In my last post1 I mentioned that I was going to make a pitch about the UK Government Shared Services Strategy2 at UKGovCamp. In the end I didn’t need to pitch as @lexij got there first with a great title: The Shared Services Strategy - OMG! Let’s fix it. This post is a personal reflection on what was discussed but the raw notes from the session are also available online3. Blog post: Will shared services ever work? ↩ UK Government Shared Services Strategy ↩ Raw notes from the UK Gov Camp shared services session ↩
Last week the UK Government launched a new strategy for shared business services (common things such as finance and human resources). The general reaction seemed to be quite negative, at least in my filter bubble. Most of the criticisms are probably reasonable but that may be because there are so few examples of sharing successfully at this scale in other countries or sectors. I am hoping to join a discussion about all this at UKGovCamp at the weekend and some in Government are keen to hear what campers think. Now that would be really helpful. I can't go but would be really grateful if you could raise this.— Liam Maxwell (@liammax) January 14, 2018 In the meantime here are some potential challenges and responses to consider. Most of these are relevant for sharing business services in any sector.
If you can only spare 30 seconds skip to the test at the end of this blog post. During the recent ransomware crisis it was quite understandable for people to be upset about disruption to businesses and public services. It is also understandable that leaders of these organisations rushed to announce actions to make their systems secure. This is all understandable but, in some ways, it is also naive. More cyber-attacks will come and will cause more damage than we have seen so far. We need to take a more nuanced look at the problems and some practical responses.
…but developer productivity and commercial flexibility are bigger This post goes into technology a little more than usual so the TL;DR version for busy CIO’s is: Please make sure some of your teams are experimenting with serverless technology from Amazon or other providers. The rest of this post explains why Amazon is leading the transformation of software development with an obscure bit of technology from Google.
I recently noticed that I have been using @CIOPortfolio for 5 years now and that got me thinking about what has changed for CIOs over that time. Although digital technology is renowned for its frenetic pace of innovation (here we go again!) you could argue that not much has changed. Surprisingly, that is a terrifically useful insight for CIOs.
This is quite a long post so here is the 30-second version: organising services around calendars and clocks is generally a bad idea it is much better to organise around outcomes and risks this is now a practical option because of new technology CIOs can take the lead and help the whole enterprise. Sarah Wilkinson, CTO for the UK Home Office, recently wrote a post about breaking away from some long held traditions in IT. The article includes some great advice but I think we need to go further.
Don’t expect any return on investment in IT Earlier this week, during a short twitter exchange with @dhinchcliffe, I decided to write a more substantial post about why your IT department needs to stop chasing its own agenda. This will be an easier case to make if you realise that IT investments and IT projects generally don’t make any sense. Rather than try to persuade you of this (no doubt you will already have an opinion about this) let me share a tool I use all the time and challenge you to show me where I am going wrong.
Despite being pronounced dead a few times the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) role still seems to be going strong. Unfortunately, it is quite hard to tell if this resilience is down to the merits of the role or just mislabelling. These days, people have a tendency to add “digital” to quite ordinary things to make them sound more exciting and special - the letter “e” used to have the same magical effect, as in E-Business. For example, a recent poll by @marthaheller asked CIO’s where they thought the digital department should reside - the results are above. It seems unlikely that Martha’s followers had a common idea about what a digital department was for. In order to help, here is my digital department field guide. Are there any species of digital that I have missed?
The signs are not good. A recent CIO Survey so this is all a bit worrying. Can we save architecture? Should we try?
I don’t care if you are developing mobile apps or extracting minerals. You might be a young start-up, a national government body or a global corporate - it doesn’t matter. If you make bad decisions about your IT infrastructure you will be saddled with a burden that sucks up money, puts obstacles in the way of innovation and will turn away customers, partners and your best people. You would think that organisations would do all they can to help their CIO avoid such a fate but, unfortunately, you would be wrong.
