August 3, 2012 7:08 PM
Posted by: James Murray
The Problem: how to lead technology when you know nothing about technology.
The Solution: is the same solution when leading any other department. When you are the CEO, how do you lead accounting, marketing, sales or any other group without being an expert in each business system. If you can lead the other departments in the organization you can lead an IT group as well.
I wrote a thesis for me bachelor’s degree. In that thesis I asked the question, “What are the characteristics of a good CIO?”
Should the CIO be 100% technical or 100% business or something in between? I researched and confirmed my research through interviews with technical leaders in several large organizations. The consensus was that a good strategic leader needs to be no more than 10% technical and at least 90% business. What I learned was that managing an IT department is the same as managing any other department.
Leadership starts with
- The business Vision
- The business Strategy
- The organizational Goals
Tactics can only be successful planned after the strategic pieces of the plan are created.
Technology is not a strategic department.
A successful IT department manages the day to day technical functions that keep the technology running. With few exceptions in very large organizations, IT department staffs are not focused on strategic initiatives. When surveyed most IT staff don’t even know the products the company provides to its customers. Yet in both small and medium size businesses it’s not uncommon for an owner to ask a vendor for strategic advice about the organization.
One of the first mistakes a business owner can make is building the technology first. Then based on the technology design a strategy.
The first lesson for any organization to learn is that Technology departments and Technology service providers are providing tactical solutions, not strategic. Even when described as a Strategic solution, most of the time, the solution is tactical. Why does this matter?
When you are listening to any person in any department and they begin talking gibberish, you know they are faking it. True professionals don’t need technical jargon to explain the strategy of what they are doing. We don’t put up with it in other departments, don’t put up with it in the IT department either. Always ask, “…how does this support the business vision, strategy and/or goals?” If this can’t be explained… don’t do it. If you are the one doing it, stop. Technical jargon takes away your credibility as an IT professional. If you see a Seattle IT Consultant like me walking around know that it’s because you don’t have enough credibility of your own. Someone feels they need to consultant to translate what you are saying.
August 3, 2012 7:00 PM
Posted by: James Murray
If you’ve been reading my blogs you know that I am a big proponent of IT Leadership culture. I was with a client who was surprised to learn that there was an IT Leadership culture. As a Seattle IT Consultant I find that even in Microsoft’s backyard, most business owners. We all hear stories about internet billionaires and assume that the technology was enough. If you meet one of these billionaires what you find is that there’s more than just an understanding of technology. There is an even greater understanding of how to delegate.
One of the first pitfalls a business owner faces is delegation. Many business owners become stuck over the concept of delegation. Every successful business grows to it’s maximum capacity. Every business owner has a limited capacity. We each only have 24 hours in a day. The entrepreneur’s day is spent wearing many hats. Once the business has grown, the entrepreneur has to learn to step away and hand of almost every hat to someone else.
The entrepreneur goes through what I call a feast or famine business cycle. Either the owner is selling the business or the owner is serving clients. Often one activity is done at the expense of the other. Some entrepreneurs never leave this feast or famine business cycle. What stops most entrepreneurs is not a control issue. It makes sense when we say to the entrepreneur delegate your problems to someone else. The problem for the entrepreneur is how does the entrepreneur know make sure that the business is run as the entrepreneur expects?
Only 5% of businesses break a million dollars in sales. The trick to breaking a million dollars in sales isn’t the sales. The trick is stepping away from being an entrepreneur and wearing every hat and stepping into the role of being the leader of the organization. In order to become the leader, the entrepreneur must build a leadership culture. The leadership culture are the leadership rules that the align people within the organization on a single focused goal.
The entrepreneur teaches the leadership of the organization the leadership culture. In the process each leader learns how to think like the entrepreneur. In thinking like the entrepreneur the decisions made by any leader in the organization are the same decisions the entrepreneur would have made themself. The leader’s job changes from entrepreneur and gradually the entrepreneurial role morphs into the owner of the organizations leadership culture.
When leaders look to the owner for leadership, they are trying to understand how to align their thinking with the owners. By the way if you want to explore this some more, I’ll be presenting a workshop on the subject for the Puget Sound business Journal. Sign up here
August 3, 2012 6:51 PM
Posted by: James Murray
Once again I walked into a future Seattle IT Consulting client and found myself in a difficult situation. Why is it that management is all about plans? Marketing plans, financial plans, strategic plans, tactical plans. There seems to be plans for every department. Yet, how often does management even think about the technology. The extent of the planning is the question,
“Can you do this? If you can, can you do it for free?”
