Strategy: The What and the How of Technology Strategy

compass-imageImagine I tell you that I want to go to San Francisco from LA. You then begin plans to determine the best way to travel to SF by either car, plane, or boat. After careful analysis, you select flight as the most efficient way to get us to SF and begin working on travel plans and booking flights. About midway through your work to get us to SF, I come back and say actually, Toronto is a much better destination. How would you feel if the tickets had been purchased and lodging booked? This is what many clients do to their teams by believing that the project objectives are fluid and can be a “living document” to be changed anytime. This the “what” part of tech strategy (what are we doing, what is the destination etc.) that I believe is critical to defining before you get to the “how” (how are we building this, how are we getting to the destination, etc.) of any project.

Let’s be honest, defining the “what” part of tech strategy is hard work and is commonly avoided or giving very minimal attention from managers and executives before they embark on that high-profile digital initiative. It is what causes many tech teams, designers, and PM’s to pull out their hair as they attempt to lock down the objective of a project while being simultaneously pushed to “just build the damn thing and get it launched.”

So how do we avoid this headache and get stakeholders to agree on objectives that provide the team with a compass to find the project’s “True North?” My advice is to be honest with managers, executives, and clients. Let them know that by “evolving” goals, they are forcing the team to constantly find a moving target. This typically results in increased costs, delayed or canceled projects, and a huge hit to team morale. By defining the objectives upfront, the success metrics can be defined and measured upfront. If the metrics dictate a pivot, you have the data to back up a change in strategy. This is why it is critical to define the “what” in your tech or digital strategy.

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Daniel is a digital consultant specializing in IT advisory on technology strategy, investment, and implementation. He helps companies solve complex and strategic problems across multiple industries and domains. His drive to find solutions for clients and attain personal growth for himself is what keeps him at the forefront of innovation and helps him guide teams and organizations to cultivate amazing products and services. He can be found on Twitter at @dewilliams.

Problem Solving: Fix the Toxic Corporate Culture that is Stifling Innovation and Market Value

It was years ago, but I can still remember the madness that surrounded me. The IT organization was a complete mess and filled with chaos. They were kept at arms-length by the business and marketing teams. They were not included in the detailed discussions involving new innovation. The digital marketing team even created their own little IT team to avoid the toxicity. Coming out of this environment (and similar situations over the last 15 years, I have learned how to identify and navigate the murky waters to solve multimillion dollar challenges. Using a model similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which many people should be familiar with (or at least remember bits of it from high school or college). As a refresher, the hierarchy is more of a theory that lists the stages of growth that humans go through generally in life. The stages identified by Maslow are:

  • physiological needs (basic physical requirements for human survival),
  • safety needs (personal, financial, health, etc. security),
  • belonging and love needs (friendships, intimacy, family),
  • esteem needs (respect from others and self-respect)
  • self-actualization (a person’s full potential and realization of that full potential), and
  • self-transcendence (focus on a higher outside goal, altruism, or spirituality).

As I have spent the last 18 years in and around technology, I noticed a familiar theme in dealing with IT organizations, digital teams, and IT acquisitions, what I call an “IT Hierarchy of Needs.” This hierarchy is a stack of needs that can increase the likelihood that your IT strategy, implementation, and ongoing innovation will succeed. Although, this theory is not a guarantee of success, ignoring these organizational needs will increase your probability of failure.

  1. Physiological Needs (working space, offices, open working environment, collaboration spaces)

    The physiological needs for an IT organization focus on providing an open working space that is collaborative and fosters the sharing of ideas. If your IT team is walled off from the rest of the organization or is kept out of the loop during digital strategy, technology assessments, and vetting of new solutions, then you are handicapping your ability to build real value for your customers.

  2. Safety Needs (IT security, cyber capabilities, security awareness, information safety best practices)

    Once the basic physical needs are met, and your IT team is in physical proximity to the business teams, the next step if security and safety. Recall that “a chain is only as strong as it’s the weakest link,” well an organization is only as safe as it’s the weakest point. To strengthen the weak points, educating staff on security best practices is key. Many cyber programs implement ongoing security testing across the organization, randomly sending decoy spam and phishing scams via email. More organizations need to implement these practices especially in light of the 2016 election hacking by Russia on political organizations in the U.S. Contact and communications from unfamiliar sources should be immediately forwarded to cyber personnel for review and evaluation.

