Everything you know is wrong – Radicalising IT

In my last commentary, I talked about “Surviving the Death of IT” and the various trends we see across our industry. For the next few columns, I want to offer some thoughts on how we can change ourselves, our companies, and the industry to adapt to the new world.

In this column, I want to look at how you change your IT business to survive those changes. A little down the track I am going to spend a lot more detail looking at Service Broker, but first, I want to pull back and look at how IT changes itself.

What we know is that speed and adaptability not only keep us very competitive it also allows our business customers to trust us with their needs. Rather than being the IT group that says “no” we must learn to pivot rapidly to new market trends and businesses that are moving into an instant gratification world when it comes to technology.

The idea of having a structure that is federated is important. The problem we have is that if we have a very process bound structure that requires all moving parts to move at once, then change is slow. Consider HP and IBM for example. They are enormous machines that cannot adapt quickly because of their very interconnectedness.

I love the business model of Datacom New Zealand. It provides a very adaptable, modular approach to delivering technology services. It is mainly federated, and I’ve described it in the past as “the farmer’s market of IT.”

Datacom is broken into multiple business units that oversee their destiny. Each business unit is tasked with delivering specific services and often have their profit and loss sheet. That means they are held accountable for their success or failure whereas the traditional top-down model doesn’t encourage that accountability.

It also means that if part of the organisation doesn’t perform, it can either be cut off or reconfigured without impacting the overall service delivery and revenue stream. Something which is almost impossible to do in a traditional organisation.

Being the “farmers market of IT” is exactly what our customers want.

The next thing we need to do is to declutter our processes. I see this time and again. IT shops can get very focussed on following process rather than the outcomes. An example of this is ITIL. If you implement ITIL to 100%, then you’re going to slow down your business. If you pick only the processes that you need, then you are going to have a better result.

What I haven’t figured out just yet are the other issues which are “how do you make ITIL go faster?” I suspect that automation is the answer to this and we do not see real tool sets for this, yet. Starting with a functional view, “what is it that we need as a minimum” drives out exactly which processes are necessary, and which aren’t.

You need to form an internal research and intelligence group. This doesn’t have to be a dedicated staff; you can stretch it across your entire IT company. The responsibility of that team is to look at what is coming next, what the industry trends are, what the analysts are saying, what is happening on the edge of the industry.

It’s something that we do poorly. We get very focussed on the here and now and often build mental constraints. The effect of that is that we see new things as alien and threatening. Whereas if we have knowledge, then we can adapt rapidly.

For example, when our customer comes to us and says “how do I utilise learning machine systems” or “what can block chain do for us” we already have ideas about it. It also means that we can have an early recognition of what those technologies could do for our customers.

As well as getting stuck in our world on a day to day basis, we frequently forget to look outside our organisation to look at what others are doing.

This comes, in part, from the older thinking that if we share our ideas, then we could give a competitive advantage to other companies that may compete with us. They might steal our ideas. In Government, we look to the GCIO for this direction and while that is part of the solution, it is not the whole of it.

It has been my experience in the last few years, covering startups and talking to agencies, companies, and idea makers, that the knowledge you gain through talking is incredibly valuable. Not one of us has the whole answer. Having that community where you can ask silly questions is critical to our success. Groups in New Zealand that can be a good place to start are NZ Rise, ITP, and NZ Tech. They provide those connections to the community.

We need to stop competing and start competing with the world. The old paradigm has been company vs. company, agency vs. agency, city vs. city, and country vs. country. Competition is now global and defies those borders.

The Leed Street model is an interesting one that we should also consider. Leed Street in Wellington New Zealand has a cluster of businesses that support each other. For example, you can go the Goldings, a craft beer bar, and order pizza and coffee. The pizza comes from a neighbouring business and the coffee another.

It’s orchestration of an end to end solution in a business context. That model across technology companies pays dividends. It means that we start to see companies that provide an aggregated model for bringing those services together. The commercial Service Broker model. Examples of this are Liquid IT and Fronde.

The last piece to this falls into what my friend Mike Riversdale calls “heart.” Often as technologists, we have an engineering focus and forget about the people aspect. It’s not deliberate, it just is.

Building teams require a different focus to what we have done before. Traditionally we look at a person’s CV and their skill set, and then we wonder why we have a poorly performing team. Don’t get me wrong; you need skills, you also need humans with real emotions.

I am a firm believer in diversity. Teams should be a balance of age, youth, culture, religion, race, and sex. Don’t ask me why this works, just trust me that it does. It brings a great richness to a team dynamic when you mix it up that way. People fear those different characteristics; however, you find that teams that are diverse are intensely resilient.

As an adjunct to that, I recommend that when you are interviewing people to throw away the HR forms (can you tell me about a time when…) and talk to people over lunch, coffee, or a drink if appropriate.

These are just my thoughts on how you create an IT culture that allows you to adapt and change direction rapidly. I’d love to hear yours. This is radicalisation of our industry and thinking, the old methodologies are dying and we must embrace an uncertain future.

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