The One Size Measure that Matters: The Size of the Problem

Sue Rule FaceAnother briefing on the impact of Cloud services leaves me in little doubt that business IT is facing a sea-change. Cloud services put choice in the hands of the business user. Just as the Internet snatches control of product information from advertisers and marketers, developments in the way technology products are designed, built and delivered to users means the writing is on the wall for IT departments and managers, which fail to adapt to the new, customer-oriented landscape.

Two quotes from the briefing stuck in my mind. The first, “Firewalls and security protocols are not responsible for security. People are responsible for security.” The second was the anecdote about the number of “rogue” SAAS apps in use by the staff of a major organization.

Business IT is not about the technology, it’s about the way people use it. IT managers who cling to the top-down approach of controlling how technology is used in the business will find themselves and their department increasingly sidelined. IT is there to provide a service, to help people use technology to do their work more efficiently and effectively.

This is not just a question of asking people what they want. Users don’t know what they don’t know. Until the software is there for them to use, they cannot see how software can influence the way they work so they can make more efficient and effective use of their time. I can still remember telling my husband (back in the mid-1980’s) that I didn’t see how I would have any use for a computer. Now, I feel bereft when parted from my laptop for too long. Did you have any use for a tablet until Apple brought out the iPad?

Many business applications seem designed for the convenience of anyone but the user or the business customers the user is serving. This may reflect a dysfunction in the business processes themselves, but nevertheless, the technology all too often both magnifies the dysfunction and sets it in stone. The people involved cannot simply use common sense to fix a customer’s problem because the system won’t let them. Is that an IT problem or a business process problem? Well, speaking as a customer, I don’t care. I just want it fixed, or I will vote with my feet.

When it comes to developing or enhancing software applications, we are still struggling with recurrent, systemic issues:

  • Failure to deliver what was promised
  • Failure to deliver what is needed
  • Budget overruns
  • Schedule overruns

The rising popularity of the Agile movement is largely due to its promise to fix these issues. But, there is a distinct danger that Agile will be just another flash in the pan if IT management as a whole fails to understand the fundamentals of how to run IT as a business service.

It seems to me that what Agile development and SAAS cloud apps have in common are:

  1. A focus on understanding what the customer wants.
  2. Limiting scope – so you get what you pay for, but you don’t pay for what you don’t need, whether that is redundant functionality or a bespoke system.

The responsibility of the IT manager is first and foremost to understand what value the business needs from its IT, and then to provide that service in the most cost-effective way given the corporate constraints of the business (regulatory requirements, etc.). If ease of use is of paramount importance to the staff, and the business applications are tired and clunky, corporate governance will be compromised by unmonitored, unmanaged use of cloud apps and personal devices by individuals. That’s simply a fact of human nature. Trying to contain it will be like trying to carry a handful of water.

IT departments that are able provide an integrated, customer-focused IT service can adapt and survive. Those that ignore the writing on the wall resign themselves to irrelevance. There will be no World Wide Fund for endangered IT Directors, no Preservation Societies lovingly restoring your favourite projects.

So if there’s one measure you need to take in 2013, I suggest it’s to measure the size of the problem. How well does your department deliver value to the business now, and how much have you got to change to meet the future?


Sue Rule, DCG-SMS
Director of Marketing

Written by Michael D. Harris at 05:00

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"It's frustrating that there are so many failed software projects when I know from personal experience that it's possible to do so much better - and we can help." 
- Mike Harris, DCG President

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