As IT experts we say yes and shoot ourselves in the foot. Not because we lose out on income, but because the company ends up being stuck running down a technology dead end. Managing IT or any other business system is about planning for failure. Nobody walks across town, across the country or up the highest mountain without a plan. Strong managerial planning anticipates failure. Knowing that there will be failures in the system, let’s take a look at IT failure causes.
Statistically we find that,
- · 30% of IT failure is caused by hardware or software
- · 70% of IT failure is cause by human error
One of the reasons Human error is such a factor is because the failure warnings occur months before a catastrophic failure. When I walk onsite, I check the log files on the systems to identify the failures that have been going on. Then I address the failures long before they become noticeable to the users on the network.
It turns out that on any server there are errors. Some errors are known and others are unknown. Most of these errors are very minor. By themselves the errors have very little effect on how the system runs. Many errors can run for years without showing any noticeable effects on workplace.
I have found 7 errors in the magic number
I’ve been working on servers for 21 years and I’ve found that 7 errors that by themselves would have no effect on the system, can take down a server. System Administrators who ignore these errors are the human error that make up 70% (or more) of network errors. Ignoring errors is the first step that leads to becoming an IT hostage.
When the system finally does fail, that’s when you look to the IT Department for leadership to solve the problem. Unless the leadership within the IT department is aligned with the leadership culture of the organization, the strategic direction of the company becomes redirected. Over the years this re-direction affects whether the company ends up where the CEO and the board are expecting the company to end up.
It’s our job as IT experts to build in accountability. That accountability shouldn’t be to just ourselves, but to management as well. IT is the most easily monitored business system. Yet most IT departments are run with no tools as if technology was magic. If we think it is magic, what will our customers think? We should be providing the documentation and reporting that is understandable and useful to our users and to management. Most IT Experts are afraid to show their reports to management. Why? Could it be that we are worried about the errors and don’t want management to know? Information on the internet is free. By providing free information, marketers build value in their products and sell more. We should take a lesson from these marketers and share our information with management. There may be some repercussions, but in the long run it will just make your job easier when you manager can support you.
August 3, 2012 6:37 PM
Posted by: James Murray
I’ve worked as a Seattle IT consultant for years. But I wasn’t the first in my family to be in cutting edge technologies. When I was 8 years old, my father was an engineer working for a NASA contractor. His specialty was acoustical engineering. My father designed a speaker that created the same sound and physical modulation as an Apollo rocket engine. He would then use this speaker to shake apart rocket sections as a test. This was a new science that has never been used in this manner until the 1960’s. I mention this because I used to listen to my father talk about the difficulties between engineering and management. I can’t help notice the problems when IT communicates with management as well.
I find that this miscommunication is between IT and Management ends up poorly. Technology begins following a different path. With management following a different path from the CEO and other C-level managers, business growth can be stifled. The question I have is how do we align IT with the organizational vision and strategy of the organization?
After thinking about my father’s stories with NASA I began to realize. We just do the same thing that NASA and other firms, that require strong Engineering teams, do. Those companies made the engineers legitimate leaders within the organization. By integrating the Engineers into the leadership culture of the organization, the vision of the organization filtered into the engineering teams. Instead of being technology focused, the engineers became corporate focused. The result for organizations like NASA was technology that aligned with the vision of the NASA organization. Now the technical discussion could remain inside the technical groups in tactical conversations. By training and including engineers in the strategy of the organization, these leaders went back to their technical groups. Then reinforced the business directives with technical language and supporting solutions.
Make them leaders in the organization
“If you can’t beat them Join them” … or rather have “them” join you. If management wants technology that integrates with the business objectives of the organization, management must do the same thing. IT leaders must be brought into the business leadership culture. Then sent back to the IT culture as “Evangelists” (Evangelist is the term technical teams use to spread the message outside the IT culture) to convert the IT group.
It didn’t happen overnight, but it happened eventually. Now it’s a new century and Information technology is not rocket science. Yet in order to integrate, we should be following the paths of our engineering forefathers. Instead of waiting to be indoctrinated into the organizations leadership culture we need to press the point. We need to leverage our way into the culture. If you are introverted like I am that may seem like stepping out of your comfort zone. Yet if you like working on new projects and new technologies, you need to become and evangelist in the business organization. By understanding the vision and needs of the business, it’s much easier to sell technology projects and change to the organization.
