CIO – How to Fix your IT Group

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Think of your current portfolio of IT work as the Colorado River for a moment. Some projects are very close, others further upstream. Important “Operational” projects are at the surface as they are required to sustain current operations and other pressing projects are also close but are beneath the surface.  These projects flow to and through your IT group and all IT groups have more work than is ever possible to process. Your IT group becomes the Hoover Dam.

The operational projects at the top of the dam are the first to flow through, spin through the turbines and generate the electricity to “keep the lights on”. Still pressing at the dam are the important other projects; the ones that provide innovation, differentiation and competitive advantage. The ones that are game changers for the organization. They too are right at the face of the dam, however they are at the base of it. The pressure at the base of the Hoover Dam is 45,000 pounds per square foot.  Moving that project to the top so it can get into the chutes and processed either requires herculean CIO effort or you have to fix the way your IT group works.

As the CIO you can

  • install more efficient turbines (new processes, training) or
  • upgrade your generators (new software, application development software and hardware, rationalize/standardize/optimize)

but the flow of water coming into the top of the chutes is always the same. If you have been in IT for a while you have lived through 4GL’s, Object Oriented Programming, SOA, AGILE etc. and still the backlog of projects remains. All of these technologies have promised paradigm-shift improvements in throughput and they have all delivered benefit, but all well below expectations.  Twenty years ago a mainframe Cobol development IT group could produce new systems at a productivity rate of 16 hours per function point. Today the average rate is still the same, with only a small percentage of IT groups in the higher 10-12 hour per function point range. Clients who off-shore development often find that the productivity rate is half of on-shore, so even with more, less expensive resources, the backlog remains.  So what’s the real answer?

Fix your IT Group.

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The Hoover dam has 6 diversion tunnels at the base of the river.  Open these tunnels just a bit and the water comes flying out at 200,000 CFS and  120 MPH at 300 PSI. The interesting part of this analogy is that the diversion gates can be 75% open before they effect the net generating capability of the dam itself.

The concept here to fix your IT group is to find a completely different path to get the work done. Your IT systems and processes are not likely bad, but they are built to the highest common denominator. You use hardened datacenters, twin DR sites, dozens of security mechanisms, rigorous requirements analysis and testing and your best people are consumed by maintenance and compliance to the processes. All of these things are required, but they are not required for every system.  The same procurement process used to acquire more Tier-1 SAN space will be used for any project,  not just the one with the Petabyte requirements.

What if?

  • You don’t procure hardware?
  • You don’t have your own datacenter?
  • You empower your architects & developers to make light-weight infrastructure decisions?
  • You empower your team members to do multiple roles?
  • You give your IT personnel a credit card with a $5,000 limit instead of a Procurement Request form.
  • You don’t maintain exclusivity of your corporate directory?
  • You keep an open-mind to right-sizing requirements management, change management, configuration management and yes even quality assurance and testing processes?
  • You believe that security works well-enough to not represent a material business risk to your company?

Today with federated identities and cloud PaaS capabilities, your end-users would have no idea a new system produced for them was off-premise and running in a PaaS cloud. When integrating to your systems whether they are local or cloud based, the technology today does not differentiate and creates a transparency between them. I am not suggesting a wholesale migration to the cloud, what I am suggesting is that to fix your IT group you need to divert some resources away from the core flow and set them up in a completely different world.

Let’s assume for the moment you require a new application where your customers can check the status of an order, update a quantity, check and change a delivery schedule and securely approve a revised PO amount on the their mobile devices. (iPhone, iPad, WP, Android, Win, Mac etc.) For your 200,000 global customers you also want to create and publish interactive training videos to show them how to take advantage of this new capability and you also have an internal application for dealing with exceptions, purchase order limits and credit issues and call center integration for your customers if they run into issues.

Go ahead ask your IT group how long this will take…

My guess is they will tell you “6 to 8 months once we get started but at the moment we have a backlog of operational changes that won’t be cleared until mid next year”.

The real answer was this project from concept to operation was 8 weeks until the first production customer used the system. An additional 8 weeks later it was opened to all customers globally and was at least once used by 25% if their customer base within the first 6 months.  What do the customers say?  “Very Convenient, you’re making it much easier to do more business with you”

This was not a simple application, it had commercial grade security requirements, significant integration with  ERP systems, Finance Systems and Call Center systems, a requirement for a global content repository and required support across multiple mobile devices.

The CIO in this case needed this project done, done right and done fast.  She diverted a good team from the core  IT group and empowered them with the ability to build this on Azure PaaS.  The development environment was up day 2 (Tues) of the process, by Friday of that week they had concept screens and flows built for the following Monday workshop with the stakeholders.  While the work on the end-user application continued, team members built and tested connections to the backend datacenter systems with an on-premise integration server and 3 weeks later they had a dedicated private link to the cloud installed. By week four, they had a fully functioning solution  and the next four weeks were spent testing, creating  and publishing training materials and security hardening the solution.

As the CIO you cannot divert all of the processing away from the dam, you do need to keep the lights on. Divert some and you may just find out that you can divert more than you think. Set expectations very, very high for the diversion project, find some IT resources who share your vision, hire an experienced PaaS architect to be a coach and catalyst for your team and divert to the cloud for that next new project idea.

That’s how you fix your IT Group.

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