Competitive Advantage in IT 1

Although a recent article in SearchCIO alludes to competitive advantage by IT departments, arguments like this can take the CIO down a dangerous road.  The holy grail of many CIOs is to run a department which is both profitable and also increases business capability.  Mostly, however, IT departments are costly and the subject of constant complaint.

Can IT ever be a profit centre?

Economists have long argued that businesses should strip away overhead (i.e. not included in the cost of goods sold but pure overhead) cost chargebacks from business verticals and their processes in order to gain a clearer view of what is profitable and what is not.  If they don’t then smaller, profitable processes are often in danger of being swamped with overhead.  In this way, many businesses often outsource or cut the wrong activities.

It is notoriously difficult to cost IT chargebacks so that market verticals are charged just the right overhead.  Should businesses charge their verticals for email?  They often do but isn’t this just a cost of business that the centre should absorb?  Isn’t the burden of communication and reporting largely placed onto verticals anyway?  So if they could run their business units in a more entrepreneurial way wouldn’t the cost of IT be significantly reduced? 

What if we extend that argument and let IT be a profit centre?  Why don’t we let business units find cheaper ways of doing business and compete with the IT department?  Security/integration/management time arguments aside – it is likely that if IT departments were able to charge for the thing they were really good at, this would be a source of competitive advantage within the business.

So, there is a good reason why IT departments aren’t profit centres but, of course, this doesn’t solve the problem of the high cost of IT inside business.

Cloud research exposes gaps between CIOs and the business. . .again Reply

In a recent article for Beyond IT Failure Michael Krigsman highlights the colossal disconnect between IT and the business.  Looking at the graph below has IT really spun off at a tangent?  Is IT just pursuing its pet projects again?

IT is not wrong.  IT is best placed to understand compliance requirements.  IT should understand which applications delivery value for money and IT should be able to choose which apps support competitive advantage.  Cloud is, by and large, a non-functional requirement as so does not need to be in the functional user spec.

“Business is not a toy shop and the argument “but I’ve got it on my phone” does not wash in a secure, structured enterprise environment.”

So why the disparity between what what the business thinks it needs and what IT choses?

  1. IT is a cost centre.   IT is responsible for delivering functionality in the most cost effective way.  Business is not a toy shop and the argument “but I’ve got it on my phone” does not wash in a secure, enterprise environment.
  2. Business Requirements.  I have never met a business vertical which understood its requirements.  Requirements engineering for the systematic design of accurate software is an entire segment of the tech industry.  It is complex and (mostly) poorly done.  Invest in getting it right if you want to deliver better systems.
  3. Engagement.  There is no two ways about it – IT is appalling at business engagement and business are shockingly bad at letting IT in and then articulating their needs (in order to begin the requirements process.
  4. Productivity.  Improved productivity is more of a human problem than a technological one.  New software will not make people smarter.  Unless the processes and collaboration structures already exist then new binary systems will only serve to compound the problem.  In such cases, software procurement becomes a very, very expensive process of sandboxing and prototyping to elicit accurate business requirements.

In order to achieve better ROI on tech investments whilst still delivering great software which improves productivity, businesses need to (a) understand where tech enables business capability in their value chains, (b) understand the development of their business’ capabilities, and (c)  create a ‘value ladder’ which supports the parallel propositions of architectural development and business productivity.

Getting Rid of the Help Desk–a structured approach to KM 1

In a recent article in CIO magazine Tom Kaneshige argues that the rise of BYOD spells the demise of the traditional Help Desk.  He intimates that BYOD has now been overtaken by BYOS – bring-your-own-support!  The network-enabled user, with access to huge volumes of information, requires a new Help Desk. 

He is right that, ultimately, power-users need better, faster support delivered to them in a format and by people with a deeper understanding of the context and with more intricate solutions.

BYOS is the exception and not the rule. 

Although the IT function is becoming more commoditised, the larger fields of knowledge work isn’t, hasn’t and won’t be commoditised anytime just yet.  Otherwise, any 12 year old with a laptop would be in with a chance.  Help Desks don’t need to be expanded but they do need to become more mature, agile and integrated into the KM procedures of modern networked enterprises (ie those businesses with a heavy KM focus).  Expanding the remit of the Help Desk opens the door for colossal cost increases.  Internal knowledge management functions need to become more structured beyond simplistic portals.

INTERNAL KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT

In a recent article in McKinsey Quarterly, Tom Davenport argues that organisations need to get a lot smarter in their approaches to supporting knowledge workers.  He says that greater use of social media and internet use will harm the business more than help it.  Lower level knowledge workers need more structured support to their processes.  On the other hand, high-level knowledge workers are better supported by an open platform of tools.  Getting the right balance is as much art as science.

