Is the IT Department being left behind in the 21st Century?

I was sparked into writing this article this morning after hearing an expression I thought we had moved away from. I overheard a couple of Senior IT guys at my client talk about “end user computing”.

This is an expression I haven’t heard since the 90’s or even the early 2000’s but with all the changes with devices and technology over last 10-15 years is it still a relevant concept?

This got me thinking about IT departments and the 21st Century. Has the march of technology overtaken the ability for the IT department to react and deliver technology solutions? Has the advent of digital given the business the opportunity to cut the IT department out of the equation and if they have what does the IT department need to do to reclaim the “technological authority”?

In the 80’s and 90’s we implemented massive organisation and productivity changing systems that impacted an entire organisation (without email and mobile phones in a lot of cases). Many of these system still exist with organisations and are deemed “heritage” or “legacy”. These needed a massive cohort to implement and then to support and this formed the bases of the IT department.

Large frameworks for the “management” of these projects and systems were developed and a governance structure put around the, ITIL; Prince 2 are two of the most popular. This led to longer delivery times and an administrative burden.

In parallel to these changes going on in the consumer space new technology was being introduced. Smart Phones, Netbooks, Tablets, Smart TV’s to name but a few. The internet that had ballooned during the late 90’s, and crashed, suddenly became mainstream and, as I predicted in the late 90’s the 4th utility.

All the while whilst this was going on the IT departments continued to get bigger and apply more and more frameworks and overheads along with outsourcing, what it saw as commodity skills which, were in fact, intellectual property (this will be the subject of a future article). What this meant was that to even have an idea to change a small bit of technology cost you thousands before you started.

It also led to the rise of the “shadow IT department” where end user departments were hiring, developing and supporting their own solutions.

Then we entered the digital economy. The rise of smartphones; tablets; ubiquitous internet via mobile phones and WiFi caused a perfect Nexus. Everything had to be digital. Again the IT department tried to impose a lot of the legacy disciplines onto the business which was rejected and as a result a new part of the business was created and called “digital” which meant the Technology Skilled staff worked alongside the business people as one to deliver what the business wanted.

Now we are deep into the new world. We have IT people looking after “heritage” and “Lagacy” systems and the Digital teams looking after the social media and digital world. Where does this leave the traditional IT department? My answer is well behind the curve.

People existing in the old world need to upskill and understand where the world has moved on to. Certain ideas and understandings need to be challenged and refreshed.

In conclusion there is no such thing now as “end user computing” everything is.

Managers versus leaders

businessmen-152572_640Managers versus Leaders

One of the disturbing developments I have noticed in a career stretching over 30 years in length is the rise of the manager and the demise of the leader.

Back in the 90’s when everybody was talking about “the new economy” businesses removed layers within organisations and “empowered” people to get on with it and make decisions. This enabled businesses to make major productivity gains and with the advent of the Enterprise Resource Planning systems businesses became quicker and more efficient.

Being a project manager you role was to keep the team motived and drive the timelines whilst making it fun! We didn’t have mobile phones or emails it was down to energy and strength or personality and charisma that made things happen.

Then something happened. I don’t know what it was but suddenly there were managers everywhere. Process and people were managed. Countries were managed by their politicians there was more emphasis on measuring everything; KPI’s; Scorecards; targets all leading to people managing their processes and business in such a way as to meet the measures not what was good for the business.

I think this trend has led to the phenomenon where managers are being paid massive bonuses and have no risk associated with the remunerations. It has also led to a lot of the scandals we see in the banks and other organisations.

This trend has to stop. We need leaders to be back in the forefront of business and driving the growth that the economies need.

My gut feel is that the true leaders will make a resurgence in business. The tools available now in terms of social media and collaboration and the “sharing” economy means that the managers have nothing to hide behind anymore.
Hopefully this will lead to innovation and risk taking and not just managing what currently exists.

I for one believe that the leaders ate the most important management resources we need in the 21st century world of business.


