Change is always interesting. With the way technology is changing so quickly, I have begun to feel a little dinosaur-ish. Meaning that I get stuck in the old way of doing things and the idea of changing is becoming more and more daunting. I have been a Seattle IT Consultant for the last 20+ years. I’ve worked with the Apple IIe and other early computer systems. I started my career, switching from being a landscaper, in the DOS 3.0 days. So I guess it’s understandable that re-inventing myself seems more difficult today than it did 5 or 10 years ago. Yet I look around at our industry and I see that other IT experts have an even more difficult time changing.
So where are we at today in computers? I am doing a presentation in Seattle on CRM where talk about one of the dilemmas of technology. That’s where we embrace a new technology, but we try to do what we’ve always done. In my presentation I quote Ford, who is supposed to have said,
“If I listened to my customers, they simply want a faster horse.”
Yet we see how the automobile changed everything. In the early days of the car, manufactures tried to make the automobile look just like a horse carriage. Today’s automobile has four wheels and seats for people to sit in, but that’s where the similarity ends. Cars today would be unrecognizable to the early drivers. More importantly even in the 1950’s the last holdouts were still people grudgingly accepting the combustion engine. When I started 20 years ago we were trying to convince business owners to accept computers because typists didn’t have to start over when they made a mistake. Early business owners would accept a “Faster Typewriter” before they would accept the idea of a computer. Sounds like a similar dilemma for Ford, his customers wanted a faster horse. In the 90’s business owners wanted a faster typewriter. This is the dilemma of new technology, as it changes we thought what we really wanted was a faster horse.
You’d think as technology experts always promoting change, we’d get this? Yet when I look around, I see technology people who are having just as much problem changing. They are happy with where they are at and what they already know. I’ve seen it every time the technology changes. Each IT department wants to think about more servers, switches, routers and computers and think about them in the same way. There used to always be a division between the data guys and the voice guys (Now with voice over IP and Unified communications that division of labor is changing). As things changed we see managed services models replacing break/fix services (it’s cool technology, but it puts the break/fix troubleshooters out of business). I can list technology after technology that is more efficient and being replaced in the same way. So it’s surprising when I hear IT Support vendors who aren’t embracing the cloud. They seem to want bigger, faster and easier to manage servers and more of them. At the same time, they ignore the reality the reality that technology is changing.
So where are we at? At the beginning of the path? The end of the path or maybe in the middle? I personally feel we are just reaching the point Henry Ford reached when he setup his factory with the assembly line. Right now we are used to hand crafted technology where business technology is built from the ground up. Yet when Ford re-perfected the automobile manufacturing hand crafted automobile became an oddity almost overnight. Businesses that ignored the trend went out of business.
As technology experts we can’t get lazy or be afraid of change. The modern data assembly lines like the cloud, can only be ignored until your company or client is out of business. Then where will you be? If you aren’t migrating your systems into the cloud, you may just be you holding your employers or your clients back. The cloud may only be a marketing term, but it is the next step. If we try to convince our employers what they really need is a “Faster Horse” aren’t we just condemning our clients to the world of the dinosaurs?
As a Seattle IT Consulting company I get lots of help from the most unexpected sources. This morning I got an email telling me about this great CRM add-on. My friend knew that I was giving a talk on CRM on January 10th here in Seattle. So shared with me something that he thought would help me out. I always appreciate this type of help. Who can keep up with all the new technologies going on. As I explained to him, I try to be vendor and technology agnostic in my approach. So I am always open to interesting options. I function at a very strategic level. Long before we know the technology that is required, I am working with a management team to identify the business problem that is going to be solved and the solution.
The reason I try to stay agnostic is that every business situation is different.
Car Dealer A has a different set of priorities from Car Dealer B… they might use the same technology platform or a different platform it depends on their requirements.
Now take a Trucking Company C that delivers shipping containers around the Puget Sound area here in Washington state. They may also be using the same technology platform as Car Company A, but it may look to the user as a completely different system.
The technician sees what is behind the Curtain (referring to the Wizard of Oz) and the technology platform may appear to be the same for each of these companies. Each company of course has servers, software, switches, routers and more. From the technicians context, the choice is mostly about the hardware and software platform. The technical perspective is that the car dealers and the shipping company have the same needs for information.
From the business perspective though, the technician doesn’t have a complete picture. Each company needs that information presented in different ways. Information requirements are dependent on the industry, the size of the company and more. Now add a small manufacturer that does closet customization or a small software development company focused on Mobile VPN or a craft beer brewer (my favorite type of client) or a coffee manufacturer/distributer. Each has different industry issues, managerial prejudices, size issues, long term goals and so on. While the platform might be the same from company to company, they each have a small portion of difference, that I call the custom bits. These custom bits make the business completely unique.
Most business owners don’t understand these custom bits and often leave these choices to the technician. This causes problems because the technicians context is so different. In order to understand them a business must first understand its own business requirements. I find that most business owners stop caring, they just want to move forward and don’t care about the details. My role is a problem management role and is to push back and encourage them to start thinking strategically about their technology… I usually start with what I call my –ability analysis… I have them rate an order for these abilities for their technology
It starts with these five. I have them number each one in priority from one to five. As we do this, the technology choices become more and more obvious. If for example Scalability (my personal favorite) were top priority we would analyze the proposed tool from the context of scalability as the top priority. If usability (most managers preference to maintain productivity of their workforce) we analyze the software from this first priority of usability. Then we go to the second, the third and so on.
By the time we get to the bottom of the list we may have added more abilities… but the answer becomes quickly obvious what the right choice is. So this add-on might be perfect for one business, but not another.
I love it when people I trust do free technology reviews of new software as my friend did for me. I never have enough time for this type of review. So it’s appreciated when someone will do the work for me. These types of people are becoming my informal IT Support team. I find that anyone willing to dedicate some free time to me, that actually is what I need, seems to get referrals and work from me. I’m beginning to suspect that I have a much bigger team backing you up than meets the eye. It gives me pause, because I think that this is the weakness I keep running up against. As I finish this article I realize that my own issues focus around sharing this leadership vision of what I need with lots of people. Then letting them help me build my business with their help. So here’s my question for my readers…
How do I build these types of IT Consulting teams that support me in a way that supports both of us, while at the same time not getting lost in the management of those teams?
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