BYOS is the wrong approach.  It’s a derogation of KM responsibilities.  Organisations need to focus on an approach to KM with the following structures:

  1. A good Help Desk function for knowledge workers involved in highly structured processes.
  2. An IT function which supports a flexible arrangement of tools for advanced knowledge workers.
  3. Knowledge Managers:  people who provide the focal point for certain areas of knowledge.
  4. Portals:  A single entry point for people seeking access to communities of interest.

So, be careful when thinking about Tom Kaneshige’s advice and “blowing up” your Help Desk.  IT can be a self-licking lollipop.  More tools and more information won’t necessarily improve productivity.  At the lower level, sometimes it makes more economic sense to support the process.  It’s only at the upper levels of expertise that it is more profitable to support the person.

The Perfect Storm for Cloud Computing? T Reply

The Perfect Storm for Cloud Computing?

There is no doubt that cloud computing is the technical elixir of our time. Unlike standard corporate virtualisation/thin client operating models the current technology provides 3 things in unison:
1. Huge processing capacity allows powerful software to run complex computations on very small devices.
2. Commoditisation means that there is a huge range of cloud-based software out there.
3. Commoditisation plus the simplicity of developer platforms has meant huge downward cost pressures.

Is this the perfect storm?

No.

In order to create the perfect storm 1 additional factor would need to be present; Personal Virtualisation.

In order to create a competitive advantage through differentiation (particularly for professional service firms and other knowledge workers) the cloud computing offerings needs to provide for personalised virtualisation of applications or whole systems.

Although this is possible now it is not commoditised to the extent that it allows standard lay people the opportunity to take advantage of it. When this happens and knowledge workers can access highly specialised/customised niche apps through web browsers, then we can say that ‘cloud’ has come of age. http://ow.ly/jjc2F

Sometimes the best defense is deletion – CSO Online – Security and Risk Reply

Sometimes the best defense is deletion – CSO Online – Security and Risk.

data mining. big dataThe point is prescient.  In these early days of Big Data awareness the battle between information management v. store now/analyse later can obfuscate other issues:  Cost and Necessity.

ONE BIG POT

Is there really the practical technology that an organisation can actually move away from structured databases and just stick all its information into one big ‘pot’, to be mined for gold nuggets at a later date?

Storing information (as opposed to just letting stuff pile up) is a costly business and the decision to store information usually comes from people on higher pay bands.  The decision of where to locate is often a manual decision which not only has a significant management overhead of its own but also involves co-ordination from other high pay bands.

THE COMPLEXITY OF INFORMATION

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Add to this dilemma the complexities of  ‘legal hold’ on material and the identification of ‘discoverable’ items.  Suddenly information management looks a lot harder and the siren song of Big Data seems a lot more alluring.  The problem is that information that is not valuable to some is valuable to others.  Who is qualified to make that decision?  Should all information be held given that it will likely have some enterprise value?  The battle is between cost and necessity:

  1. Cost:  Deciding what to keep and what to get rid of takes management time and effort that costs money.  The problem is that it is neither cost effective nor good policy to to push hold/delete decision making down to the lowest clerical level. The secret is to have those decisions made by more senior case-workers but only within their limited remit.
  2. Necessity:  The secret is to categorise management information to determine necessity.  Use a workflow to cascade and delegate (not to avoid) work.  As it moves it accumulates metadata.  No metadata means no necessity and therefore it should be disposed of automatically (eschewing arguments of regulatory compliance).

THE ANSWER

The answer is to automate the deletion of information (other than ‘Legal Hold’).  Once a document/question has reached the end of the workflow without accumulating any metadata then the information should be disposed of automatically.  Case-Workers make the decisions to act on the document/question and metadata is attached by more clerical staff (on lower pay bands) as the item moves through the workflow.  If no metadata is attached it can be assumed that the item is not important and is therefore disposed of.  Cost is minimised by letting case-workers make decisions of relevance within their own sphere of expertise without the additional management overhead for de-confliction/meetings etc.   In this way, the enterprise makes a collective decision of importance and stores the information accordingly thus answering the issue of necessity.

Will CIOs Really Focus on the Business in 2013? Reply

“Whilst CIOs are predominantly drawn from the infrastructure segment of ICT there is unlikely to be a shift in focus towards proactive business initiatives.”

The CIO’s commercial prerogatives largely stem from CEO directives as they tally with other recent CEO surveys from McKinsey & Co etc.  It is likely, however, that need to increase services to corporate clouds through a myriad of new/personal devices during these times of severe cost pressures will keep CIOs occupied for the next year, at least.

