Graphics by GO-Globe.com
To get some idea of what lies in store, Outsource reached out to over 40 key thought leaders, tasking them to give their bite-sized predictions, prognostications and prophecies on what will be making headlines in outsourcing in 2012. Representing buyer, provider, advisory and analyst communities, and featuring commentary from the C-suite to the shop floor (via input from the Outsource Editorial Board and our international array of online columnists, of course), our 2012 Preview gives a huge range of perspectives from right across the space. So, for a peek at what some of the outsourcing community’s leading lights expect from the year ahead, pull back the veil and read on. One thing’s for sure: whatever lies ahead, we’re in for an interesting ride…
See my contribution here and let me know what yours would be?
The Future of Software Innovation?
Something for all you software and systems professionals out there: Innovate, IBM’s flagship event based on the topic of software innovation, is taking place next week on the 11th and 12th October (Tuesday and Wednesday) in London.
Over two days, with sessions focusing on software, systems, security and other key areas; the event is an opportunity for those interested in software innovation to really gain some valuable insights into the future of IT, and for the industry as a whole to engage in some interesting discussions on where the future lies.
Click here for a detailed agenda, including a timetable, session abstracts and information on key speakers.
Day 1 is being held at the Grange St Paul’s in London (http://www.grangehotels.com/hotels-london/grange-st-pauls-hotel/grange-st-pauls-hotel.aspx) and will feature a wide range of guest lectures from leading voices within the organisation and around the industry. The objective of the first day is to share and discuss ideas that inspire and fuel software innovation. A second day of workshops on-site with IBM at their Bedfont Lakes and Southbank offices, will offer hands on experience with IBM product experts.
Registration is free, and those wishing to attend can do so for either one or both days.
Here’s a link to the registration page where you can sign-up for the event and find more detailed information: http://bit.ly/innovateuk
It was very sad (though inevitable) to hear of the passing of Steve Jobs.
The tribute that best captured the moment for me was from President Obama, which simply stated, “The world has lost a visionary,” Obama said. “And there may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented.”
There was also the most amazing image created by Jonathan Mak, a graphic designer in Hong Kong.
We are all looking for the easiest and most cost effective solutions in everything that we do but often shy away from certain tasks due to their intricacies and capacity in being overcharged by vendors or providers.
As the web and enterprise have evolved and moved upwards through Web 1.0 and on to Web 2.0 the tools and information sources have improved but the need to develop all of the features necessary to e.g. build a website have remained quite basic.
I have always delighted in tools and services that not only provide quality functionality but also ones that save me time and effort in having to do exactly so.
My absolute favourites are ones that not only do the above but continue to deliver new releases that each time improve upon their initial offerings with quality support (i.e. More than just a teenager in Nebraska available outside school hours to offer it)
This was all brought home to me recently when I looked hypothetically at how easy it would be to create a new website and more specifically one which could be underpinned with ecommerce functionality.
Firstly, part one of my objective was to look at the website creation side of things.
I was pleasantly surprised by what I found and in how straightforward it would be to achieve this thanks to the quality of the offerings in the market place and through recommendations passed on to me by friends.
Not only that, they would look good too with minimal effort.
If you want a straightforward flash site, stop everything you are doing and head over to Wix and start playing around with what you want.
You can have something very impressive up and running pretty quickly that people will think you have had done professionally.
No coding necessary, search engine friendly, drag and drop design and above all its FREE to get going (you can upgrade to their Premium plans should you wish to bolt more on or remove ads etc.).
It really is as simple as that.
Moving on to the second task and the locating of a robust and easy to develop e-commerce platform.
Having previously created successful e-commerce sites for large multinationals, I appreciated the complexities and nuances to look out for but I was blown away by the quality and richness of the Magento E-commerce Platform offering.
These guys have really nailed the ‘out of a box’ e-commerce platform that has eluded us for years and have included everything that you could ever possibly need and wish for when trying to build an e-commerce platform.
The sheer breadth of features means you have to get your head together and really plan out your site beforehand. Study both your target markets and plan for the features that they will expect to see as well as the logistics of not only managing your inventories but also in managing the housework of the site itself.
Unless you are a developer or have access to the relevant development skills, you will obviously have to work with one of their solution partners to get your site to the level that you want to deliver to your clients.