My last time two articles had been about the different types of project managers that you find within organisations and the different focus they have on projects. The “battery pm’s” focus on the process around a project, the “free rangers” are more focused on the content of a project.

Both areas are key the success of a project but one will deliver a successful project, the other will produce a great set of governance documentation.

The content is the most important part of a project and in order to understand what is required to deliver the project you need to have an understanding of the content and the context. This is obtained by talking to your sponsors, peers and any others you identify that gave the business and business impact understanding.

The content is the most important part of a project and in order to understand what is required to deliver the project you need to have an understanding of the content and the context. This is obtained by talking to your sponsors, peers and any others you identify that gave the business and business impact understanding. If you don’t understand the content and the understanding you are really only undertaking an academic exercise.

A great technique for getting the business understanding is the use the “new boy “pretence and ask the “dumb question “ of those with the knowledge. Most people are willing to help you and bring you up to speed as they understand the greater good and what the project is trying to deliver.

I remember delivering a project on time and to budget that ended up delivering over £3 million above the benefits case, yet because I had not produced on time a couple of governance items the project was deemed a non-successful project from an IT department perspective but from the business/customer standpoint one of their most successful projects of the year.

In summary both process and content are important and should be given focus, but in order to deliver you should focus on the content first and then the process.

freeRangeFree Range Project Managers

I recently wrote an article about the rise of the “battery project manager”. I thought it was time that I presented the alternative view. These I am calling the “free range project manager”.

These project managers tend to have a focus on the people involved in a project and less on the process of project management. Whilst they appreciate the need for process they see them more as “guidelines” and not “rules”.

It’s all about content

They are more inclined to talk to people in the flesh as opposed to getting the headset on and having a conference call. They understand the importance of non-verbal communication and have empathy to team members.

To them a project is not an academic exercise; it has real content where the business is a real customer. Their goal is to “delight” the customer and exceed their expectations. They work the hours they need to in order to get things done and not just the hors they have to.

They are risk takers, but not risk at any cost, they assess the risk and make an informed decision. If it goes against them they put their hands up and admit any mistakes. They stand behind their team and help then wherever they can.

They adjust to the requirements of the organisation they work in but never compromise their beliefs. Where possible they help those with less experience than themselves and like to pass their experiences on.

Every department should have a few of these project managers.

battery project managersBattery Project Managers

As an independent Project/Programme Management consultant who works with some of the largest corporates in the world I get to see the current acceptable practices in operation. An alarming trend I have spotted for some time is the rise of the “Battery Project Manager”.

The Battery project Managers sit in clusters with other Battery Project Mangers and manage their project from afar as an academic exercise. There I no interaction with the business and no understanding of what the actual project is trying to achieve.

Its all about the process

They follow process without regard to what it is they are doing. They use so called “enterprise tools” to report up and enact the latest edict without challenge.

 Issues and risks go into logs and are tracked mechanically and updated when requested. Status reports are completed on time as dictated by the PMO (The Programme Management Office).

There is no real distinction between a PMO analysts and a Battery Project Manager, in its worst manifestation Project Managers are subordinate to the analyst.

As you can tell from the article I am not overly impressed with what I see with this trend. Project management is a people game and requires interactions with others to be successful.

Its people that make projects a success not the process. Anyone can blindly follow a process but the real magic happens when you start questioning why things are done in a certain way.

Project Failures?

I am convinced that this trend is the reason why we see examples in the news of “glitches” with Bank systems or mobile phone systems not been available for hours. People who bear the scars of projects over the years know where the pitfalls are and where to look for likely problems.

If you haven’t been at the coalface it’s difficult to see what may happen.

I personally believe that the Project Management profession is at a crossroads between the entrepreneurial (free range) Project Managers and the Battery Project Managers.

I know if it was my business what I would want is to have project managers who focused on the content and not the process.


Sony T13 laptop

Sony T13 laptop

I  am a Switcher

Over the years there has been a great deal written about “switchers“. These are people wh have used PC’s for years who decide to move over to  Apple. I was one of these for the last few years. It was probably about the time of  Windows Vista that I decided to change. I had stuck to Apple though the early days of Windows 7 and watched with interest what was happening with Windows 8.

