Book Review – Jack’s Notebook

I am adding book reviews to the blog as I these particular books have one had a impact on my approach to problem solving and/or team building. 

To be brief these reviews will cover three areas.

  1. A quick sentence or two about why I am reviewing this book
  2. The main points I picked up from the book
  3. How I use or used it

Author Gregg Fraley        

This is one of my favorite ‘business’ books due to the fact that it, just like my other favorite ‘ The Deadline, by Tom DeMarco’ it is written in novel form.  Dispensing their wisdom through the course of a not terrible, though clichéd, plot line.

–       CPS (creative problem solving) Process on page xiii

  • Not revolutionary, but always a good review a couple of times a year

–       Quote “if you really understand a problem, solutions come easy; solutions tend to suggest themselves” on page 41

  • I have used this often when struggling to develop a solution or my team has to refocus our energy and redefining the problem in more detail

–       When listing risks, assumptions and concerns put them in phrase that starts with “In what ways might we” on page 91

  • Often I would list a risk as
    • Too few resources
    • Priority conflicts with other projects and so on
  • Instead of
    • In what ways might we ensure that we have the right resources
    • In what ways might we avoid or limit conflicts with our project

–       CPS (yes again, it is worth it) Quick Reference on page 214

  • Specifically the List Making and Choice Making columns

I have given this book to many people as I have with The Deadline (a review coming).


Everyone is in IT

A business has 1,000 employees and almost all 1,000, repeat almost all 1,000 employees are working in Information Technology.  Yes, it is true.

This is not a technology company.  They distribute paper products, or manufacture clothing or are a restaurant chain.   Yet, it is still true that most of this company that is a company you work for and /or run are working in information technology.   Technology has, to state the most obvious thing in the world, taken over entire companies and most companies don’t even know it.  Well, not knowing it is a bit harse.  Let me clarify by saying that most leaders of these companies are not aware of the massive amount of technologies pervalent in their companies.

Company leaders are aware of their data center, their back office applications, the desktops, laptops and the network.  Along with the connectivity to the web, smartphones and tablets.  However, it is the land of applications and cloud based data sharing/storage where company leadership is ignorant of the volume of intellectual property, critical business processes and other revenue producing activities.

You would think that there is a department who manages all that.  In most companies it is called the IT Department.

But, what most companies do not realize is that almost all of their employees utilize technology that their IT Department does not control, monitor or support.

In the past these were shadow IT areas, where technology capable employees, but frustrated by IT controls would quietly develop applications, purchase non-standard equipment and so.  

These employees are no longer in the shadows and as such have grown in breath of capability and scope of activities.

Everyone’s an expert in information technology

They code websites, contract with vendors to develop mobile apps and place volumes of data online for sharing to make their work lives easier.  The IT Departments attempt to combat them with policies, standards, risk and cost warnings, but to no avail.  They enlist Finance to grapple control of budgets, but the business units fight back with cries of slow response and behind the times IT technology that is stiffling revenue growth.

So the non-IT part of that business unit continues to research, select, implement, upgrade, replace and leverage technologies of their individual chosing.

The IT Department should stop trying to stop the use of these technologies.  With everyone in IT, the IT Department has to evolve and evolve quickly or there will be a revolution.  With everyone in IT, IT must be come a broker, facilitator and coach.  Let Finance and the auditors along with HR be the heavies when it comes to telling the business they have to stop using a technology.

Welcome this uncontrolled, undisciplined world that can be guided, though not steered (drop that steering committee).  Embrace the fact that your highly skilled, trained and experience IT staff is no longer the single bastion of technology knowledge.  That those 1,000 employees are resources of knowledge, experimentation and exploration of technology.

Think more like IBM in the early days of the PC. They held back, let Commodore, HP and Apple make the breakthroughs.  Then, just like Henry Ford did with the Model-T, IBM put the power of their manfacturing, distribution and marketing know how to take over the PC market for years.  Also, learn from IBM that seeing the end of that domination of PC’s, they left it.   Sold off (outsourced) their PC assets and now have evolved to a primary consulting services.

Everyone is in IT.  If you are business leader, realize the breadth of technologies at your company not controlled or supported by the IT Department and those controlled and supported by all those other IT folks not working in the IT Department.  If you are an IT leader, realize you cannot win that old war you fought for years for standardization.

Why don’t they understand?

I am a technology guy.  I have been one for some 25 years now.  Like many of my colleagues, we like to think we are also business people.  We have gone back to school and been awarded after a few years of hard work are MBAs.    Then we won promotions from manager, to director to VP and CIO.

Bam, we made it.  We have all the technology knowledge and business know how too.  So, what is the problem.

Ah, that is still very simple.  We are not a sales unit, nor a product unit and no matter how much we try we are not a service unit for profit.  We are Finance and HR, but not that lucky.

You see, Finance, well they have been around since mankind started trading with each other.  Someone had to track the values of the trades.  The origins of language can be traced to accounting for cattle.  But, no one – I mean no one would think that Finance should provide a competitive advantage (they can), just no one really considers it.

