Archive for October, 2010

Inside the CIO’s Brain

Friday, October 29th, 2010

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For too long now, the collective talents of the IT department have been hidden, focused primarily on keeping the lights on. Focusing on making the operational stuff run smoother (and cheaper). This is still important, but my argument is that we’ve reached a point based on the opportunities that present themselves all around us; the economy, the changing workforce, the developing built environment and technology – the changing world of work – where we need to find a better way forward.

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The future of our success lies not in making the existing IT run smoother, but it is back where we all began this journey, helping those around us be more successful as a result of their use of technology.

We should be embedded at the heart of every aspect of our respective businesses, providing leadership, guidance and support to those that seek to find a better way.

After all, it is only we that are in a position to be the true enablers of transformation inside any organisation and we simply cannot get there from the confines of the IT Department.

The Paradox of IT’s Future

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

I know that as technologists, we live, eat and breathe technology. It’s important to us, we care about it. Hell, some of you even understand it. But in a world that increasingly relies on its use, across all aspects of our lives this presents us with somewhat of a paradox.

itinvsmYou see, for us, our success is making this critical resource absolutely invisible to those that use it. That’s not to say it’s not important, far from it, it’s just that like we mentioned before it’s critical that we focus on the tasks and outcomes not the tools.

As IT professionals we have to find a way to strike the right balance between showing enough visibility that people understand the importance (or even limitations and risks) and getting out of the way to enable others to be successful based on all that we have established from them.

For me, the future of IT lies not in the IT department, but out there, in your businesses, in your communities and with your people and that is where we have to go.

Corporate IT–It’s time to let go

Monday, October 25th, 2010

letgosmNow don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying for a minute that this is about a “free for all” where everybody has access to everything and can do anything they want – that’s not what I’m calling for at all.

But this should be a great time for us, we are sat on top of some incredibly powerful technology with a bunch of people who increasingly want to do more, be more efficient and dare I say it, even enjoy themselves in fulfilling their role. Instead we often find ourselves playing the role we all used to hate – we’re in real danger of being to the business what the IT security guys were back in the mid/late 90’s – the people that “just say no”.

It’s actually quite ironic, we’ve spent years nurturing this environment, creating a place where it can grow and be successful, and now that the time is right for us to start to pull back, to create an environment where we have empowered our people to be safe, productive and successful in their use of technology. Instead we often struggle to relinquish some of the control that we have fought so hard to establish (and which was so desperately needed way back when.)

What is needed now however, is for us go right back to our core principles and instead of providing everything, provide the environment from which people are empowered to drive their own solutions.

Our job in IT is not so much about our success, as it is about how we enable the success of others – understanding this subtle yet key difference is the key to our future success.

We should be the facilitators of success, empowering our people to be productive and free to chose the way in which they fulfil their roles but all the time, providing that safety net that ensures that they are able to do so within an environment that is supportive and protective in how technology is used to make us all more productive and successful.

The Changing Role of the IT Department

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

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I think the change that has been brought about by the consumerisation of technology has put us in a really difficult position in how we manage technology across an organisation.

Think about how the role of the IT department has changed over the last 50 years.

We’ve gone from being computer scientists in lab coats

Data processors running around with punched cards trying to help people make sense of the world

The heady days of success where we had the advantage – we were the only guys that could finally unlock the knowledge economy that exists inside our organisation

And what’s next?

Well that’s kind of up to us, we have a choice, continue to be hounded by people who want more (but care less) or should we get back to our roots, reaching out into the business and getting back into the business of enabling our organisations and people to be at least as productive at work as they are at home?

Social Computing at Work

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Great piece by @shotsheriff on how social computing tools and techniques could be used to add real value in the workplace.

A few examples of how broader minded thinking is looking for the positive upside on engaging the tools and principles of social computing (productivity, satisfaction etc) rather than the negative.

Technology for all…

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

At lot of the feedback I get when talking about how the world is changing around us, is around the scepticism that any of this makes a damn bit of difference in our world, especially when it comes to public services.

Well, maybe you’re right, but it’s so easy to pass this off as a fad, or only of interest to a minority audience – and I think that’s quite simply a mistake.

Tech4allsmThe feedback I hear most often is that this is “all about the kids” especially when it comes to social media. Many studies have shown that actually, the biggest growth areas of use of social computing are not where the media would have you think, spotty, bottle bottom glassed weirdo’s in their bedrooms that never see the light of day, but actually are in the older generations, and just to be inclusive, when I say older generations, I mean people who grew up without a computer in their home. That’s people like me and you folks.

Increasingly older generations are finding that these social tools can make a real difference in how people live our lives. Whether it’s simple things like people creating a more interactive experience from traditional one-way events like watching QuestionTime and interacting via the QT hashtag on Twitter or more serious uses where older people can open up a whole new social world that provides them with critical contact with the outside world providing far great success with Assisted Living programmes.

Quite simply, these technologies make a real difference in our lives – if we can make the most of them – and that seems to be a big if…

The “Dumb User” at Work

Monday, October 18th, 2010

We’ve spent so long worrying about how to make technology simpler, safer, more secure and efficient at work that we’ve forgotten that people too are evolving in their needs and understanding about what technology can do for them at work.

Many organisations block these tools at the firewall, I understand some of the reasoning for this, especially around security concerns, but far too often it is used to hide issues around poor management. “People will waste their time on these things” is the answer I hear all too often.

dumbsersmYou see, what you are saying to me as an individual is that you simply don’t trust me to be professional and productive in the way in which I carry out my work for you. It’s the wrong argument and one I find inconsistent. If you are really worried about my productivity, then either you shouldn’t have hired me (or you should have provided me with more support to become productive) or actually, you should also ban telephones newspapers, Sudoku books and water coolers as these too can be exploited to drain resource away.