August 3, 2012 6:27 PM
Posted by: James Murray
I’ve written several times about the idea of the IT hostage. As a Seattle IT Consultant I walk into many situations where the IT vendor or team has taken organizational control through IT Control. I began observing this phenomenon early in my career. I didn’t have a name for it yet though. I saw it so many times that I didn’t really think too much about it. I found so many examples I stopped thinking about it as abnormal. Many people ask me what I mean by the term, yet I think most business owners can relate.
“Many business owners find themselves hostages to the technical direction of their IT Team…”
Seattle IT consultingcompanies are often at the cutting edge of the technical curve when it comes to technology. Yet Many CEOs feel Like “IT Hostages” continually pouring time and resources on IT fires! Resources spent that never improve the bottom line of the organization. I think this is because eventually it happens to most businesses. Statistically,
“80% of businesses experience consistent IT failure”
As technicians its easy to do. Sometimes our mentors teach us. I think the problem isn’t one of intent, but ignorance. Think about how often you’ve made a mistake and didn’t admit it. It seems like a simple innocent white lie. Usually you fix the problem without anyone knowing. Eventually though it comes back to bite you. So have you’re clients ever experienced these symptoms in their technology?
- Failed or lost money?
- Have you ever been confused by your Seattle IT support technician?
- Has your Seattle IT services company ever blamed you for a mistake?
- Has your IT vendor confused you by asking you to invest in new hardware to fix a problem?
- Do you have a failed Cloud Computing implementation?
- Do you worry what would happen if you hired someone else?
The result for the business is…
- · Reduction in capital expense earmarked for core business expansion,
- · Decreases workplace productivity
- · Lost control of IT direction
What makes owners IT hostages is the IT group is leading their company in the wrong direction. It happens more often than most people realize. Ultimately IT hostage takers choke the growth of the organization. We are offering an interactive discussion for business owners looking for freedom.
If you are in Seattle, I speak on this subject. If you’d like to hear or learn more about this, and how to leverage your offering to your clients. Sign up here
July 22, 2012 5:21 PM
Posted by: James Murray
If you think about it Information Technology has been around for 1000’s of years. Part of my job as a Seattle IT Consultant is to share strategic topics with business owners. A couple questions recently came up about the cloud and some of my comments in my Cloud Architecture blog articles including “…Servers for Free” and “…Cloud Frees IT Hostages”. Specifically questions around the strategic thinking about Information Technology (IT) that will need to occur in technology if cloud architecture is adopted.
The reality is that Information technology strategy has not changed since Roman times. What has change is the tactics supporting the technology. The discussions during the council of Nicaea (about 325 AD) were all about information strategy. When the printing press came along in 1440 it changed Information technology, but did not change the information strategy that the technology supported. With each change in technology new tactics were possible, but the information strategy remained and continues to remain the same.
Cloud Architecture will do for computing, what jet engines did for the airline business. The right cloud network architect will be able to…
- Reduce capital expense for the company,
- Increase workplace productivity
- Better Protect data with “…in the cloud security”
The topic has become so popular that several local business organizations are asking for presentations on the topic. I’ve developed a presentation that I’ve nicknamed “A monks story.” That shows what happened after the printing press replaced the monk who was hand copying bibles. The monk found himself as a displaced “Information worker.” With each new information technology, a group of displaced information workers is left behind.
Wells Fargo is sponsoring a presentation, by Seattle IT Edge, for business owners wanting to understand how to leverage an early competitive advantage. Created through the early adoption of cloud architecture technologies with “…In the cloud Security.”
If the idea of “Jumping ahead” to the front of your industry and you are in the Seattle/Bellevue area this September 12, pleas sigh up for this Wells Fargo sponsored presentation. Cloud Architecture, the what, the why and How it will change everything.
July 14, 2012 12:01 PM
Posted by: James Murray
I am often asked what should I do next? Technical people ask me this when looking to re-invent themselves. It’s a tough question to answer because each of us are different. I’m a firm believer in doing what you enjoy. So what I enjoy may not be what you enjoy. I personally am much more interested in the business models and decisions around technology departments than in building another server. What I’ve found as a Seattle IT Consultant that technology there are two career strategies.
Deep Technical – This strategy focuses on a very deep understanding of a deep technology or software. A Routing, Database Administrator (DBA), Email Systems and System Center are all paths that require a deep understanding of a very specific technology.
Generalist – This strategy is much more common so has many more competitors. This strategy requires becoming an expert in many technologies. It has variety and requires being able to learn new technologies quickly and is about a general end to end system understanding of everything.