  3. Belonging and Love Needs (friendships, trust, real collaboration)

    Once staff feels like they are safe and secure in their physical environment, they can start to build relationships within their group and across the organization. These relationships, collaboration, and information sharing should be encouraged visibly from the CEO down to facilities staff. I remember working for a client where it was actively encouraged for their employees to not share insights and data across divisions. The leaders of this organization assumed this would create competition and lead to better performance. The actual outcome was decreased market share, disgruntled employees, and an environment where the only people able to get work done were the consultants billing $200-$500/hr. This reminds me a saying that rings true: “There is always money to be made in chaos.” In order to save time and money, break down the silos and incentivize staff to build connections. I have personally benefited from building relationships everywhere that I have worked or consulted, getting to know the business, technology stack, and key decision-makers. This approach allowed me to identify the top pain points and problems across the organization and share these insights with anyone that would listen (not hoarding knowledge like a secret pot of gold).

  4. Esteem Needs (respect from others and self-respect)

    Once real relationships have been established based on mutual trust and friendship (not the passive-aggressiveness common in the corporate world), information is being shared, and problems and being identified and solved collaboratively, 2 interesting things happen: 1) respect starts to build between people and groups, and 2) self-respect starts to grow among individuals based on their positive impact on their team, department, the organization, the industry, etc. As proof, look at the reviews of any company on Glassdoor. You will see a common theme develop. Organizations that foster positive physical environments, safety, and security, and encourage real collaboration, relationship-building, solicit problem-solving and innovative ideas have the highest ratings. Companies that do none of these activities will have the poorest ratings.

  5. Self-actualization (organizational full potential and realization of that full potential)

    For many organizations, there is a wide gap between their full potential and the value that they actually create and deliver. As stated in the previous section, most of this can be identified by not implementing the practices outlined here. When staff and leaders are focused on dealing with silos, internal fighting, employee morale, and lack of new ideas, they can’t focus on what the organization’s full potential and how to get there. Many times, it never occurs that there is a better way to operate. However, once the previous steps are in place, this opens the door to a wide world of new ideas, problem-solving, value, innovation, and market share.

  6. Self-transcendence (focus on a higher outside goal, altruism, social/societal good)

    Once an organization is thriving internally, increased market share, customer value, staff morale, etc., they can then turn outward to more altruistic activities. These activities transcend the organization, founders, and executives by focusing on one or more societal challenges that can and should be addressed. For example, the Gates Foundation was formed after Microsoft and Bill Gates had accomplished most of the activities outlined here (Microsoft went through a period of malaise after Gates stepped down as CEO, but has since returned to its former glory). Warren Buffett is focused on his Giving Pledge now that the legacy of Berkshire Hathaway is established. There are many, many other examples that I can give of organizational self-transcendence, but hopefully, this is enough for now.

Daniel is a digital consultant specializing in IT advisory on technology strategy, investment, and implementation. He helps companies solve complex and strategic problems across multiple industries and domains. His drive to find solutions for clients and attain personal growth for himself is what keeps him at the forefront of innovation and helps him guide teams and organizations to cultivate amazing products and services. He can be found on Twitter at @dewilliams.

Problem Solving: 5 Reasons Staff Augmentation Sucks and What to Do About It

In my role selling professional consulting services and IT solutions to Fortune 500 customers, I see a variety of support models ranging from simple staff augmentation to large-scale managed services contracts. Although best practices across multiple industries over the last 10 years has seen a gradual migration away from staff augmentation towards managed services, I still see push back for various logical (and illogical) reasons.

What if there was a intermediate step between staff-aug and managed services? Fortunately, there is such a step called “Managed Capacity.” This support model combines many of the perceived benefits of staff augmentation (flexibility, onboarding consultants quickly) with the benefits of managed services (vendor takes on responsibilities for deliverables, outcomes, and management of resources). We still recommend that clients start on the path to managed services, but we have seen the best outcomes when customers start with managed capacity to get accustomed to an outcome-based support model, then move to managed services with all of the enterprise advantages that it brings. Here are the 5 signs you are ready and should move from staff augmentation to managed capacity.

