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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.

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.

post-pc era

Post-PC era

I am fascinated to see the coverage in the press over the last few days raving about windows 8 and how this is a move to the post pc-era.

As someone who was working and delivering large technology programmes in the pre-pc era I have to ask myself if the pc has had its day.

My initial response is it may well be the post pc-era in terms of consumer devices and the use of technology in the home but in terms of the corporate world I really doubt it. How many people out there are still using XP service pack 2 (my current client has only recently moved to SP3!)?

What really is happening is the computer power that was once the domain of the PC can now put delivered in any form factor imaginable, tablet, smartphone, small screen devices what ever the human mind can dream up.

I think the term that should be used is not the post-pc era but the era of “ubiquitous computing”.

The fact that these new devices and form factors are providing opportunities to deliver new and exciting business solutions needs to be embraced and we should push to use them wherever possible.

In previous articles on this site I have said that IT needs to move away from and cant do attitude to a can do attitude. Well thinking differently can help in that re-alignment.

As the computer pervades more into day to day life there will be the demand to have the same in peoples professional life, how many are already asked about ipads!

I have always been someone who has looked forward in technology terms and I find what is happening now as one of the most exciting times to be around. The early promise of computing is now becoming a reality.

Crystal Ball2012 Predictions

So its that time of year when I start thinking about what is going to be the next big thing in the coming year in terms of corporate IT and technology generally.

Cloud Computing

As in my 2011 predictions article cloud computing will continue to be a major theme within IT. Cloud computing will go through a maturity stage in the coming year and the definition will become widely accepted as –

requires systems that run on a simplified data center architecture, operated largely by automated policies, not human hands. The architecture allows end users to self-provision their own servers, and has a billing mechanism that allows the supplier to charge only for the resource used, not the lifetime software license cost”.

Not just adding the word cloud to existing offerings as several of the large vendors have tried to do (termed as cloud-washing).

I believe that this concept will also move toward cloud based applications which does enable SME’s to use enterprise class applications at a fraction of the cost.

The major challenge for the big enterprise vendors is how they set up the billing for these kind of services and they will need to change the mind-set from the existing Processor based and other costing models.

Enterprise Apps

Again this was an area I touched on last year and this hasn’t moved as quickly as I thought it would, however there are signs of this market picking up.  The site www.getapp.com currently has over 4,580 apps available for download in many areas of business.

This area needs to become more mature before it becomes mainstream but the signs are there that this is happening and the trajectory is in the right direction.

Social Media/Collaboration

The one area that I see massive movement next year is the area of Social Media and collaboration. In the past collaboration would have been treated separately but until the drive of social media the collaboration would have been 1-to-1.

With social media the collaboration becomes many-2-many or any other combination you can think off.

It seems strange that this hasn’t happened sooner as a corporation has to be the best example of a social network in existence.

The tools are now there and a good example is www.yammer.com. This has aspects of Twitter and Facebook and is integrated into corporate infrastructures for security purposes but is cloud based.

Theses tools lend themselves to be department; company; interest group; Project  or any other configuration that suite the problem/need you currently have and facilitate communication interaction and inclusion.

Transform from Can’t do to Can do

Probably my most radical prediction for the coming year is the transformation of the IT department from a mentality of cant do to a can do mentality.

Its interesting to see that all of the predictions I have may so far are all around things that are or facilitate self service to the end user not the central IT department.

The central department is viewed as a hindrance to the organisation by many and as a result is often bypassed.

IT management need to change the culture and start to get things done. One of the most annoying things that business users experience is the SLA. Service Level Agreement, these were initially put in place to encourage requests to be seen to within a timeframe that can be measured for performance, what has happened over time is the SLA has become how long it will take – not the original intention.

This transformation will not happen overnight it will take years. If we don’t start this movement now we may end up with all IT roles being shifted to the cloud!

Well that’s it for my 2012 predictions it looks like we have an interesting year ahead.

RIP Steve Jobs

Photograph of Steve JobsIt is with great sadness that we have learnt today of the death of Steve Jobs the co founder of Apple Computer Corporation.

He was a true visionary who moved the computer world away from grey boxes that were for grey accountants and into a world of different shapes, sizes and colours.

He also changed the way look at animation with the Pixar studios, my children were brought up on the studios offerings and their childhood was better because of that.

He changed the way we consume music and also changed the music industry as a result.

His vision and insight looked almost messianic by the Apple evangelists, very few people can turn a brand into a cult, but absolutely spot on with the average consumer.

I will always remember one thing I heard him say which some may find it hard to understand. He always said that Apple was not a hardware business but a software business.

It’s because of the approach to software and how it interacts with the user that we have these totally engaging form factors and interfaces that exist today.

As Bill Gates has said today his influence on the world will be present for generations to come.

He really was an agent of change.

So MP’s have finally realised that the government is paying too much for their IT and that they are beholding to a few major contract players. Well how long has it taken them to realise this then!

Most people within the IT profession have known for years that the main players had the whole of the government sector stitched up and were milking it to the nth degree. In fact many believe that the reason that IR35 was introduced was to stitch it up even further.

Its really good news to hear that there are plans now to open up the sector to smaller players and helpfully this should man that there will be a better bang for the buck going forward.

The unfortunate side of this is that a lot of the money has already been spent and it may be a bit late to try and give something back to the tax payer.

Do you think there is an opportunity for small independent consultants to get together and form Consortia in order to bid for some of this work? There are certainly the people with the right skills and motivation out there in the market – What are you thoughts?