Professional Conferences give you new ideas to try, to grow your network, and can provide a chance to reflect and charge. I can’t recommend them enough.
Yet when I mention how wonderful conferences are, one of the common responses I get is “that’s great Matt but …”
Folks don’t get to attend them because it isn’t in the budget, isn’t in the travel budget, or just plain isn’t on the radar.
If you are in that boat, well, this blog post is for you.
I’m going to tell you how to get to a professional conference in the next eighteen months.
You do the work, I can get you to a conference.
I’ll stake my reputation on it.
Last time, my friend Shawn introduced his premise — that IT Workers are the coal miners of the 21st Century.
This time, Shawn’s back, to explain how the shift from hourly work to exempt has changed the nature of the work itself … and not for the better.
Obviously, Shawn’s comments are an analogy. Certainly, working conditions and employment opportunities looked much more dim for the West Virginia coal miner of 1897. Where the coal miner risked a collapsed mine, lack of oxygen, and poisoned lungs, an IT worker might face a paper cut, or, perhaps, repetitive stress injury from too much typing.
Still, there are things going on in how IT workers are treated; his ideas may cause you to pause and refect.
Back to you, Shawn …
A few weeks back, I introduced you to my friend Shawn. He’s a strong systems thinker, a former soldier, someone I respect and admired from my youth.
Shawn cut his teeth in the dotCom era, becoming a programmer, then general technologist, then IT manager, now … I’m not sure. Last time I checked, he was an account rep for an IT managed services firm, the kind that has been eating a hole in traditional IT departments.
Shawn cares about his field, and his perspective is shared by life in the trenches. So when he kept writing about what he sees happening to our field, and asked me to publish it, I couldn’t say no.
Here’s the question that keeps Shawn up at night: Are IT Workers the Coal Miners of the 21st Century?
From here on out the words belong to Shawn, not me.
Men and women of greater writing talent and skill than I have written eulogies for Steve Jobs. Some have been touching and inspirational; others knew him, or his companies, far better than I. It would be more than a little pretentious for me to try to write an article that, at best, might be a bit of a copy of what has come before.
And that’s good, because that ain’t this article.
Instead of talking about what Mr. Jobs did, I’d like to talk about what made him different, and how, in our own way, we can be different too.
The Heart of the Matter is that Steve Jobs was a thief and a failure.
He was good at it.
You should be too.
So two weeks ago, HP made it’s announcement that it was considering leaving the PC business, and I made my speculation that Dell might fill in the gap.
Then I went home for the weekend and found this headline on the cover of EWeek:
“The World According to Dell: The Company Michael Dell started in 1984 has expanded into areas Dell Executives didn’t even consider give years ago: Software, Services, and Cloud Computing.”
It’s almost as if the folks at Dell strategically timed a marketing push, just at a time when the traditional competition was at it’s weakest.
nah. That would actually make … sense.
The article is fascinating, and a good read; here are a few of my favorite gems:
Did you know that “We’re Sorry You’ve Been Laid Off?” condolences are now a major Hallmark greeting card category?
Perhaps the greatest irony is in IT, where technology really has enabled self-service and productivity, perhaps so much so that we need less IT support per hundred employees, meaning … oh wait. Ouch.
In the old days, a project management system cost six figures, required a purchase order, a fair amount of hardware, and half a full-time sys admin to support. Today, Joe the intern uses the corporate card and suddenly the entire department is on basecamp or pivotal.
And no, that is not a hypothetical — one of my largest clients recently signed the whole team up for pivotal, used it for two months (for free), then went to management to get the corporate card to allow them to continue with the tool past the initial offering period.
Meanwhile, IT jobs become harder and harder to come by.
There are lots of reasons for this; one of them is the increase in managed services companies; the kind that took Gartner’s advice and started to offer infrastructure as a service, which allows them to split up on support rep over a large number of companies.
My friend (who I will call Shawn) has spent most of his career in corporate IT; today he works for one of those managed services firms that stole someone else’s job. I wanted to hear his take on the IT employment situation; here’s what he had to say.
And, I have to admit, this one threw me for a loop.
Four days ago, Hewlett-Packard fired it’s CEO, Leo Apotheker, after just ten months on the job, and announced they were hiring Meg Whitman as his replacement.
And then it gets weird.
So far, we know that HP has signaled a desire to get into the software market, especially enterprise software, and a desire to exit the PC market.
For a moment, let’s forget about the why’s, and think about the “what’s next?”