Systems Generalist – technical people that love end to end system troubleshooting
Technical Writer – great technical writers have done it, so know the technical jargon and can talk to the deep technical that are building systems
Manager – Requires a people skill, including the ability to talk with non-technical stakeholders.
Most career choices involve 1 or 2 of these three. Are you most comfortable around people, things or ideas? With the exception of managers most technical people are more comfortable with things and/or ideas. If you are most comfortable with things (like computers, routers etc) you probably want to be deeply technical. If you like things and ideas, you want to be a generalist. If you like people and ideas you may be a good writer or manager.
I’ve found that many technology experts think they want to be managers. Then find that managing people or even talking with people is not where they are most successful. In fact there are very few people good with computers that are even better with people.
Often we don’t think that the things we are good at are all that important. Think about it though, you are unique and if you have two of these focuses in your personality there is a need for someone like you. Do the thing that you love doing.
July 14, 2012 11:54 AM
Posted by: James Murray
I’ve noticed a lot of questions on the IT Knowledge exchange about career strategies. Many people are asking what certifications are good. What direction will be most valuable? I’ve been in IT for over 21 years and around the industry much longer. My father was an Engineer with a NASA contractor. He tried teaching my brothers and I how to use slide rules with I was in second grade. A few years later we bought a mechanical binary computer. He was excited about it…, I had just learn to count to 10 in school. I didn’t get how he was counting to 10 with only 1’s & 0’s. But I digress… One of the biggest difficulties is choosing a career.
What I’ve found works best is to think of technology like a bell curve. Divide the bell curve into four parts and I name them bleeding edge, cutting edge, Accepted and legacy. At each stage there is a different level of knowledge and competition for jobs.
Bleeding edge – Is that point in the technologies life when nobody knows how to use the technology, there are no manuals and no guarantee that the technology well ever be accepted. It’s easy to become and expert because you don’t have to know much. It’s painful though because your job is to figure it out and find a use for it.
Cutting edge – Are technologies that seem to have good potential. They require more knowledge but you don’t need to know everything. The goal is to continue to prove the technology and document it in a way that lots of people can use it.
Accepted – are technologies that everyone is using. There’s a lot of documentation, training classes, mentors, certifications and to be good you have to know a lot about the technology. There are also lots of competitors in the technology. It’s difficult to compete with legacy technologies because of the sheer number of technicians competing.
Legacy – These technologies are older there is less and less demand. Yet there are still lots of people that know the technology who are competing for fewer and fewer positions. Until finally the technology is gone and everyone that is left has to find a new technology to work on.
The reason I mention this is that as a Seattle IT Consultant I’ve watched this cycle occur over and over again over the last 21 years. What I’ve found is that this cycle is occurring faster and faster and we are at the end of a pretty major technology cycle. To be successful, I’ve had to reinvent myself with each new technology cycle. Starting with DOS 3.3, Novell 3.0, windows 3.11, NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Windows 2003 and Windows 2008. I’ve started as a desktop administrator, server administrator, systems administrator, project manager and operations manager etc. The bad thing is that technology changes so fast, it’s hard to keep up. The cool thing about technology is that it changes so fast you can re-invent yourself very quickly into something you really like doing. So change can be cool or devastating. As I mentioned I think there is going to be some major changes in the way we think about IT.
The trick for IT Experts is to pick a technology that will be around for a few years. When reinventing yourself, think about the stage of technology you want to get into. Bleeding edge has the fewest jobs, the least competition, requires the least amount of training and has the least job security (The technology might not make it). Cutting edge is easier to get into but again has less job security. Legacy means that you need a deep understanding of the technology and has the shortest life span of all the technology stages. Certifications, experience and degrees are the most important. Legacy technologies means there will be fewer and fewer jobs. Most of the interesting people have left the technology and the salaries are going down. (Often undercut by outsourced labor from around the world.)
What to do?
Take time to research the next cool technology. I prefer bleeding edge technologies (and I have the grey hair to prove it.) But look for something cutting edge technologies, start reading articles… get some practice on the technologies (pick 2 or three) and start looking for work. There are so few people with cutting edge technology experience of any kind you’ll be grabbed up. Certifications are of very little importance when looking for projects in this way, but a certification in a cutting edge technology goes a long way. There are lots of opportunities out their but the key is to find something you can get excited about. It’s not about the money. The top experts in their field follow the path of what Interests them. Good luck.
July 12, 2012 12:29 PM
Posted by: James Murray
Working with small business networks, there are some Continued »