I can certainly guarantee the cost of doing this is much cheaper and more beneficial than if you had to create a team of developers to create something from scratch, so it’s a no brainer to get a head start with a package like this.
Not only that but you will also benefit from all of the new features and functionality their new releases bring to market.
Their hosting and support model is also a nice comfort blanket and will keep you from waking up at night through the fear of losing your own developers and their specific skill sets and knowledge of your site/code.
The key here as always with development projects is to not over customise your offering so you can still benefit from the new product release and functionality delivered in the Magento software updates (over customisation is the most elementary and often repeated error in development projects).
The opening up of the Magento Platform through Magento Connect delivers a rich seam of extensions that are more often tailored by sector or specific niche but make no mistake they all help bolster an already feature laden platform.
I believe that opening up to a marketplace or 3rd party add on approach is crucial to the growth and richness of any platform – just ask the guys at Salesforce.com!
Footnote to Magento is that whilst I was writing this, it has been declared that they are being acquired by EBay – good for them and testament to the quality of their product!
So is this the evolution of a brief stopover at Web/Enterprise 2.4 on the march towards the fabled Web 3.0 with its primary drivers of personalisation and the Semantic Web?
Personally, I think this is a point version update that shows evidence of technology providing real and tangible progress that empowers both the enterprise and the individual.
At present, Social Media appears to be the magic carpet carrying society and enterprises in to a new technical era where it not only drives commercialisation but has also overtaken the older, rock solid medium of television amongst younger generations. However, this alone cannot sustain all necessary technology.
The benefit of all this to Enterprise is clear in that most software development will become easier and cheaper to produce.
With the evolutionary improvement of ‘out of the box’ solutions the size of development teams will naturally reduce as the volume of hand crafted code and subsequent support is reduced when compared with older methods of developing such products.
With the ultimate aim of delivering better products for your customers and in building shareholder value, we must embrace this advance in technology and developers must also move forward in learning new skills and taking that step forward hand in hand with the enterprise rather than rebelling against it.
The conclusion of all this is that tools and technology really have moved on and now offer incredible power and functionality to the individual that was only previously available through professional service companies.
Gone is the need to carve everything from the single block of marble by yourself as technology has yet again moved on and taken another long stride towards the nirvana of absolute functionality.
First day on the job as the new CIO you notice 3 envelopes in the top drawer of your desk. The first envelope says “Open Me.” Inside is a note from your predecessor that provides insight on the organisation, issues, culture, concerns, etc. You read it, throw it in the trash and go about your business as the new CIO. A year later you’re not happy with the progress of the organisation and you remember the second envelope that says “Open me if you are not happy with the way things are going.” You open it and a single word is written on a piece of paper; “Reorganise.” You take the advice this time and spend several months forming teams and reorganising hoping to get results linked to the business. You call it “IT Transformation.” Another year goes by and things are marginally improving but you are still unhappy with the results. The business is unhappy with IT and the CEO is unhappy due to growing costs. You notice the third envelope that says “Open me if things still are not the way you would like them.” You open it and it says; “Create 3 envelopes.”
The moral of the story is to not get hung up on big transformation projects and reorganisation to create yet another organisation that is not functional. Make changes in small, manageable pieces and make sure any change is linked to improving the business of IT or the business of your company.
If you are of a certain age such as me you will remember watching the BBC show ‘Tomorrows World’ and its predictions of how we would be living now.
I remember the notions of how we would all be commuting to work in our own private flying saucers and having our meals served to us by robot butlers that seem so fanciful now.
Whilst we haven’t seen many of these predictions come true, the future will always bring new developments. Its what we do with them and how we react that counts!
One of my favourite sporting metaphors is that ‘you make your own luck’ and this really translates to if you work hard and deliver, you will start to receive kinder breaks along the way’.
Realistically, no matter how much you try to hide from it, the future really is what you make it.
When we are doing any form of business planning, we have to try and cater for what the future will bring as accurately as possible.
Whilst this is not easy, you can try to follow trends or address certain needs such as installing a CRM or ERP system (big gulp) and many of these will be able to reach the budgetary approval stage, as they are often known as being necessary for any thriving business by the CEO/CFO.
Any C-Suite will want to see innovation coming from its IT head but how far they want to go and what allocation of cash you get is down to the individual to prise away from them.
