Excelling at Customer Service

Customer services

Customer services (Photo credit: gordon2208)

“Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude.”

Ralph Marston (1907 –  ) Professional Football Player in 1929

“If you want to give a great customer experience you have to align your culture and the way you reward staff. None of our customer facing staff has sales targets or sales bonuses — their rewards and bonuses are based purely on their customer satisfaction scores.”

Anthony Thomson, Chairman, Metro Bank

Quote courtesy of Institute of customer service

Life has a way of taking everything in its stride and I am often compelled to go through the related emotions. Sometimes, I marvel at the way life turns corners and obviously as human beings, we all have this uncanny ability to learn from mistakes and move on by not repeating those same mistakes. We learn, change and adapt.

Organisations are very similar to us (in theory) and are supposed to learn from their mistakes, change processes to reflect that and become ‘the ideal organisation.’ So, I have to ask myself then, ‘Why in today’s day and age, are we still dealing with organisations’ that are failing its customers, in terms of customer service?’

Obviously, during my life, I have had many good experiences of customer services and some pretty dire ones. The reason for writing this blog is that recently, I dealt with three organisations that should have excelled at customer service but in reality, they failed in their promise to provide even the basic levels of customer service. I have debated whether to play the ‘name and shame’ game but that just wouldn’t be me. So, instead, I have decided to write about how to provide excellent customer service.

According to a survey conducted in the U.S. and eleven other countries in 2010, by American Express Global Customer Service Barometer, Americans Will Spend 9% More with Companies That Provide Excellent Service

Although only a little more than a third of Americans (37%) believe that companies have increased their focus on providing quality service:

  • 27% feel businesses have not changed their attitude toward customer service.
  • 28% say that companies are now paying less attention to good service.

So, where do I start?

Let’s start with:

  1. Culture

According to Catherine Lovering, “Make the goal of providing excellent customer service a company-wide commitment. Put a customer-service policy in writing, and post it in a prominent place. Translate customer-service objectives into specific actions for employees to follow, such as: deliver prompt service, offer a polite demeanour, and make product information readily available.”

Inc.com says, “Start by hanging on the wall a set of core values, 10 or fewer principles that include customer service ideals, suggests Susan McCartney, Maggiotto’s colleague at the Buffalo SBDC. “Share them during the training, have employees sign them, and evaluate employees based on the values,” she says. “But don’t call them rules.”

Employee training on customer service precepts should be intensive: written materials, verbal instruction, mentors, and on-the-job demonstrations all ought to be part of the coursework, says McCartney.”

This theme continues in 10 Examples of Shockingly-Excellent Customer Service and  12 ways to dazzle your customers.

  1. Staff morale and motivation

Catherine Lovering says, “Treat your employees well, so they in turn will treat customers well. Employees will bring enthusiasm and a positive attitude to their job when they know they’re appreciated and respected. Recognize employees who continually provide good customer service and praise the entire staff for their efforts. Customer-service work can be emotionally draining unless the company involved is supportive and gains the loyalty of its employees.”

Inc.com says, “Companies renowned for their customer service — the online shoe retailer Zappos, for example — treat employees as they would have their employees treat their customers. “Employees take on more responsibility because they know they are appreciated and an important part of the team,” says the University of Missouri’s Proffer. “People who don’t feel like they’re part of the bigger picture, who feel like a small cog in a big machine, are not willing to go the extra mile.”

Not every business can afford to shower staff with generous pay and benefits, but not every business has to. Small companies, says McCartney, can show “intense interest” in employees, in their welfare, their families, and their future — what McCartney calls the family model. It’s also important to recognize an employee — publicly — for a job well done. Some companies also offer incentives for exceptional customer service, but if you can’t spare the cash, you might throw an office party or offer another token of appreciation. When he was a manager at cable provider Tele-Communications Inc., for instance, Proffer personally washed the cars of notable employees.”