It’s a bit like when the internet first arrived – do you remember when there was just one guy/terminal in the office with internet access? What do you think would happen to your business today if that was still the case? Social media will be no different just a few years from now.

The other side of this is that increasingly, these tools are where your customers exist. Blocking access to them is just cutting yourself off from an increasingly significant portion of your audience. Remember, over half of people connected to the internet are on Facebook – it just makes no sense to me that you would chose to ignore the portion of your customers that chose to communicate in this way.

Finally, we’ve got to deal with this concept of the “dumb user” once and for all. This out-dated concept is increasingly irrelevant in how we think about managing change within our organisations.

Now before you get all upset, I’m not saying you can ignore the issues around IT literacy, it’s just that they’re no longer as acceptable (or believable) as they were even a few years ago.

Those of you with kids will likely understand what I say, where increasingly it is just unacceptable as Dave Briggs puts it – to wear your IT ignorance “as a badge of honour” – in a modern society, that’s almost like being proud of the fact that you can’t read.

Our success will come from empowering the individual within the context of the organisation – give your people the power to work the way that works best for them, measure outcomes not process.

The Super User at Home

Friday, October 15th, 2010

In our personal lives, it seems we have figured out how to make technology really work for us. Sure we may bitch and moan when we hit problems, but broadly, most of us are incredibly productive and successful at using technology to make our lives easier.

Think about it. Most people (and that’s not to down play the challenges we face in this country around the Digital Divide the continued existence of which is a huge barrier to our collective success as a society), but most people go home to better technology than they are provided with at work.

superusersmWeird isn’t it? But it’s true – go back into your organisations and ask them – you’ll be amazed to find that the same people that you worry about in terms of IT literacy will quite happily be at home, shopping on-line with Tesco or Amazon (other on-line retailers are available), communicating with their friends and family via email, instant messaging and social tools like Twitter and Facebook.

The problem is, this success in our personal lives, creates a different expectation for our professional lives. We go from being “super users” at home to “dumb users” at work – and this is beginning to become our weakness.

Technological Change–Above and below the water line

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

In the final instalment of our systemic view of the changes that surround us we com to the area we talk most about, but perhaps understand the least – how technology has changed around us.

When I started my career (and I suspect it is the same for many of you), the only place I would see a personal computer was in a place of work or a place of study. Think about how different that world is now. We are surrounded by technology, much of it has become so pervasive to our everyday lives that it has started to become invisible.

When was the last time you thought about how the internal combustion engine actually works? Apart from a few petrol heads which are undoubtedly reading this, what do you do when you get in your car? Do you sit and think, <nerd voice> well, turning this key activates the fuel pump which even as I sit here is preparing the correct amount of fuel to be compressed in the cylinders and ignited at precisely the right moment, the resulting explosion creating sufficient force to drive a powertrain supplying the correct amount of longitudinal force to each of the driving wheels </nerd voice>. Of course you don’t, you get in turn the key and crack on with getting to your destination.

TechChangesmIT is becoming no different. Although the way in which we use it becomes increasingly sophisticated, we care less (or we should care less) about the specifics of what makes it work. This is a good thing. In my book, a minute spent thinking about the tool is a minute wasted as it should have been spent thinking about the task.

I like to think of it as a water line that we continue to push up as we are able to effectively “commoditise” the core elements of technology. Above the water we see the graceful, pretty technology that helps us be productive. Below the water, we know there is a complex eco-system that drives it, but we don’t necessarily need to understand every intricacy of what makes it work.

Increasingly, understanding and using this commoditisation will be the difference between success and failure.

The changing workplace

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Changing-WorkplacesmIn the next part of our series of posts looking at how the world is changing around us we look at how the work environment is changing around us. With the evolution of mobile technologies and the ever increasing bandwidth that is available to us (in terms of both location and capacity) we are afforded truly different options in how we work.

The Hybrid Organisation studies showed that on average we spend only 45% of our time at our desks – that’s an incredible statistic, not only does it provide a hint at areas that we may make some major savings, but it is also incredibly telling about the way in which we now carry out our professional lives.

We’re moving to a world where the term “work” no longer defines a location, but is centred purely in the activity itself.

Working in this way offers not just greater flexibility for us in how we blend our personal and professional lives, but also provides a great opportunity for us to spend more time outside with our customers, peers and even strangers – all of which combine to make us more successful and more innovative and better still, more effective both at home and in work. The days of the binary work life balance are gone, some people seems to think this means working 24/7 but to me it’s about empowering individuals to choose where and when they want to get things done – equipping your people to be productive wherever they chose (or have to be) is the first big step down the path of success.

In our Dutch office, we reduced office space by 30% effectively pushing our people out into the big wide world – the results – 50% increase in sales and a much happier workforce.

How dull would I be (or rather as my wife reminds me, how much more dull would I be) if all I did was spent my time within the Microsoft bubble? I’m a far richer, more innovative and productive individual if I get out a bit more and spend time with people like you and your teams – even with people who care less about technology, it’s all constructive input and food for thought that goes to make me far more useful and valuable to my employer.

But companies need to change in order to truly get the most from this opportunity, especially in a knowledge based economy, we need to move to a more outcomes based measurement, far too often, we measure people on process not on what they achieve – this alone forms one of the major barriers between those that will taste success and those that don’t.