Last year I wrote a post about branding, in which I stated my opinion that it’s important to consider how you are perceived. Nothing I have seen since has caused me to reconsider that opinion, indeed it’s reinforced every time I talk to someone who ‘didn’t realise that x did y’. A brief chat with a colleague elicited the following gem. ’You have a brand, whether you like it or not. The thing you get to decide is, are you going to manage it?’
Whether you are thinking individually, as a management team, as a department or as an organisation, make sure you’re managing your brand - it’ll pay you back.
Nick Heath at TechRepublic wrote an article in December in which he wondered whether many of the current crop of CIOs are the right people to take their organisations forward. He quotes a Gartner VP who suggests that many CIOs have been either clearing up mess or pushing through major ERP or standardisation programmes, and they’re not often the same people those organisations need to start harnessing the power of social media and mobile. ’Stop being order takers executing the demands of the board’, is what he said (echoing a blog post of mine from about a year ago), and start helping the organisation get better value from those technologies.
It’s a good article but it misses an important point. The average CIO, according to most of the surveys I have seen, is 47 years old. If you’re 47 today, you were at school until 1983 and maybe university until the mid-eighties. Computers started appearing in schools in large numbers from 1985 onwards. Email didn’t become widespread until the mid nineties, by which time these folk were in their 30s. A CIO who is 47+ didn’t grow up in a connected world. Of course, to be a CIO they have more than likely embraced a lot of the technology and make good use of the social tools that have appeared in the last few years. But your formative years are just that, and there is a big difference between a 30 year old who has always had personal (including mobile) computing power at his disposal, a 40 year old who never knew anything other than computers as he grew into the world of work, and a 50 year old who is always keeping up with the kids.
I’m generalising of course. I know of several people that are proudly 50+ and exploit social media and mobile technology in fantastic, inspiring ways. I’m not suggesting CIOs should have an age limit (not until I’m retired, anyway), and the fact that I am nearer 40 than 50 is undoubtedly a factor in how I have formed this opinion(!), but I’m confident it’s an opinion that bears closer scrutiny.
As organisations line up their next CIO, the candidate’s ability to engage with and harness social tools should be a factor, and at that point we’re definitely playing the generation game.
Whether you believe there is such a thing as ‘big data’ or not, Dave Feinlieb at Forbes.com has created this interesting view of the products and services that make up the landscape as of 2012. I wonder how many of these will still be there at the end of 2013?
All organisations are to a greater or lesser extent dependent on their supply chain. Poor performance by suppliers can bring a business to a standstill, even to the point of failure.
In an IT context, this is no different. Our resellers, implementers, infrastructure suppliers, they are all key to delivering a good service. So, we use balanced scorecards to measure potential suppliers to ensure that the features of their product or service match our carefully-researched requirements. We show these to our internal stakeholders to show that we’ve done our homework. And this always results in a perfectly-delivered solution, right? Unfortunately that is rarely the case. One reason for this is that our biggest motivation when it comes to choosing a supplier always seems to be price. We’re under no illusions about the return on investment required, so this is a natural behaviour, but it’s not always logical.
I believe it’s vitally important to pick your suppliers carefully. Key suppliers must be managed as delicately as key customers, as they really need to understand how they fit into your process. They must be aware of the ‘end requirement’, for example if you’re buying a sharepoint implementation, you’re not buying it because you fancy some sharepoint in your estate, you’re buying it because you need to manage information assets more effectively. That aim must be in the supplier’s mind, and the project isn’t complete until you’ve got the end requirement.
Choose suppliers that are really going to work with you to get to your goal, not box-shifters that leave the crate at the door and drive away with a cheery ‘good-luck’… in that case no matter how much money you save on the purchase you’ve got a poor deal. Good suppliers know that price drives the first sale, but perception of value drives the second, third, fourth etc.
Invest time and effort in choosing your suppliers, you’ll get it back over and over again.
Following on from my last blog post about the rise of local search, this is another lesson from the school-of-stating-the-bleeding-obvious. As a comparitively old fogey I haven’t used YouTube other than to see video I would otherwise have no access to. Old programmes, specialist video from science and technology institutions, clips for the kids. It’s only this year I’ve really seen it as the fantastic educational resource it is.
Here’s my example. A few weeks ago I bought a Mazda MX-5, a small roadster, as a project over the winter. I’m no mechanic, but I can fix basic things and thought it would be fun when the summer came. One of the things that was wrong with it when I bought it was the electric aerial, which didn’t retract all the way. I did the sensible thing and googled ‘MX-5 antenna replacement’, which took me to several sites, one of which was this one, which showed I didn’t necessarily need to replace the whole mechanism.
Brilliant stuff. I bought the replacement mast, followed these instructions and I’d fixed this problem for about 25% of the cost of a complete replacement aerial complete with motor and no doubt 10% of the cost of a garage job.
This is happening in all areas of expertise, including the IT world. A colleague of mine recently showed me his web site, where he has dozens of instructional videos on various technologies, such as MS SQL server and Photoshop.
Here he gives an introduction to the basics of Fuzzy Lookups in Microsoft Integration Services
Being able to see how something is done is so much more powerful than reading it in a book - good written instructions are rare, because they are difficult to produce. ’Here, let me show you’ really works.
When we produce training or handover documentation for delivery of new systems to customers, internal or external, do we ever think about using this type of collateral? I think it’s an underused method - it has to be done well, but if it is it can be phenomenally useful.
Walking through a city centre the other night, I checked tripadvisor on my smartphone to see if I could find a place to eat in the immediate vicinity. I found a place that suited my wallet, and that had great reviews, in a matter of minutes (and it was fantastic, too). It’s almost second nature to do this now, and I hadn’t realised that until I saw this excellent infographic. If it’s second nature for this techie chap that’s past 40, it’s going to be a no-brainer for most 20-somethings. Small businesses take note!
