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Monday, June 4, 2012

Where do IT People go for Help?

I.T. Needs Help

For a while now, I’ve been contemplating these questions: “IT is supposed to help business, right? So, where does IT go for help?”
The quick answer to this is: “If you are an IT Department in a company, then you can always engage vendors to help you solve your problems or implement the next latest and greatest solution for your business.” And this is a fair answer if you trust that vendors are always capable of helping you. However, where do IT vendor companies go for help?
I guess a good parallel to this question will be: “Who does your doctor trust when he is sick? Or, who does your dentist go to with a tooth ache?” Suddenly this question is starting to have a whole new dimension.
Yes, we all know that IT is there to make things better and improve outcomes. So is every doctor, dentist and consultant of sorts. But, who can you really trust? Who does the IT Vendor turn to when there is a problem in his company? 
In the last week I again realized that this is a fundamental issue for IT organizations. It is almost as if to admit failure or defeat when an IT company needs to go for help.
And yet, many out there will agree, if only they can get help, life will be so much easier on the rest of us! The IT road has many wrecks on it, and even more skeletons in its cupboards. Many companies have come and gone trying to help IT businesses better organize themselves.
I have seen many an initiative or new venture fail where the business objective was to add value to the IT Organization. These initiatives failed not because they were not good, but because their market - IT Organizations - just could not come to believe that they have a problem, and that there is a service or solution out there from which they can learn and benefit directly - something they did not come up with themselves. Often, if we - the IT Professionals - did not invent it ourselves it is treated with utmost suspicion. 
Yes, you may argue Gartner, and some of the research consultancies are doing well providing services to the IT Organizations (or are they used by companies to verify the story of their vendors or IT Organizations - almost as if it is a business built and flourishing on the deceit in the industry?). 
However, you will find that they provide information and learning, but hardly get the opportunity to engage and fundamentally re-work failing IT Businesses. If companies like Gartner knew so much about IT why are they not there to save Microsoft’s new Vista release, or turn around Sun’s ailing business, or even better, help EDS make more money from applications and outsourcing? It is just not that easy, is it?
In this blog, I ponder why this is the case, and how we can challenge this frame of mind in the IT industry - the frame of mind that says if we cannot fix it ourselves, it is unfixable. 
Who knows, we may just be able to change some base perceptions about the way to improve the health of an IT Organization, and the industry possibly as a whole.
Healthy DNA

How to improve the I.T. organization? 
In my pre-bubble days with one of the Big Five consultancies (when there will still five, and they were big) we were taught that a business needs to be successfully integrated around Customers, People, Processes, Infrastructure and Technology (Information Management). This makes up the DNA of an organization. Exactly how this is done, differs from business to business and industry to industry like DNA differs from one organism to the next. 
Baldrige refined this model even further with seven categories for effectiveness and success and a rating and evaluation systems that has proven itself over time.
This made me wonder about the DNA of an IT Business. One cannot fault Baldrige, but thinking like Archimedes, it will be great if we can have a lever that will allow some leverage in pushing IT into the right direction. What do we in IT have to focus on to fundamentally change our industry into a better and new generation of IT Organizations. Yes, we have our People! We are a people business, right?
Firstly, we should start to think of IT as a business like any other businesses. It needs leadership, requires strategic planning, must be customer and market focussed, have a foundation of measurement, analysis and knowledge management, enabling human resources in optimized process for desired business outcomes. And yes, Baldrige is as relevant to IT Organizations as is ITIL, RUP, MSF or MOF. I have already made the case that we should stop thinking that each IT Business is special - it is still just a business.
For example: Every IT Organization that I engage with has different names and role definitions for what their people do. The same goes for their process descriptions. In fact, I am of the believe that this is the primary driver for the role identity crisis and ambiguity that plagues us in recruitment and delivery. Each IT Professional has a different name for what they do, and they spend hours a week trying to work out what they are supposed to do in their employers company. 
This appears to be unique to IT and is laughable. It does not serve anyone: Not the IT Organizations in its operations or the IT Professional in its career. Yet, if we try and use more generic industry terminology, then one is quickly reminded of two things: The Organization either doesn’t subscribe to industry standards or commonly accepted frameworks, or they believe that what they have is somehow better, special or more suited to their business. 
Days go by when I have to argue and clarify what each person is doing, suppose to do, or where they fit into the business, the process or the team.
If one subscribes to the notion that IT business is People business, then surely we should start to define what these people do, stick with it, and make it clear in every dealing with them. It is that simple.
DNA Needs to be Healthy

