea is that of a Devil’s Advocate for corporate governance. It explains the religious origins of the term and the benefits of having a person that takes a counter-point for the sake of argument. This person is a trusted adviser and has a duty to take this contrarian view, therefore their argument is not as one of dissent. In the book, explanations are provided on how this technique could be applied to Corporate Governance, where strong-arm techniques can easily over-run outside opinions.

The Devil’s Advocate an interesting role on the subject of Information Governance – possibly an architect assigned within the Information Development Organisation. Although this approach could be applied more generally to any solution, I think it makes particular sense for those related Information Governance decisions, as:

  • Success requires concession and buy-in from multiple parties
  • Solutions are complex so multiple viewpoints are important
  • It is easy for one group to dominate, but as information flows horizontally across organizations the impact of issues can be asymmetric
  • It is easy to get “stuck” when someone brings up a counterpoint due to emotion and frustration. Using a devil’s advocate alternative viewpoints are quickly put on the table (it is their duty to identify issues)

We’ve all seen strong-arm techniques or argumentative competitors ruin projects.  When attempting to re-design an organisation to take a stronger focus on managing information, the shift is bound to run into issues.A trusted and educated view that raises arguments without being seen as a dissident would certainly be productive as a way to identify ownership roles, responsibilities and possible solutions.

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Category: Information Governance, Information Strategy
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