  1. Knowledgeable staff

Staff need to know their products and services and that can only be achieved by a comprehensive induction and training programme for staff that not only includes products and services but also includes an initiation with an organisation’s processes and knowledge of the internal and external network of people who can help resolve issues and problems. A ‘can do attitude’ needs to be instilled in staff right at the outset while empowering customer service staff to engage in activities that resolve the problem while highlighting to management any processes that hinder resolution. That way employees are highlighting processes that hinder the delivery of excellent customer service while improving customer service delivery at the same time.

Inc.com says, “The best salespeople spend 80 percent of their time listening, not talking,” says Marc Willson, a retail and restaurant consultant for the Virginia SBDC network. Ask open-ended questions to elicit a customer’s needs and wants. ”

Further in the article, Proffer offers the The Five A’s. method, “It’s helpful to think of resolving a dispute as a five-step process called the Five A’s: Acknowledge the problem. Apologize, even if you think you’re right. Accept responsibility. Adjust the situation with a negotiation to fix the problem. Assure the customer that you will follow through.”

  1. Well trained staff

Training is paramount and well trained staff needs to help customers resolve their problems regardless of how much time they have spent resolving it (within reason). Many organisations tend to operate their measuring metrics for customer services advisors’ on calls closed rather than calls resolved. Well trained staff will have the ability to resolve calls and close them better than ill trained staff. Staff training should be reviewed periodically and refresher courses offered based around lessons learnt, processes improved and latest innovations in delivering better customer service.

Catherine Lovering in her article on customer service said, “Teach the staff stress-reduction methods and techniques in conflict resolution. Train staff to use language that promotes good customer service. Phrases such as “How can I help,” “I don’t know, but I will find out,” and “I will keep you updated” let customers know that their needs will be met. It also will demonstrate a willingness to find a solution to any problem and a commitment to communicate with the customer. This dedication will go a long way toward defusing dissatisfaction among clientele.”

She further adds, “Train staff to accept responsibility for errors and to apologize to upset customers. Good customer-service representatives must refrain from arguing with an upset customer and instead ask the customer what they can do to solve the problem. Advise employees to speak calmly to customers and to assure them that they’ll do what they can to help. Follow up with a clear resolution to the complaint.”

  1. Empowered staff

Catherine Lovering says, “Empower these staff members to not only deal well with upset customers on an emotional level but also to provide tangible benefits. For example, “Entrepreneur” magazine recommends giving employees the authority to give any dissatisfied customer a 10-percent discount.”

The emphasis should be on, “What can we do that will make the situation better for you? Add the wow factorFor example, one winner of The WOW! Awards is a restaurant in Leeds called Gueller’s. They keep a range of prescription spectacles, just in case customers forget their own and are having difficulty reading the menu.”

Give them something that will make them feel valuable. That could be a freebie, the ability to resolve their problem, following up the matter on their behalf and make them feel that their concerns have been heard and addressed (or will be addressed)

  1. Customer service, IT systems and process review – Capture, monitor and report

IT systems need to be setup according to effective measurement metrics. For example, it is not good enough to measure “How many calls did an agent take/close today?” An effective metric would be, “How many calls did an agent close today that was satisfactorily resolved for the customer?” Each call should also be followed up by the completion of customer satisfaction surveys and that opportunity utilised for creating other effective metrics and for highlighting process improvements.

Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is used extensively within the IT industry and it can be modified to deliver excellent customer service. Karen Francis of Macanta consulting says, “My opinion is that we shouldn’t be too precious about what we use as long as it works for us. If an organisation is already using ITIL for the IT department and finds that it can be adapted for the non-IT departments, then why not do it.

ITIL may not cover things such as sales and marketing and HR, but if you already have effective and efficient processes for managing faults, problems, changes, inventory, capacity, business continuity, service levels and so on, why not use them for non-IT if they translate well?”

As a fan of Deming, I would like to add Danielle J Baker’s thoughts, “ITIL’s iterative approach and focus on continuous improvement is the basis of IT Service Management as defined by the ITIL set of best practices.

The following needs to be done prior to the installation of any IT system for customer service.

