Definition of IT Success? People Talking About Different Things

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I’m a fan of interesting words – and a fan of great customer service – and the word “ubiquitous” seems to be linked with both.  When you read articles by the butlers of the world – they will reiterate that great service comes from ubiquity and from being proactive; anticipating needs.

IT, however different from a manservant, still shares some common ground; the very best IT groups seem invisible, yet are there when you need them.  It goes beyond just keeping the systems running and problems suppressed – it includes being able to quickly and effectively respond when problems *do* come up.

This has long been a source of frustration for IT leaders over the years.  When you’re excellent, no one talks about you.  There’s no recognition of “negative space”.  So how do you analyze where your IT organization is, relatively speaking?  Customer satisfaction surveys are one method, but they don’t indicate well how much you’re contributing to your business.

Last week, I was sitting in a client meeting, thinking about the mountain of work we had performed, and the smaller mountain of work we still had in front of us, feeling just a touch sorry for myself.  Then the client sidetracked for a minute, and started talking about their intranet; how it was old, very static, not very helpful, etc., etc., and did we have thoughts on how it could be improved?

That’s when the light went on.  Two months ago, this client was talking about having basic connectivity issues – drives missing, Exchange Server full, etc.  A month ago, it was questioning the backup strategy, asking about PC/Software inventories.  Now, they’re talking about the Intranet.

This follows – almost identically – my approach to IT based on Maslov’s Hierarchical Needs – I’ll talk about that in another blog – but suffice to say that you can gain a good deal of insight into how your organisation is doing by listening to what people are talking about.  Are they talking about the basics?  Are they talking about things that you get a bit embarrassed by – knowing you’re not providing them? Or are they talking about items that mean your IT group can be impacting the business at the highest levels?

And more importantly – over time – are they talking about the same things, over and over – or are they talking about Different Things?  If they were talking last year about having an Intranet, this year they should be talking about Business Intelligence.

And that – if only anecdotal – is the definition that your IT group is succeeding.

The Coming Shift in Architecture Technology

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Two anecdotal stories.  I promise I’ll tie them together.

When I worked for an Architecture firm that specialized in 5-star luxury resorts, one of the Architects related to me one of their “a-ha”/lightbulb-goes-on-moments.  That being, that when well-to-do vacationers went abroad and dropped $500 or more per night on a room – that *everything* during that stay needed to be better than, or equal to, what they would find in their own homes.  This started with better bedsheets, moved onto toiletries – but only in the last 5 years or so has it really impacted the technology; Audio/Video systems and networks.  Up until then, you’d get all manner of cheesy, small TV sets (usually provided free to the operator by the PPV company) and little better than a clock/radio.

Now, flat-screens are de rigueur, as with networks and upper-end audio.

Sounds like a simple premise, and it is.  Equally simple is the fact that when people come into work – they expect the technology *there* to be better than, or at least equal to, what they have at home.  They know what their home PC cost, and how big the drive is, and that Gmail offers them 7.5 gigs of space.  When you go to work – would you presume the technology there *should* be higher than at home?  I sure would.  It’s the tool the business uses to generate revenue.  Your home PC is for games and surfing the web and listening to music.  Your work PC is your hammer and chisel.

When I first joined that firm, my boss told me about the shift from hand-drawing plans to moving to CAD.  He said the lines of adoption were clearly generational; that when you hit a certain comfort level or have X amount of experience doing things a certain way, it’s extremely difficult to get out of that mode.

Even when we moved into a brand-new building in.. 2006(?) – all the desks were outfitted with drafting tables.  I would venture to say one in ten were used for that purpose.  But it is ingrained that the pen and paper are key components of the trade. “If the computers go down, I’ll do the damn thing by hand”.  I’ve heard that one a lot.

But there is a new generation in Architecture now – and not just the 20-somethings – that are not only comfortable with technology, but aggressive about using the latest tools to enhance their design process and output.  And as that generation comes into the leadership positions in your firm, the expectation level for IT and what IT provides will be dramatically different from the current status quo.

SketchUp?  Rhino? V-Ray?  Are you going to present a hand sketch or a 3D flythrough?  PowerPoint slides or an interactive Flash animation?  One generation is ok with the status quo; the other generation wants *everything*.  And they should get it.

The IT lightbulb needs to go on.  We need to be *embarrassed* when we can’t provide a technical environment at the workplace better than the average home setup.  And leadership needs to understand and accept the costs associated with that.  And they will.  Not today, or tomorrow – but soon.