  1. Reason #1: You are seeing budget constraints from unplanned staffing or project costs.
    Every organization experiences unplanned costs due to staffing, projects, or changes in direction / strategy. Unfortunately, the easiest (and costliest) way to deal with this is to throw more bodies at the issue through staffing. In my experience, we have helped clients work through these issues via managed capacity where we take on the burden of managing deliverables, outcomes, and time/cost tracking.
  2. Reason #2: You aren’t seeing the project outcomes / progress that you expect from your vendors.
    No enterprise project portfolio is perfect and issues / failures do happen. However, if you are seeing a pattern of delays, quality issues, and/or project failures, then maybe the delivery model needs to be adjusted. One question I get from customers is “How would managed capacity help with project delays/failures?” One way in which managed capacity helps is the focus on delivery of required skills to get the project done and not just a “butt in a seat.” Secondly, customers get predictable and cost-effective outcomes. Third and most importantly, customers get active knowledge management that is retained and shared across the customer and project teams, reducing the risk of valuable IC leaving the if there is staff turnover.
  3. Reason #3: You constantly need to ramp teams up and down quickly for new projects or initiatives.
    Projects are one of the core elements of an enterprise and ideally, you would only work on planned projects on a carefully crafted roadmap. However, anyone that spent any time on a medium-to-large organization call attest that this is not always possible due to competing priorities, internal politics, and sometime just dumb luck. This is where managed capacity can help manage the shock of fluctuating project needs by outsourcing the overhead and maintenance of staff capacity to an external vendor with the experience and track record of outcome-based delivery.
  4. Reason #4: You are working on new, complex projects requiring specialized skills.
    Many projects that enterprises undertake are pretty routine and straightforward (maintenance, enhancements, etc.). However, in order to stay competitive, organizations must innovate with complex projects requiring specialized skills such as new application development, data migration, cloud migration, or new strategy development. Managed Capacity allows us to support a range of skills with minimal risk to the customer. We take on the staffing, deliverable, and outcome risks of complex projects where there many “unknown unknowns.”
  5. Reason #5: You are facing new threats (internal and external) and need your project teams to be more efficient and effective.
    There are always new threats to your organization (both internal and external) that you need to address and overcome on a daily basis. How you take on these threats can affect your success or failure in the short-, medium-, and long-term. If you go with a pure staffing model, you will get the ramp up in bodies, but what is the guarantee that you will have the staff you need in the right place at the right time? With new pressures from large enterprises, SMBs and startups, the ability to deliver better outcomes at a lower overall cost could be the key to your organization keeping into advantages and the key to your individual success as a manager or executive.

If you are interested in learning more about managed capacity or managed services, feel free to contact me in the comments or on LinkedIn.

Tech Advisor: Meeting the Challenges of the Modern CIO

In many Chief Information Officer (CIO) organizations, there is a perception by customers that CIO capabilities can be very limited. In these types of environments, information technology (IT) is viewed more as a cost than a strategic investment. In these cases, customers may only work with the CIO organization for network issues of email problems. To the customer, the CIO may meet their expectations in dealer with an issue, but falls short in providing continuous strategic value. However, the modern CIO can take a lead role in changing that limited perception, moving the organization toward fully leveraging IT to provide real strategic value to the enterprise.

Meeting the Challenges of the Modern CIO (PDF 1.37 MB)

Tech Strategy: People Process Technology Strategy for Enterprise 2.0

Most people think of Enterprise 2.0 of Enterprise Collaboration as a particular set of technologies, such as blogs, wikis, and profiles. Others describe it as simply the ability to share information or knowledge within the enterprise. However, these definitions are inadequate–Enterprise 2.0 is the ability to leverage business and IT strategy together to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of technology initiatives. Therefore, to establish Enterprise 2.0 means organizations must choose and measure IT projects on the basis of three criteria: 1) does it increase revenue, 2) does it cut costs, and/or 3) does it increase performance. Enterprise 2.0 is not simply a series of technology tools, but a transformation of the enterprise mindset to build strategy to address business requirements that realize cost savings, performance improvement and if possible, new innovative sources of revenue.

People, Process, Technology Strategy for Enterprise 2.0 (PDF 1.04 MB)