You should be strong and demand some allocation for innovation, as you really never know if this could give your company a game changing service or something to lift it away from its competitors.
Often, if you do this once and succeed in delivering ROI there will be a release of at least a couple of the CFO’s fingers from the purse strings before you next meet.
Innovation is the real key here and in these tough times, its what is going to bring and keep IT at the top table whilst gaining you the full support of your peers.
Innovation is what separates the old-fashioned ‘lights on’ mentality of the old school IT Director from the new school machinations of the CIO.
Indeed, many suggest that the title of CIO should stand for Chief Innovation Officer rather than the traditional Chief Information Officer (more of that on another day).
One thing is for sure, you don’t want to be stagnating as the old school IT Director any longer and in any type of organisation this can no longer be tolerated.
When the now more frequent organisational reviews take place, you certainly don’t want to be the person searching frantically for a chair to sit on when the music stops….
Every IT head needs to always have one eye on the future and in how they can bring value to the business in spotting a new trend or service that will add real value to the business.
If you spot a service that you think would be advantageous for a particular function in your organisation, don’t be afraid to get them involved in a demo or a meeting with the vendor as quickly as possible – they will thank you either way for involving and thinking of them.
If you think there is something there that can be useful, they could probably spot at least another five reasons if the service is right for them during the demo.
This not only brings quicker ROI if the service is on the money but will also display a real willingness to collaborate across your top team.
Multiply this by a few times and you could well have your very own thriving business incubator.
When in the pre planning stages for budgeting you really need to add a blend of keeping the lights on, the addition of new and proven services as well as a smidgeon for the piloting of new offerings.
Offering that smidgeon or ‘skunk works’ as American’s call it is what will really spark innovation and allow staff to spread their wings a bit by being involved.
Indeed, many US corporations such as Google and LinkedIn offer as much as one full day a week or month to staff to work on personal projects.
These ‘personal project’s’ have delivered unbelievable return and form the backbone of some of the most profitable deliverables that these companies have produced through their ‘labs’ or ‘hack-days’ respectively.
I can hear you saying that it’s all right for these huge, profitable corporations to allow staff to spare their time for this, but I can assure that it really does make a difference as long as its not to the detriment of all of your other pressing deliverables (its also a brilliant palette cleanser for staff to work on in between large projects and to rev them up for their next major challenge).
There is a reason that the best and brightest go to such companies and its not just the resources or money available to them (they could get these in most places) but its mainly the collegiate culture in which they know that if they have a good idea, it will be recognised, nurtured and noticed right up to the boardroom (how may of us can really promise that to new recruits).
I have often come across some of the best ideas or products in the strangest places (stop giggling at the back).
The smallest conversations with colleagues or strangers can provide such a spark and be more profitable than the mundane act of trawling across endless conference floors getting your badge barcode zapped by smiling vendors promising to solve all of your problems whilst you pilfer any available freebies on their stand (we’ve all done it right…?).
The difference is having the confidence to carry them through and the belief in your peers to believe and trust in you to do so.
Social Media is also making it easier by the day to find new products or services that you can follow up on.
The social media marketplace is a real melting pot of products, innovations and ideas, with some shooting up and dying like cheap fireworks but if you scratch beneath the surface and mine the seams you will find some real gems.
The obvious winner is the quality or following of the idea and these will be the kingmakers of any new product or service that you provide.
Having a great product but no following will cause it a quick and painful death and face in the boardroom if you continue to push it – know when to move on, even with a bloodied nose.
I can’t say that we will be commuting in our personal flying saucers anytime soon but one thing I do know about the future right now is that its going to be bumpy and that you have to be in it to win it.
But are we really saving money and providing the best possible service?
As all of us have had to during the recent downturn, explored all of our outgoings and slashed our costs bases both where we needed to and where we were told (a story for another day…).
But are we really looking to add real innovation and projects that provide real ROI to the whole business or just thinking about our own cost bases?
Do you continue to carry on as normal, having accepted the market conditions that have affected everyone or do you think about your contribution and how you can add more value for less money.
To perform a real roots and branch review takes courage and adds a degree of transparency to the IT department; both of which are something an IT Director would normally like to leave well alone.
But this is a time when something really must be done, both to show the rest of the business that IT is really an integral part of it beyond mere statements and to add real value whilst spending less.