As you will have read from me earlier article (here) I started playing around with Windows 8 (on the Mac using Parallel’s) and liked what I found. It seemed very stable and once you got use to the Metro interface it becomes very slick. It was around this time that I realised I need to update my MacBook.

 Switcher to Apple

I purchased the MacBook back in 2007 and it has been a really effective tool and served me well. However I was getting to the point where certain applications could not be installed on it due to the chip used. This was really a pain and got me thinking that this wasn’t the first time I had been “let down” by the hardware used by Apple. The same thing happened with my old G5 desktop. I wont get too much into what I think about the Apple eco-system and how they treat their consumers, thats for another article, another day.

Anyway back to the thrust of this article. I decided to look around and initially did the Mac Versus PC comparison.  I wasn’t overly impressed with the latest MacBooks and the Air models to me seem to be designed for the “trendy” user.

A Switcher and Proud

I then looked into the idea of a touch screen Windows 8 machine. Looking at the market I went and tried some and have to say I loved the way they worked. It somehow feels natural to go between the keyboard and the screen and having major controls on the left and right of the screen works really well.

Whilst there has been a lot of criticism around the Metro interface I have to admit I like it. It is very straightforward and easy to use and very slick. I have now had my new laptop (Sony VAIO T13 Silver) for around a month and I have to say I am delighted by its performance and feel provided by Windows 8.

Another key observation to make here is if you can try the new Office 2013 as well, this is a real improvement on the old Office versions and it just feels that this is the best version yet. The interface is slick and very pleasing and the way the cursor moves and looks is very different.

Apple really needs to think about what it does next as Microsoft seems to have got it right with the latest version of Windows. If the hardware manufacturers get their act together there could be some really good hardware on offer over the next few years.

So there you go I am a switcher and proud of it – but not in the way you would expect!!


Windows 8

Windows 8 LogoWindows 8 – Worth the wait.

I have spent the last few days playing about with Microsoft’s new Windows 8 operating system and I have to say my initial thoughts are this is really good. Looking at early reports and release candidates of windows 8 there was a lot of reaction to the new Metro interface and the fact that it looked a bit clunky. Well imagine  my surprise that even after a couple of hours I found it to be intuitive and easy to use.

The whole idea of windows 8 is to have everything you need at your finger tips and to tailor it to the way you work.

The new look and feel of the various wrappers to applications is far smoother than previous incarnations and is very pleasing to the eye. You will notice the lack of a start button but that is early remedied by bringing down various add-ons that are available. The one I have tended to use is classic shell which can be found here.

Windows 8 Tips – Corners

As this is very early days with using windows 8 I thought I would let you have a some tips that I have discovered that are really useful. The first one is to remember how important the corners of the screen are for you now. As the devices I have used so far are traditional laptops and desktops they do not have the “touch features” that will arrive with other devices. However dragging your mouse into the corners of the screen brings up side panels that you can then use.

Windows 8 Tips – Right Click on Start Screen

This is a really powerful tip. If you right click when you are on the start screen and select all apps it basically gives you access to all the settings for your machine. Here you can access the command line as well as others. If you select an item on the screen and right click on that you are then given even more options including being able to run things as administrator.

Windows 8 – Being able to go back to clean machine.

One tip I have found really usefull is the ability to take an image of your machine that you can use to take your machine back to its original state in case you have a major issue. This can be acheived by:

Go to the start screen and right click. Once you have done this select All apps, this will bring up the various options you have on your machine. Have a look and find Command Prompt, right click on that and select run as administrator. When you are in the prompt then enter the following

mkdir C:\RefreshImage
recimg -CreateImage C:\RefreshImage

This will take some time to create the image but it will be worth it as you now have an image to revert back to if you run into problems with your machine and need to take it back to it’s original settings.

Well finally so far so good. I intend playing around more over the next few weeks and will update more as I learn more.