Not for HP, but for the rest of us.
Last time we took at look at HP’s situation through a different lens – the lens of management consulting.
Today I’d like to take a different approach; on based on history.
But first, a story.
A Long Time Ago
There was a very large, international company. Once known for being innovative and shining, the company grew large and slow. Over time, the company’s personal computer business grew from wildly profitable to essentially a loss-leader, a sort of “yeah we also do that” thrown in so that the company could sell more expensive, high-end servers. Finally, the company developed an operating system that was technically superior, yet came too late to market. After a brief, painful struggle, the company abandoned it’s shiny new operating system
What company am I writing about?
It’s certainly been an interesting few months.
First HP Fires Mark Hurd; choosing to hire Leo Apotheker, an executive with an all-software background. ( Shortly thereafter, Apotheker makes a bid to purchase Autonomy Software for 10 billion dollars while looking for buyers for it’s PC business.
Meanwhile the company shuts down it’s touchpad division forty-nine days after it’s release.
To paraphrase one recent Wall Street Journal staff writer, you couldn’t come up with a better plan to ruin the company and take it out of business if someone paid you.
Yes, clearly, something is rotten in Denmark. Yet somehow I doubt that these people are all actually insane, trying to destroy the very company they are charged with protecting. It’s much more likely that something else is going on, some system of forces beyond our perception, that makes each individual move seem like a good choice, even as the company slowly lurches toward the brink.
If we take the approach of trying to understand the decision, we have a chance of learning something, perhaps things we can apply at our own little companies.
First, let’s talk about HP’s strategy.
Most of us know that the really big companies aren’t structured like Ford in the 1920’s. Instead of one big chain-of-command, conglomerates are more like a portfolio. Instead of owning stock, the headquarters unit owns entire companies, providing services for them like HR, and computing and the web site.
Structured this way, the biggest part of the CEO’s job is managing the portfolio — selling some business units, buying others, and finding ways to get them to work together. There are lots of ways to figure out what to buy and sell, but perhaps the most popular is the Strategy Matrix made famous by the Boston Consulting Group:
Holding this handy-dandy cheat sheet, a CEO can split his business units up into cash cows (making money but not growing), dogs (losing money and not growing), question marks (not growing but the market is) and stars (owning a lot of an increasing market.)
From there, the decision is simple: Sell your dogs, harvest the cash cows (and sell the husks when harvest is over), purchase stars, and figure out ways to make the question marks perform … or ditch ’em.
Let’s think about the classic business units HP works in: Servers are the cash cows, laptops are the dogs, the TouchPad was a question mark, and enterprise software and services are the new stars. (For that matter, Apotheker actually knows how to manage software groups. That’s got to be a plus.)
From this point of view, all of HP’s recent moves make sense. Instead of getting embroiled in an expensive advertisement and price war they could not win, they pulled the plug on the TouchPad early.
If Apotheker has any regrets, it’s likely that he didn’t pull the touchpad earlier, but, c’mon, the guy was new, the plans were advanced, and HP is a big company, so changes of direction happen slowly.
This matrix is simple and it’s easy to follow. Nearly anyone of modest intelligence could use it to analyze HP and come up with a strategy for managing the portfolio. After all, it’s sort of like a game of dice, where some of the dice are rigged, and, based on your throws, you get to decide which dice to invest in, right?
The only problem is that it doesn’t work.
A Portfolio is Not a Game of Craps
Framed this way, the role of the CEO is to acquire and merge all day long, selling off bad investments and purchasing more of the good.
Done without insight or vision, the strategy works just like it would in the stock market: You end up paying too much for the companies you buy (because they are “hot”) and selling your dogs for a big loss, because they are “not.”
More than that, the mergers and aquisitions have transaction costs; real human lives that are laid off, real businesses that are disrupted.
It also turns out that while executives are in merger meetings, looking busy, the one thing they are not doing is running a business — giving the competition time to catch up, and sometimes pass you.
Have you noticed that Apple Computer doesn’t do a lot of these mergers, acquisitions, spinoffs and layoffs? They are too busy running the business.
In the end, the matrix can be used to make effective choices, if the decision makers understand the history of the market, it’s system of forces, and where things are headed enough to make accurate predictions.
I will give the folks at HP one thing: At least as far as products are concerned, they know that whatever they were doing before wasn’t working, and more of it likely won’t help. So they have decided to try something new.
It looks, to me, like they are trying to pull an IBM.
More to come.