Is it just me or is there anyone else out there who actually likes developing business cases? Maybe there are a few but I am sure we are outnumbered by the many who find business cases a long-winded, administrative chore. Why on earth would anyone want to get excited about this?
In a recent Twitter exchange, digital leaders in the UK and US were critical of procurement in the public sector. Others make similar comments about their colleagues in Legal and Finance. I agree there is a problem but I don’t think it is entirely fair to single out these teams. The rest of us need to accept some of the blame because, generally, we get the commercial services we deserve.
Why has IT management become so cursed with Binary Thinking? No. 4: The CIO will soon be obsolete or indispensable Binary Thinking: Computing and communication technologies are becoming commodities which means that specialist IT skills and all of the management structures around them will no longer be needed. General managers can satisfy their IT needs from the consumer market place in the same way they can get their home PCs and mobile phones. Unfortunately, in the not too distant future, the performance of any organisation will depend on how they use information, other sources of competitive advantage will cease to be important and only CIOs and other IT leaders will be qualified to lead enterprises.
Why has IT management become so cursed with Binary Thinking? No. 1: There is IT and there is business Binary Thinking: Everything that exists within an organisation (strategies, policies, processes, people, teams, assets, budgets, requirements, projects etc) can have a label of “IT” or “Business”. Nothing can carry both labels. Organisations need to work hard to make sure all of the “IT” things and “business” things are aligned but merging any of these things would be a mistake. Usually “business” people prevent “IT” people from participating in “business” activities. If “business” people work with “IT” suppliers it is bound to cause problems.
I regularly see questions in the press and in social networks along the lines of: “What is the right amount to spend on IT?” Often the debate descends into variations of: “It depends.” For years I used to smile quietly to myself as I watched these debates. Why? Because I had the secret formula! Simply count the number of knowledge workers in the organisation (better still the number of full-time equivalents) and multiply by a unit price (until recently £4K - £5K) and you would be pretty much there. Oh, I know there is a lot to challenge with my formula but it was much quicker, easier and no less accurate than all the debate or a benchmark from one of the big analyst firms. Unfortunately, in recent years, my secret formula has stopped working so I turned to some of my trusted advisers to find out what had happened and help me fix it.
Recently I read an article on the on-line version of Forbes by Mark Settle. Mark was proposing an IT operating model which he calls “Broker/Integrate/Orchestrate” as a replacement for a more traditional approach he refers to as “Plan/Build/Run”. The article is well written but I think Mark creates an artificial gulf between these two ways of looking at IT and neglects another useful alternative: an operating model based upon a portfolio of services.
I am often amused by the heated debates about the future, or not, of the CIO. The fun comes from the combination of intense emotions, arguments heroically generalised from limited data and the dismissal of evidence which does not fit preconceived ideas. Before I attempt to set out my views on the role of the CIO let me try to eliminate some of the noise and confusion. Is the CIO really that unique?
There are many different definitions of Project Portfolio Management but at their core they share the concept of a business process for optimising a collection of projects and programmes. Projects are deliberately started, stopped, accelerated, delayed, split or merged to best achieve an organisation’s goals. Project Portfolio Management would appear to be a sensible management discipline so why would a CIO want to avoid it? The fundamental problem is that there are no IT projects and so the IT Project Portfolio should be empty. Nearly all projects labelled as IT explicitly include non-IT elements such as organisation or process changes and cannot achieve their objectives or realise benefits without these. Unfortunately, the remaining projects cannot be completed without risk or impact to the users or consumers of IT services and so also need to manage non-IT elements. Perhaps someone reading this blog will find an exception (in more than 20 years in this field I have not found any) but there will never be enough to justify an IT-only process.
If you were an artist, investment manager or a government minister you would describe a “portfolio” in very different ways. Even within the domain of the CIO the word has several distinct uses. Here is my attempt to summarise what constitutes the different portfolios that are relevant for a CIO. In subsequent blogs I’ll expand on what I have learnt about each of these from my research and my own experiences.