Now with HR, again this can be traced back to early mankind.  At that time it was called human trading or the house man who managed the staff, hired replacements, fired them (a lot kinder now than it was than) and trained them.  They do not generate sales or profit, they provide the resources.  No one considers them a competitive advantage (though they can be).

So, are brother departments have been around 1,000 of years.  IT is not just the new guy on the block, we are the infants.  We are a corporate overhead with expectations that we deliver top and bottom line results from our innovation and execution.  But, also a utility to keep the data flowing, like power flowing.  Unlike our brother areas we must cover both sides of the spectrum with the same people, processes and technology.

It will be an ongoing struggle, challenge and the search for both the business to understand and us IT brethren to learn how to manage that balance and thrive.  Being in this lot, we will continue to say they don’t understand.

Those folks in Sales have it easy, all they have to do is sell.  Not true, we know in our mind as if we had to walk in their shoes and them in ours, we would quickly learn it is not simple on either side.

So, what is the answer to making ‘they’ understand.  It comes down to what all of us overhead functions have to delivery whether it be finance, HR or IT.  We must continue to provide options.

The difference is that for HR and finance, for the most part (outside of when we hire/fire people or budget season) we gladly let HR and finance do their jobs and perform not to get too involved.  After all, you rarely hire/fire people in your personal life.  Perhaps that plumber gets out of line and you need to get a new one or you decide to switch banks every 10 years because the old one was taken over by one you don’t like.  But, for most people they have limited HR/finance activities in their business life and in their personal life.

Yet, technology, well that pervades our business and very heavily our personal life.

You have the mobile phone you need to change every year or two and learn how to use it.

The new laptop – going from PC to Mac and back or not.

The wi-fi you have at your house now (please make sure you change the default password).

The new home media center that can download from Netflix and stream YouTube life.

Now add to this the business aspect of cloud based applications being sold directly to the business, bypassing those annoying IT folks who worry about governance.

So, why don’t they understand?

Because, they understand just enough to be dangerous.  Not really dangerous, but they understand enough to talk the buzz words, but not enough to understand governance.

It is therefore not so much, why they don’t understand, but what they don’t understand.

Governance is what they don’t understand and the more we as IT people realize that it is a job number one to get them to understand governance, the more they will understand.

Governance – a pain, both difficult to explain and therefore to understand.  More than worth it.

Microsoft Enterprise Agreement

Here I am with a need to select a web platform, a possible new ERP, a long term strategic IT plan to develop and oh yeah, that bloody Microsoft EA expiring in a couple fo months.  While part of the IT strategy will be what will be the future desktop, server, mail, and collaboration platforms which the EA could be a part of the cost efficiency that the strategy can deliver.  But, EA complexity has given birth to a consulting industry.  Managing the EA is not effective.

MS as listed here goes on and on about ‘More choices, more value’.  Really, I doubt it.  As for simplifying my license management get out of here.  For us mid-size companies we are pinched by not being big enough to get the value of 1,000 plus licensing, but too big to just ignore the EA.

Open Value

Open Value Subscription

Select Plus

Enterprise Agreement

Which one to choose, which one to choose?  Are you going to grow over the next few years?  Will you be committing to MS solutions primarily during the same time span?  Will you upgrade to 2010 and Windows 7?  What is the value of those two upgrades – know one knows for sure?

What MS-Office tools should be.

The questions go on and on and the variables are — well too damn many.

You have the stories about the ‘looming Windows 7 disaster’  from IBM and the similar looming story from Infoworld.  So what are my choices?  Stay with MS and spend weeks trying to ensure you make the right decision.  Than worse than that time spent, you have to explain it to your Finance group so they understand it.

Or as this blog entry about moving away from MS by Nari Kannan is it time to plan that move away from the MS operating system.  Gartner talks about

‘Windows is Broken’ and I have been wondering for a few years about whether the reason for Windows is maintaining the majority  it enjoys simply because of a combination of complacency by both IT and business along

with a fear of failing with something new.

Is it time to take a long, long look at moving to a Linux based OS with using Open Office?  There is that mail problem that is not quite fully solved by the available clients.  Ah, but that is for another blog entry.  What about just giving up on the homogeneous desktop and server platform and accept that you will need to take on the additional support staffing to offset the lower cost of OS and open source applications.  And than there is Google Chrome.

Again, more on this in a future entry.

The focus here is the ineffective licensing process that Microsoft has put in place. What other vendor do you work with that you continue to stay with that makes your IT group less effective.  The only good thing is it is every few years versus every year.  We won’t go into the non-effective activities every Tuesday getting the latest patches from MS.  Because to be fair, if Linux or Apple had MS’s install base, the bored hacking community would be focused on them instead.

From my perspective, if I give MS another 6 figure check for my next EA agreement.  I am buying the right to decide 12 to 18 months from now whether I want to upgrade to Windows 7 and other products.  Somehow the MS EA seems anti-nimble.  The solution is simple, but time consuming.  Do the homework to do a full evaluation of leaving MS.  That is just as Gartner puts it, the only way to get MS to start acting in the best interest of their customers, not just their shareholders.

Thanks to PCD Innovations for MS parody.