Looking to the future, until business schools focus their corporate decision making modules on information management and technology enablers the dearth of IM savvy senior executives will continue and thereby the pull-through into the CIO role.  The solution is likely to come in one of two ways, namely:

  1. A cost/complexity inflection point will be reached.  Medium sized businesses will begin to outsource not only their IT but also their IM.  As better IM begins to solve business problems some people will naturally be pulled through into corporate CIO roles at FTE.
  2. Alternately, clever CEOs will shift the accounting of their IT departments towards Profit Centres.  CIOs will be forced to come up with innovative chargeback models and new services in order to compete beyond storage  for non-essential services.  The good will survive and the bad will move back to being small, in-house IT departments.

 

Gartner Executive Program Survey of More Than 2,000 CIOs Shows Digital Technologies Are Top Priorities in 2013 Reply

“The survey showed that CIO IT budgets have been flat to negative ever since the dot-com bust of 2002. For 2013, CIO IT budgets are projected to be slightly down, with a weighted global average decline of 0.5%.”

Gartner Executive Program Survey of More Than 2,000 CIOs Shows Digital Technologies Are Top Priorities in 2013.

The survey clearly shows that projections of huge IT spend increases are fanciful.  CIOs are not only being asked to do more with less but are also being asked to help innovate and expand with less.  New investments will need to show a clear ROIC if they are to be approved. 

Ideas for innovative technological support to the business will not be the problem.  CIOs will need create new ways of measuring the value they deliver to the business.  In developing business cases for MIS they will need to move away from NPV analysis and start to measure the net increases in managerial decision making and knowledge capital.  It is only then that IT departments can start to pull through emerging technology quickly to create corporate value faster.

EA as Strategic Planning: I’m Still Not Convinced Reply

Business and TechnologyA recent blog entitled: “EA is Strategic Planning” highlights a sentiment by many enterprise architects (a widely abused moniker) that what they are doing is new, ingenious and necessary.  I’m still not convinced.  Whilst one cannot decry the skills, expertise, knowledge and ability of many enterprise architects I am yet to see a cogent argument that what they do is either cost effective or necessary.

Heresy?  Hardly.

The enterprise has done remarkably well since the Dutch East India Company was granted its royal license in 1600.  The rise of the  enterprise has not abated and diversified companies such as Du Pont and ITT have shown that complexity and size are no obstacle to good, valuable shareholder growth. 

IS EA JUST GOOD IT?

I am in two minds:  (i) EA has certainly helped the IT community with complexity by bringing a portfolio view ICT programs, but(ii) EA has added no significant value to a listed company (beyond just good sense, well delivered IT programs) or reduced its risk to such an extent that would warrant dedicated EA. 

EA has likely been the product of a traditional lack of the requisite skills to translate the social value of collaborative software into corporate monetary value.  It is worth noting that embedded systems (such as robotics) and operational systems (systems that a given corporation simply cannot perform its operations without) are not included in this assessment as their value to the business can be calculated in a simple NPV assessment of projects, i.e. the system will directly result in higher discounted cash flows.  That this should be the job of a programmer is nonsense.  That large commercial enterprises are only beginning to adopt social media systems (which people have been using for years) highlights the general inability of enterprises to grasp the financial value of subtle and complex ICT.

SO WHAT DOES EA OFFER?

Enterprise architecture is not strategic planning.  As much as I like David Robertson’s book “Enterprise Architecture as Strategy”, it is farcical to suggest that the structure of an organisation should either come first or drive (other than the broad parameters)  the functional design of the business model.  If EA is to deliver value to the organisation then it must reach beyond large, complex IT.  To add real value it must be the the function which is capable of reaching across the business siloes to solve the problems which the corporation does not even yet know it has.

ENTERPRISE ARCHITECTURE AS A SEPARATE DISCIPLINE

Enterprise architecture must grow out of its humble ICT beginnings if it is to have the boardroom caché and intellectual gravitas necessary to drive strategy.  EA must develop beyond it systems engineering fundamentals and extend its validity into the statistical relationships between technology structures, information performance and shareholder return.  Only in this way will EA be able to communicate the financial return which subtle and complex MIS systems can add to a company.  Whatever enterprise architects believe they can do they will not get the opportunity to display their value, beyond simple tenders, unless they can convince the finance function.

The Efficiency vs. Effectiveness – customer focus is the key | LinkedIn Reply

The Efficiency vs. Effectiveness Debate Continues | LinkedIn.

efficiency versus effectiveness. targetEfficiency is a key enabler of effectiveness.  Effectiveness goes towards value whereas efficiency goes towards cost.  Ask the question:  “if the enterprise was less efficient would it still be effective?’  The answer will give you an idea of just how important effectiveness is to the enterprise (i.e. government or corporate).

Efficiency is more critical depending on how far removed the task/issue is from the customer.  The customer does not care one jot how efficient your processes are.  The customer has not the slightest concern whether your systems are efficient.  Whether a corporate customer or recipient of government services, they want effectiveness.  Whether they will pay a premium for that will determine the price.