If the IT Organization has a DNA problem, where does one begin to fix it. The People material off course! And, not just the people - all seven Baldrige categories of it! 
Instinctively I think we get this message, however restructuring people doesn’t fix much, and this makes up the primary method for intervention to improve service outcomes. One has to potentially go deeper - down to the individual level of each IT Professional. How do we make the individual people material better and cast them in processes that makes them excellent at what they do?
Where do you go for help once you know what you are supposed to do, and where in the organization you fit? Some of the jobs IT Professionals do today has not been around when we went to school, University or when our parents were getting ready for their careers. I cannot tell my father what I do for a living - he just doesn’t get it. For him I am fixing computers, and that is enough!
We are on a constant self education, and discovery journey where each individual has to own its own development and education, to prepare him or her for the next round of restructure, or for the next big technology wave. 
Companies have all but given up training IT People. The market is just too fluid, and they realized soon that they are not getting their return on what sometimes is a considerable investment. IT People have to train themselves.
Where do we go to learn then? Thank heavens for the Internet. Not only does it create jobs, but the collaborative nature of this technology allows us also to learn how to do these jobs, and learn this from each other. 
This is exactly where we need to take note: It is a collaborative solution. Blogs like these, forums, sites, etc. all contribute to a knowledge pool that benefits the industry as a collective. It is your duty as I.T. Professional to not only consume, but also to contribute. 
What have you done for your industry today? Contribute to blogs, forums and sites. The OpenSource community is showing what is possible if we work together to find solutions to our collective problems.  
If we focus on developing the individual IT Professionals out there, and we focus on developing ourselves as IT Professionals then we are laying the foundation for better IT delivery. We all benefit.
Health Measurement

We started off asking the question: Where do IT Organizations go for help. I believe the answer is to individuals - Lone Rangers - that is assimilated into organizations to help turn it around, sometimes with success and sometimes not. 
It is not companies, because this will communicate publicly that the physician is sick, with potential dire consequences to his business. 
I have personally been in a number of these organization roles, and believe me it is a hard business to "fix" businesses. People don’t like to change. Teams don’t like to change even if they stare death and destruction in the eye. Every step is learning for all involved, and unless there is an openness to learning, one doesn’t get very far in turning matters around.
The process has similar steps to the rehabilitation cycle of a substance abuse addict. The first steps aim to convince the patient of the fact that they have a problem. Then to convince him that it is not all lost, and there is a solution (that is tried and tested and doesn’t necessarily involve restructuring). Then only can the small baby steps commence towards recovery. It is doable. 
The last part of the journey is to work out a mechanism to keep the patient from relapsing into his old and comfortable behavior. People tend to take the route of least resistance. 
A lot is said in this Blog, and I guess much of it is contestable. I am counting on your feedback for that. 
Let me therefore leave you with one thought from a dear Baldrige friend, Grant Ford. He said: “I used to think that it is just as easy to learn from a horrible example as it is from a good one. My new concern is that if we only get to see horrible examples will you recognize a good one when you see it?” I haven’t seen much IT brilliance in the IT Services market of late. Let me know if you have. 
I challenge you and your IT Organization to defy common logic of the mediocrity that we find amongst us and contribute and communicate good examples of repeatable success to the benefit of the industry, and every IT Professional in it.
I look forward to hear from you.
Hendrik van Wyk

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