Friday, March 30, 2012

Creating the balance _|_ (Part Two)

<<Continuing from Part One>>

As the success and market cap of Apple (great tangible experience) and failure of RIM/Blackberry (terrible tangible experience) indicate, people relate best to technology and IT when they can hold it, play with it, and take it with them.  Therefore, many times the goodwill that IT generates for itself is done indirectly.

I could give numerous examples but let me just focus on one.  Between 2008-10, as a CIO I needed several millions of dollars to do some very necessary but exceedingly boring (to a non-IT person) projects.  These projects were focused on core network upgrades, negotiating and implementing new enterprise software licenses, and the testing of new products that were in our "skunkworks" team pipeline.  I didn't always have a good business case with a fancy ROI, but I felt in my gut that they needed to be done.  I knew that with the projects completed, my company would be much more competitive and profitable. And don't get me wrong, the justifications and ROI projections were created and they were quite positive, but as a story to my stakeholders they read just like the script from "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy".  Solid material but the equivalent of Ambien in paper form.

Rather than try to go through a business case cycle where I calculated elaborate ROIs, relational linkages to our weighted-average-cost-of-capital (WACC), and developed extensive work breakdown structures, I tried a different approach.  I identified several personalized pieces of technology, all of it familiar stuff by now - iPhones, iPads, Samsung Galaxy phones, Microsoft Home Use Program (HUP), Desktop Virtualization by Citrix (a whole other conversation), and mobile wireless hotspots that could work anywhere (for people in cars or with no wired Internet connections at their rural residences).  I matched this technology up with key executives in a way that I could make each of their lives more productive, connected, and fun.  Each instance was personalized to the individual.

There was no "quid pro quo" involved, just a general exercise on my part to build goodwill and political capital.  The benefit to doing all of these things for each individual is that each outreach built trust between them, individually, and me.   They could see that I was working hard to utilize technology to the benefit of the company, but in a way in which they could specifically relate.  That translated into real political capital that made it possible for me to gain support and approval for critical projects that might have never been realized if I had approached their actualization through traditional means.

IT leaders must always understand that technology is intricately entwined with emotion.  Take it from me:  If you always work to "Create the balance" your career will be blessed with much less friction.

Creating the balance _|_ (Part One)

Some of you who read this blog are IT professionals; others are not.  The distinction is not important for any one particular reason.  While every profession has its trials and tribulations, in the IT world it is rare for an outsider, or someone from "The Business", to have a comprehensive understanding of the intricacies of what it takes to support technology.  (As an aside, over the years I have grown to hate the term "The Business" because it reinforces an artificial perception that IT and other functions are not intricately linked within the framework of a company).

I have gathered any number of anecdotes from various types of IT employees - technical, functional - where these individuals believe that their work should speak for itself.  When I talk about the need to promote and market the value of IT within the company, many of my colleagues become incensed because they believe to the core of their souls that the work they do should speak for itself.  But sadly, it rarely if ever does because no-one can really see or understand all the hard work.

The hard truth is that people outside of an IT organization tend to have a binary view of IT products and services.  They either work (good thing) or they don't work (bad thing).  As an exceedingly important person once told me, it never helps to try to explain to a person the root of an IT problem and what is being done to fix it.  According to him, no matter what words you use the recipient only hears one of two things.  They hear either "Work-ee" or "No Work-ee".  While this anecdote is obviously facetious, it also has a hard kernel of truth.  Folks outside of IT have their own problems to handle and they need their technology tools to work.  And at any point in time the tools are either working or they're not.

So what's to be done in order to assure that IT people get the credit and support they need and deserve for all the good, albeit invisible work that they do?  The solution is what I refer to as "Creating the balance".




**Happy Birthday PAB**

Monday, March 19, 2012

Convergence

There are a lot of people who spend quite a bit a time trying to figure out trends.  You can take your pick about who/what these people are and what they do.  Here are a few categories:  statisticians, soldiers, stock brokers, market analysts, baseball managers, scientists, etc.  These people usually have one thing in common.  They spend time puzzling out trends because it makes them money.  Of course there may be other factors including enjoyment, obligation, or tradition, but money is usually the tie that binds them all together.

Since this blog is dedicated to technology from the perspective of the CIO, let's talk about the trend that I most often ponder.  That trend would be the one of convergence between mankind and machine.  Thirty years ago when personal computers were just arriving on the scene they were too bulky to ever be considered "personal".  It took until the 21st century for truly portable portable computers to make it onto the scene (iPad, anyone?).  People who watch Star Trek consider it an inside joke that the first tablet computer was actually the "Padd", featured in the movies and serials of the 1960s-90s.

Lest anyone ignore just how powerful and appealing technology becomes when it can actually be ported/worn/carried around by consumers, look again to Apple.  The Fruit Company, as Forrest Gump put it, is well on its way to becoming the first company in history to be worth one TRILLION dollars.

The lesson to current and future CIOs should be very clear.  Your career will hinge and possibly flourish on how ably you merge technology with the people who use it.  Someday soon the computers and software you support will be biologically merged, or Converged, with the people who use it.  Find every way possible to embed hardware and software directly with if not into your company's employees.  Not only will they embrace it and hence you, it will become that much more of an effective competitive tool.

*Happy Birthday LEB*