As today is Remembrance Sunday, a quote from Winston Churchill is apposite.
"When you are going through hell, keep going"
A timely reminder in tough times, that the only way is forward!
This blog’s ‘wordle’ - I think it’s pretty representative…!
Every now and again most bloggers will probably ask themselves why they do it. We get stats to show that people are reading our stuff, comments either online or in person that give us some affirmation. But why stick the neck out at all? For me, I think it’s a little like those people who call into radio shows and inform the traffic presenter about delays on the road. It’s not because I have any special insight, or can predict the future. Quite the reverse, in fact. Like the guy in traffic, I am sharing the news about where I find myself or where I have been, so that others may make more informed decisions.
This advice, if that is what you call it, is offered only in the hope that it might save others from frustration. I can’t guarantee that other roads are not also blocked, I can just give my assessment of the one I have travelled…
Most people haven’t been to business school to learn strategic planning. Yet many of us are expected to provide a strategic plan, whether it be an IT strategy, a general business plan, a sales strategy, recruitment strategy and so on. When we eventually manage to produce something, we’re not sure it’s really what was asked for.
In most cases, we find that we’ve done ok. The boss/board/team is happy with the strategy. How did we do so well? Often, it’s because the person that asked you for the strategy didn’t really know what they were asking for either, they just thought it was the sort of thing they should be asking for…
This is a shame, because strategy is not as scary as people tend to think. It certainly shouldn’t be a stick to beat people with. Unless you’re unerringly clairvoyant, you don’t know what the future holds, so a strategy is unlikely to be perfect the day it is created. Indeed, it’s never going to be perfect. However, it should be the tool you use to prioritise your work, because it’s the plan to get you from where you are now to where you want to be, from A to Z.
A common failure of strategic planning is to set objectives and call them a strategy. I have seen people literally go red in the face as they object to any assertion that they don’t have a strategy, pointing out the four or five lines that explain where they are going. These are in fact useful lines, and they are generally objectives, such as ‘we are going to sell washing machines’, or ‘we are going to make a 10% return on sales’. They do tell us something important, and that is where we want to go. They don’t tell us how we’re going to get there. That detail is in the strategy.
The reason a strategy is never going to be perfect is often, as Harold Macmillan reputedly said, ‘events, dear boy, events’. If I start this year expecting to be making a 10% return on sales at the end of it, and an earthquake in Bolivia makes a huge dent in my raw material prices or availability, then I’m not in a position to change the new reality. My strategy was based on what I knew when I was back at point A, and was valid, but it has to change to reflect the situation, or it’s not worth very much. Too many people have stuck rigidly to a plan or product because it’s ‘strategic’, and come unstuck. Strategy must evolve, not to shift with every change in the wind, but to take account of significant factors, and provide the new route to Z, not from A, where we started, but B, or C, or D, where we now find ourselves.
The Tesco Steering wheel above is a good example of how a business can modify strategy but stick to core objectives, encompassing customers, finance, operations, people and community. Every time they review their performance and strategy, they look to all of the areas on the wheel and measure how they are doing against those objectives and how any adjustment to strategy will ensure they stay on track to meet them.
If you have a tool like this, you can pass it to your HR, IT, Procurement teams etc, and they can tell you how they can add their weight to supporting the objectives. Every time you review your strategy you can take their ideas and build them in. In which case, you have an evolving, living strategy. One that you can show how what you do, even at the most granular level, is linked through the strategy to the core objectives of the business. Denys Shortt of DCS Europe has used this tool to help take his business to £130m+ sales over the past 15 years.
In the IT department, we can make our own wheel, define our own core objectives, and show how these link to the business as a whole. We then iterate our own strategy in the same way, using the same tools, as the wider business. Why have we got this particular hosting model, why do we use two mobile phone providers, why do we intend to move to a virtual desktop model? It’s much easier to get buy in (and funding!) when it’s clear how these things link to the core objectives of the business.
It’s important to plan, it’s important to have objectives, and it’s vital that the strategy to meet them is reviewed and improved regularly. You don’t need an MBA, just a willingness to communicate.
This year, I made a New Year’s Resolution. This isn’t something I normally do. I didn’t blog about it, although I did talk about it on Google+ (cynics will say it’s easier to get out of when nobody knows about it…). The gist of it was that I was going to be less tolerant this year. I am aware that this is not the usual way it goes, but I was pretty sure that I had been too tolerant of time wasters, liars and slopey-shouldered parasites that exist in large organisations. Seven months on, I am in no doubt that it was the right think to resolve, and I am probably still too tolerant if truth be told.
What made me think of this today? I read a blog post by Bob Sutton, about a friend of his who trusted United Airlines with their daughter’s travel, as an unaccompanied minor. They let her, and her parents down. The system didn’t care about this little girl. The people in the system didn’t care about anything but the system. It reminded me of a discussion on Euan Semple’s blog about the ‘hollow man’. It also reminded me of an interview panel I sat on earlier this year, recruiting a school employee. When the question ‘what would you do if you saw an adult behaving inappropriately toward a child’ arose, the most common answer we got was ‘I’d fill in the form to report it’. I’m not an educational professional, but I found this dispiriting and disturbing.
In large, or highly process-driven organisations, it’s easy to become the ‘hollow man’, it’s easy to be like those United Airlines employees who stopped thinking of the person they were failing. It’s easy to push the work around, waiting for pay day or the weekend. That’s why I was reminded of my resolution. If you’re doing that when you should be doing something for me, or my customers, watch out. I will not tolerate it, and neither should anyone else.