A pragmatic approach to cloud computing might eliminate the “Office of the C-I-No”
I recently started reading David S. Linthicum’s book “Cloud Computing and SOA Convergence in Your Enterprise,” and there’s a line early in the book that really resonates with me: “…IT has become the single-most visible point of latency when a business needs to change.” That is a sad statement, and I agree, at least in the context of “enterprise IT.” Though, things have not always been this way.
IT as a Competitive Advantage
A long time ago as the Internet was beginning to take shape as a business enabler, a speaker at a seminar spoke about how our industry had made the transition from a provider of back office systems to driving key competitive advantage through new and innovative business services such as automated banking machines. He reminisced about a bygone era of inadequate service, where “intractable systems” prevented great customer service. “I’m sorry, sir, I cannot exchange your shoes because the system won’t let me” would never be acceptable today, he said. That had to be at least 15 years ago.
Déjà Vu – IT Fails Me Four Times in One Day
Recently I was scheduled to fly to New Orleans via Chicago. Following several delays, I requested a rerouting though Washington where the weather was better. The agent apologized. The system would not let her make the change. I was able to make the change by phone to the Washington flight, which was subsequently delayed due to a printer problem causing me to miss my connection by a very short margin. The connecting flight was delayed repeatedly and eventually cancelled. Fortunately, while I was at the service counter I noticed a flight to my home city leaving from the adjacent gate. What fantastic luck! Sadly, at the gate and again at the service counter, I was informed that the system would not let the agent make the change.
So I spent the night near the Dulles airport. After approximately fourteen hours of travel, I was not able to reach my destination because of an IT (printer) problem. In one day IT had let me down four times, and I certainly questioned my choice of service provider more than once.
Customers “Go Rogue”
I am sure this is not exactly what David Linthicum is referring to in his book, but how I felt about the service is not tremendously different from how business consumers may feel about the service they receive from IT. For similar reasons, business consumers are bypassing their IT colleagues and opting for cloud services to get the agility, flexibility, services, and/or cost savings they need to remain competitive. The stories do not always end there.
The Service Boomerang
We’re now beginning to hear about those same business consumers who have acquired cloud services on their own coming back to their IT colleagues for help. These people want IT to be a trusted advisor in the delivery of business services regardless of their source, and that is fantastic. Sadly, I have spoken to people who have done this, and those new services were subsequently wrapped in “heritage” processes that were never designed with cloud or SaaS solutions in mind. “The <IT department’s> process is not built for nimble changes…” was how someone who recently experienced this summed it up. So the business consumer is forced to “go rogue” once again. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Success Begins With Simple Strategies
So, how can we address this? How can we change the perceptions, and the realities, that have led our customers to refer to us with quips such as “Office of the C-I-No”? What are some of the more simple things IT pros can do to start heading in the right direction? Here are four steps I’ve pulled from my personal experiences and in working with customers:
1. Put the business service first. That’s really what it’s all about. Work with the business people that you serve and make sure you understand their objectives. Listen to their ideas and understand their pain. Ensure that they understand that you are motivated by their success. Communication of this nature is not always as simple as one might believe so this requires work and, more importantly, a genuine and sincere commitment to the customer’s mission.
2. Think differently. The fairly well known saying: “If you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got” sums this one up. Not all of today’s problems can be addressed with yesterday’s solutions, nor can tomorrow’s. There are a lot more exciting, agile, nimble, simple solutions available to address today’s business opportunities and challenges. We need to think more broadly and consider “cloudy options.” In my experience, even when the cloud solutions are not selected there is great benefit in broader thinking and it often results in better internally developed solutions. As Benjamin Zander encourages us: “live in a world of infinite possibility.” Consider services from other sources, including those not provided by someone with the same logo on their employee badge.
3. “Please check your egos at the door.” This may be the most important advice here. Quincy Jones made this simple call to action when he led a very diverse group of musicians to leave their creative differences behind for a greater purpose. This is much easier said than done, and “checking our ego” may not be the best choice of words to describe one of the most important lessons we learned as cloud providers. We found that our customers’ demands grew each and every time our services or value delivered increased. Though it took a while, we realized that we might never be able to deliver everything our customers needed as rapidly as they needed it. Eventually we found three questions that helped us immensely. When evaluating new service requests or opportunities we ask:
a. Are we the best at this? – In terms of speed of delivery, agility, cost, and other parameters relevant to the situation at hand.
b. Can we become the best at this? – At what effort, cost?
c. Even if we could be best at this, should we become the best? – Could we deliver even more leverage or business value if we focused on other things?
We realized that our desire to provide the best possible service was sometimes better realized when we were willing to ask tough questions and to “drop our ego.” When we tried to be everything to everyone the result was sometimes that we provided adequate service at best with great personal sacrifice.
4. Involve, and arm, the business consumer. Most people I know in IT and the businesses they serve have the same high level objectives. They want the business to be wildly successful. That’s hardly a revelation. However, sometimes they communicate those objectives in different ways and that can certainly create friction and impede success. Often we witness cases where IT’s desire to serve is perceived as inflexibility or a desire not to change, or worse. A more collaborative approach with our business colleagues can result not only in a better partnership but also in more creative solutions. (And more sleep.)
Helping our partners in the business to understand the inherent risks or costs and presenting alternatives and enabling business decisions based upon those produced wildly better results. Listening to our customers is also paramount.
Do these lessons sound familiar? What important items have I missed? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments to this post.
Does the cloud always provide the best solution to address our needs and opportunities? The best answer to that question today is “it depends.” However if we do not at least consider internal and external, private and public cloud solutions, we may pass by some golden opportunities to make our customers’ lives and businesses better.
So, where to begin? More on that later.
Originally Published: February 10, 2011