Time to Change Systems

With the issues over the last few days affecting RBS you have to ask the question is it time to replace these old archaic systems that have been patched over the years and the de-risk the business.

What these banks have done is apply sticking plaster to a gaping wound. The original systems were never designed for the 24/7 365 model. What these people should have done is invested when times were good and position themselves for the 21st-century.

We probably at the point now where the replacement of these systems is inevitable or even will be mandated by government.

As an independent IT consultant I welcome the challenge should these be presented to us. We certainly have the expertise within the UK to undertake such an endeavour.

If the investment is too big for one bank then why don’t the banks get together and specify and build a standard banking system. Adopting a standard system would enable certain controls and reporting to be mandated and if this is done in concert with the government regulation could be built into the system is as well as the controls.

We really can’t afford to put off these issues to the future. Every time a bank tries to upgrade standard software that comprise part of the batch system the risk of it going wrong increases.

As these systems get older and older the intellectual property of the bank is diminishing as people retire, get outsourced and leave. There has to be a point at which this must be done to such critical systems. We are trying to run 21st-century finance systems with late 20th century technology.

IT keyboardTechnology Glitch

A massive “Computer Glitch” at RBS group has caused incredible disruption to customers and has taken a long time to fix. Is this as a result of lack of investment in technology and the desire to constantly drive costs from running IT?

I understand that RBS/NatWest had just finished a massive restructuring and outsourcing of its technical teams so it is definitely an area to look at for fault.

As someone who works in the IT field I have seem first hand how business has expected IT year after year to reduce its costs. If it were a function that what not so important to businesses then I could understand it but IT is now THE fundamental tool that runs the business and banks more so. As a result of this constant race to the bottom more and more of the intellectual property of the business has been sold off.

I am a strong believer in Strategic outsourcing however you should only ever outsource “commodity skills”.  For example installing and supporting desktops is something that lends its self to an outsourced model. However is you need to have an understanding of the technology AND how the business uses that technology then it is not really something you should outsource, as that is the intellectual property of the business.

From reading the press it appears that this fundamental rule has not been followed with the RBS issue and a technology that was outsourced needed a thorough understanding of how it all worked together and not just the technology skill.

One question I would like someone to ask the executives of RBS is how much this will costs and how does this compare with the savings that were made.

As well as the news about RBS I heard on Radio 4 from Wilbur Ross, the US billionaire who has worked with Virgin Money on buying the Northern Rock business and he stated that the big banks in the UK have invested so little in technology that none of them are really prepared for the demands of the 21st Century.

Putting the two news items together you have to ask yourself where is the next Technology issue with the banks coming from? Who will be next?

UPDATE 28/6/2012 – Following on from my article yesterday Martin Taylor, the former chief executive of Barclays, stated that “There’s not much to a bank except its licence, computer systems and reputation” . So based on that its all pretty damaging for RBS.


Voice recognition

Voice Recognition

Over the last few years alternative ways to access computers have been sought. One of the most compelling has to be voice recognition. I have tried several versions of voice recognition software and have never really found it that accurate for daily use.

However is this all about change. What with Apple’s Siri and Dragon express I believe that voice recognition has now come of age.

I have used  previous versions of Dragon over the years and always found it very tedious to install and then train. This time however I downloaded Dragon Express, installed it, followed the wizard and then within 6 or 7 panels it was trained and ready to go.

In fact I’m now dictating this straight into Dragon and the accuracy is very good indeed. Not only is the accuracy good but I am dictating this where the television is quite loud and it seems to be working fine. With this in mind I really do believe that we are now entering a new age where the traditional keyboard and mouse will be replaced by touch and voice.

In the Windows arena the interface also changing with the development of a PC version of X boxes Kinect. Not only does this offer voice recognition it also offers gesture control.

So in conclusion the next few months and years are going to be very interesting as the new means of interaction gather pace with different types of form factor. I firmly believe that voice recognition will play a major role in this.

This article was created  using voice recognition from Dragon Express.