For back-office functions, however, efficiency is critical.  In the treasury-2-cash process the result should always be the same.  In procure-2-pay the result should always be the same.  Effectiveness is not an issue:  it must be effective and therefore efficiency is critical.

In a recent project with the good folk at Glentworth the team looked at Disaster Management and concluded that the key failing of disaster management was not the efficiency of the Emergency Services but rather the effectiveness of the function across the entire value chain.  Efficiency was the critical attribute of emergency response but that effectiveness was the missing ingredient in the current approach to Disaster Management.  In the 2010 floods in Queensland, the Interim Report by the Floods Commission Inquiry made (inadvertently) a good distinction between effectiveness and efficiency.  To paraphrase the Commission, they noted:

‘. . . of the 37 people who died, 22 of them would still be dead even if the Emergency Services had been as efficient as possible.’

VALUE CHAIN ANALYSIS

Efficiency is critical but as the above quote demonstrates it must work in tandem to deliver what Peter Drucker noted was the real purpose – Value.  Efficiency should be pursued where business units can be structured as modular units and deliver repeatable processes which are removed from the customer.  In customer facing activity it is vital, however, to ensure that effectiveness is the key.

ORGANISE INFORMATION FUNCTIONALLY NOT STRUCTURALLY

In order to achieve this businesses and government services need to manage activities right across their Value Chains (and possibly across their extended value nets as well).  Much like Disaster Management, it is good for businesses to achieve operational efficiency but fairly pointless if the product or service is ineffectively delivered or ineffective in the hands of the customer.   The structure of government highlights this point.  Government departments, like most businesses, act structurally not functionally.  Teams and departments are forced into ineffective outcomes through rigid structures which enforce inefficient workflows.

In days of yore this has not mattered but with the ubiquity of smart devices and with easier access to a more competitive array of services the need for a greater focus on effectiveness is becoming more apparent.  Recent articles on the move to a customer-centric focus highlights this.  In order to achieve the best possible blend of effectiveness and efficiency governments and businesses need to manage customer interactions functionally to achieve the best possible outcomes.  Both types of enterprise should structure their delivery business units modularly and manage workflows using experienced caseworkers.  This does not mean that work should be managed on a costly case-by-case basis but rather by exception.  

There should be no debate between effectiveness and efficiency.  Both are critical but to paraphrase Drucker it is only with the right blend that enterprises can achieve value.

2013: Not The Year Of The CIO – Yet Reply

It is highly unlikely that this will be the year of the CIO.  Tom Curran is entirely correct that CIOs need to get closer to business units to prove their value.  After years of uncontrolled IT budgets and then recent vicious cost reduction programs CIOs need to prove that they are more than email, storage and security.  CIOs need to be proactive in supporting the cost of businesses and that means developing capability.

Firstly, there are 3 types of business tech: (i) embedded systems such as robotics, (ii) operational systems such as customer ordering systems, and (iii) management information systems  such as email, ERPs, ERMs, collaboration tools etc.  The first two are largely accounted for in the cost-of-goods-sold but the latter is usually accounted for as overhead in SG&A.  Although their worth is unquestionable (could a large company really do without email these days?), it is these MIS systems which are notoriously hard to prove the value of.

There is still little evidence that MIS directly increase profitability.  Corporate IT spending largely increases in accordance with SG&A costs which tells us 2 things: (a) that as companies grow and increase their revenue they increase their management commensurately, and (b) IT is bought to connect this management.  There is not some inflection point where systems are bought, magic happens and companies become organised.  Organisation is the job of the business but enabling that by bringing distributed human communities together through electronic communications is the primary purpose of MIS.

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In order to become the critical enabler that it has always wanted to be IT needs to focus on capability and not just costs.  Although Tom suggests that this will be achieved through in-house architects I would suggest that in-house capability is too hard and costly to maintain at the requisite level to actually analyse and build business capability.  The only function that should be retained and honed, in-house, is information mangement.  Businesses need to be absolutely certain about exactly what information (at an atomic level) actually makes them money  – and how.  Outsiders without the context, peripheral information, subtext and political insight cannot adequately contribute to this role.  Only once the business understands its financial the anatomy of its fianancial dependencies can it adequately source architectural support in order to build business capability.  The business which misses the point and only develops architecture is just gilding the lily and will just be rewarded with a higher overhead burden which they need to chargeback to disgruntled internal customers.

Is this achievable in 2013?  The likelihood of this belies my underlying assumption that CIOs do not belong in the C-Suite.  As critical as technology and information is to business it is only a critical enabler and not a separate function in itself.  Due to the radically different skills which the technical community possess I do not believe that they will ever be able to set the agenda in non-digital industries.  Putting CIOs in the C-Suite merely overemphasises the importance of technology as an end and not merely the means.  It is here I think that standard operations should stop abdicating its responsibility and start setting the technical agenda and this will certainly not happen in 2013.