In a recent article in online magazine CIO & Leader Chris Potts argues that technology has come so far that CIOs need to start to take the lead and help businesses move beyond the antiquated structures of yesterday. He says that CIOs need to tell a story of how the business could be, how it should be. He says that CIOs are uniquely equipped with the technological mindset to tell the story of the business of the future.
In recent tweet I was harsh on Chris but in hindsight I believe I need to be more brutal. The world does not go round for a lack of dreams. Businesses are not short on vision. What is lacking is execution. Projects do not fail for want of strategic intent, they fail for want of expert systems engineering and expertise in engineering systems. This means that an enterprise doesn’t only need good technical expertise in their horizontal functions but they need expertise in the methodology which carries that knowledge as it passes through the market verticals. This is to say that it is fine to be a good project manager but can you manage the project from market analysis through to business development? Can you manage the project through the architecture? Through to contract close out?
None of this relies on telling stories. These is deep technical expertise. Storytelling shouldn’t be ignored. One of my all-time favourite authors, Larry Prusak, is a huge believer in storytelling as a means for engagement and building up a common picture of knowledge. A sort of inherited reference point for change. As important as storytelling is, it is becoming a fad and a distraction for executives. By focusing on storytelling they are ignoring the real complexity hidden in projects.
There is no easy way to protect corporate information. Protecting government information is easy because they have their own networks. Life in commercial society is somewhat more different but if businesses follow these 6 steps they will be better off:
- DEFINE. Don’t protect everything. It costs too much and it’s a waste of time. Define what is intellectual property (patents, trademarks etc). This is the stuff that (a) is legally protectable, and (b) it is what the market will pay for (i.e. it isn’t an intangible asset – it has dollar value). Intangible assets which are collectively seen as valuable are classed as intellectual capital. Everything else is either supporting information or junk.
- DETERMINE. Determine what goes where as part of your internal processes and workflows. Remember, it gets used if it’s part of the workflow. Proper IP should reside on closed systems with certain roles acting as guardians, e.g. in-house counsel, financial comptroller etc). Intellectual capital, things such as frameworks, processes, analytical methods should sit on systems with role based access privileges so that repeated access (e.g. for screenshots) is noted. Printing and downloading should be limited and part of a defined process. Thin client technology helps but the most important means of guarding this stuff is to make it compartmentalised (i.e. various levels of decomposition etc) so that it’s hard to gather it all together it once yet easy enough to use as a reference tool for team use.
- DEVELOP. Keep developing your intellectual capital. It’s less worthwhile stealing information which is outdated. Moreover, make sure that development is cross-functional and multi-disciplinary. This is akin to holding the encryption key to your intellectual capital. If only a few central people know how the framework all works together then even if it is taken by former employees they will, at least, be unable to build on it.
- IDENTIFY. Identify the people who are going to access this sort of information. Now build these roles and enforce them with internal business processes and physical security measures to make this work.
- INSPECT. Tag your information and gain access to employee hard drives. There is no way around it. Be subtle about how you approach knowledge workers and develop socially enforceable norms around the use of corporate proprietary information.
- INVEST. For intellectual capital works invest in a great means of display. If you’re afraid of other firms ripping of your frameworks or processes then get a graphic artist to create excellent visual representations. Then you can protect that image through contracts with employees and clients. Any use outside of your parameters can be met with a solicitor’s letter.
Most importantly, invest in your people and invest in the development of new knowledge. If they want to take it, they will but nothing secures information like happy employees and few will want to steal outdated information which they can’t build on.
Corporate storytelling is developing a huge following and it’s not just for CIOs. Larry Prusak loves it, Patrick Lencioni has elevated it into a fine art and everyone seems to be getting the storytelling bug. Stories are great because they help people from disparate backgrounds develop a common understanding of a problem or vision – one that sticks. Storytelling has the power to corral even the most difficult of us and motivate us to play our part in the corporate journey.
Executives love stories because they require almost no detail, no plan, no roles and responsibilities and no changes in remuneration. Done well, they can convince people into delivering more for less pay and when they don’t stories will shame those same underpaid workers into delivering the goods. What’s not to like about storytelling?
At large UK outsourcing establishment there was an underperforming account in the Midlands. Legend has it that the CEO of the local authority berated the account manager with the legendary phrase: I’ll buy more IT when you can solve teenage pregnancy!” The account manager duly skulked into the corner and got on about his job of providing outsourced IT services. What should he have done? He should have used that story to develop truly value adding services which would have (i) increased the profitability of the account, (ii) built trust between him and the CEO, and (iii) possibly helped try and solve the actual problem.
He didn’t, so I did. I went to India and spoke to our outsourcing partners. I tried to engineer an end-to-end process whereby we could harness the incredible intellectual latency of our outsourcing partners, Genpact and Patni, to develop an integrated process for analysing local authority data then identify and target girls at risk for tailored social services. In this way we could break the socially debilitating cycle of early teenage pregnancy whilst pushing account revenue into the stratosphere. We needed to do this in a way that enabled us to retain the confidence of our customers as well as created buy-in from internal management. So, we made sure the data security was right and that the project was aligned to the new corporate strategy of a greater push into outsourcing the middle-office.
I told the story. I told it again and again but I used it to tease out the detail of the development process, the customer engagement process, the revenue model and the customer benefits. Because, for every executive who smiled at the heart-warming vision there were 3 contrary developers, engineers and other middle managers who tried to shoot me down with the detail. My story explained the engineering process. My story was the glue which pulled all the systems engineering together and that is how I believe enterprise storytelling can help organisations.
The IACCM rightly points out that key supplier relationships underpinned by robust and comprehensible contracts are essential to the implementation of significant strategic change. Their research identifies a 9.2% impact on bottom line from contract weakness. Top 5 causes being:
- Disagreement over contract scope,
- Weaknesses in contract change management,
- Performance failures due to over commitment,
- Performance issues due to disagreement over what was committed,
- Inappropriate contract structures or responsibilities.
Two things are given in this mess: (i) Firstly, that contractual structures are weak and inappropriate to deal with high levels of operational complexity and technical risk, and (ii) secondly, that legal means of enforcement are cumbersome, expensive and ineffective.
That business is ready to solve this legal problem by contracting for outcomes is (a) nonsense and (b) missing the point. Business is already dealing with the operational and technical risk of large and complex contracts. Business is already structuring many of its agreements to deal with outcomes. Large prime contracts, alliance contracts and performance-based contracts are already commonplace in PFI/PPP and Defence sector deals. That neither are wholly efficient or effective is for another time. It is, however, for the legal community to devise more sophisticated ways of contracting in order to solve their side of the problem.
PEOPLE ARE THE KEY
The primary reason for not being able to contract for outcomes is that the vendor doesn’t own the people. This is critical because without the ability to control and intervene in the delivery of work the risk increases exponentially. Consequently, the risk premium paid for outcome-based contracts will either make them (a) prohibitively expensive, or (b) impossible to perform (within parameters). So, a business which offers you an outcome-based contract is either having you on or just about to charge you the earth.