Not possible I hear you say but if you actually start with taking away the projects you think the business needs as well as the time/resource trying to tell them so and actually engage with them, you can start working with them on delivering projects that make a real difference as well as sharing the costs and resources.
I know this may already have your palms sweating and thinking that its easy for him to say as he doesn’t know my company but working together more often (other than agreeing to and never doing so over that late night drink at the 2-day senior management offsite or flashing a forced smile at them at a board meeting when given ‘friendly’ feedback) will become easier and even rewarding over time.
In fact, rather than an IT presentation becoming target practice for disgruntled peers taking pot-shots over project delays or regaling you for not understanding what they really want, you may start to procure positive engagement from them once you start listening to their real issues.
Now, these projects could range from collaboration on systems such as replacing the creaking CRM tool or better empowering the Intranet that nobody seems to use except the CEO for broadcasting their message to the company or for looking up extension numbers….
There are a number of obvious areas right away to look at for where you can save costs and seek to improve service levels such as how you are providing internal desktop support, vendor pricing/contracts, software development or network provision.
Are you really providing these services as best you can or just holding on to them, as you don’t want to relinquish any of your ‘power’ bases?
Are the teams you have working on them the best available or what you can afford?
When you negotiate new vendor contracts, do you squeeze the best out of them regarding service provision or cost?
Are you courting new suppliers or just staying with your current ones you’ve been using for years as they ‘know you’ and are already offering you their best pricing options……cough?
The size of your operation doesn’t really matter here, obviously the larger you are the more money you can save but cutting fractions from the smaller operations all add up to something whole that will not only please you but may also mean that monthly meeting with the finance team will be a far more pleasant experience each month.
Of primary importance is the need to engage your own team(s) in this roots and branch review and make sure all of them are as focused on doing this as you are.
Having your own people switched on and fully engaged in this is vital and will allow real collaboration both internally and externally facing when getting the message across.
There is always overlap in your own areas you already know of but this type of review brings to light those grubby little things that always need to get done but are often overlooked and never looked at with a more meaningful eye.
Often when these smaller issues are reviewed, they naturally lead in to larger discussions on how they can be improved or even eradicated.
These are normally reviewed with much gnashing of teeth but are often the stepping-stones up to allow you to look over the wall to a brighter future!
More often than not, there are manual interventions that keep systems running such as the stored procedure that ‘Steve’ in IT Support runs every Thursday morning which updates the invoice tables in your finance system (something the new vendor told you would be fixed if you chose their system but obviously never was despite an extra couple of consultancy days and a looming maintenance release….).
These little interventions that provide the knitting between systems often cause the most angst between IT and the rest of the business.
They are typically the first thing mentioned in monthly meetings and are the gremlins that eschew system reporting across the business.
Naturally, is it time to look at outsourcing, offshoring etc.?
Most of the time, outsourcing any or all of these services will provide a better service at a lower cost than you are currently managing in servicing it yourself.
Also, throw in 24x7x365 support across the piece and being woken up in the night or being hassled first thing in the morning by foreign support issues will start to fade away with a happier user experience had all round.
This may be a scary step for those that haven’t done it but do you really want to control every flashing light in the business or make a real contribution to its future?
With the advent of cloud computing, some of the management and operational control of systems will naturally flow in to the business.
You won’t be needed for aspects of change control, permissions requests, report creation or extra disk space but will you miss this?
This is something that needs to be embraced but doesn’t mean control is ceded but shared as you will naturally be involved on an advisory basis.
You are a trusted advisor to your business and rather than regale them on moving to a cloud solution, get on board and help them out as they will need you more than you think.
You will find that the business and peers will in fact respect you for even performing this roots and branch review, as all senior people know how tough it is to do so.
I truly believe that not only providing more for less cost is possible but the business will be able to recycle the cost in to providing more meaningful services and hopefully propelling you towards a rightful seat at the top table (or adding a more comfortable cushion on to your seat if already there).
Some may say that IT is dying, which is far from happening but it is the start of another cycle in technology where cost and results are more prevalent than ever.
IT Directors are no longer able to stay in the shadows and hope the market picks up around them but rather it is time for them to step out into the sunlight and lead the way.
You never know, it could be exactly what you have been waiting for.
Good luck and let me know how you get on.