  1. Do we know what processes we have captured in existing systems?
  2. How do we go about capturing processes that are not captured by our existing systems?
  3. What processes can we improve, prior to using IT?

Use new innovative tools for interacting with customers, such as Desk.com (Or similar tool). According to Desk.com website, “Connect to your customers on Facebook and Twitter as easily as on traditional support channels like email, phone and web. Desk.com organizes all of your support in one place so you can respond efficiently wherever your customers reach out.”

One of their client’s, Bonobos said, “I was excited by the look and feel of Desk.com when I saw it. By lunchtime the next day we had switched over entirely.”

  1. Benchmark

As a big fan of benchmarking, I highly recommend benchmarking and covered this in my blog post, IT benchmarking

Catherine Lovering said, “Create customer service benchmarks for employees to meet, and reward the workers who meet and exceed them.”

  1. Customer service and relationship management

Catherine Lovering said, “Communicate with customers so you know what they want. Distribute surveys, request feedback, and make it easy for customers to let you know how they feel about their shopping experience. Add a personal touch to customer communication by answering comment letters with a note of thanks. Keep an eye on the competition to see how they implement customer-service policies, especially if it appears that those services are well-received by customers.”

Inc.com says, “The cost of acquiring a new customer is five times that of retaining an existing one.”

Contact with the organisation should be easy and should include an element of ‘self service’ via social media and an organisation’s own website. That could include, for example, a knowledge base or frequently asked questions (FAQ). This could be done by keeping track of the most common type of service desk requests and enabling access to them via these methods.

In her excellent article, 4 Steps to Overcome Being a Pain in the Ass Call Center that I would recommend reading (All 3 parts), Dr. Jodie Monger says, “According to W. Edwards Deming, the father of the quality evolution, “workforces are only responsible for 15% of mistakes, where the system desired by management is responsible for 85% of the unintended consequences. [1]”  In other words, 85% of a worker’s effectiveness is entirely out of his or her control!   It’s rather unfortunate that it is the 15% that is under workers’ control that call centers tend to focus on through quality monitoring efforts, Voice of the Customer programs, mystery shopping and the like.

A well-designed, well-executed quality program will provide a holistic view of your organization’s strengths and opportunities by answering ALL four of the vital questions:

  1. How are we—as an organization—doing at representing our company to its customers?
  2. What can we—as an organization—do to improve?
  3. How are you—as an individual agent—doing at representing our company to its customers?
  4. What can we—as a management team—do to help you improve?

Note that in accordance with Deming’s philosophy of systems and process management, only one of the four vital questions focuses on the activities of the worker.

What would your answers be?”

On that thought provoking question by Dr Judie Monger, I would like to end this blog and hope that this blog post contributes to even better customer service!

References and further Information:

10 Examples of Shockingly-Excellent Customer Service

12 ways to dazzle your customers

Why is Customer Service Still So Lousy?

Customer service frustration leads to lawsuit

Americans Will Spend 9% More With Companies That Provide Excellent Service

The high price of bad customer service

American Express – A story of customer service gone bad

Create a culture of excellent customer service

Institute of customer service

7 Secrets to Providing Excellent Customer Service

Providing Excellent Customer Service

Tips for excellent customer service

How to provide excellent customer service

How to deliver great customer service

How to provide excellent customer service

Salesforce.com Revolutionizes Customer Service for a Social and Mobile World with Desk.com

desk.com

Using ITIL for Non-IT Purposes

How ITIL Help Desk can help SMBs?

ITIL and Deming

Are you a Pain in the Ass Call Centre?

The Deming Centre for Quality, Productivity, and Competitiveness at Columbia Business School

Bill Gates (Chairman Microsoft) management style and CIOs

Bill Gates selling windows

Image by niallkennedy via Flickr

“There is no security in this life. There is only opportunity.”

Douglas MacArthur(1880 -1964) American General

Bill Gates (1955 – ) Microsoft Chairman and philanthropist

Today’s article is the fourth in a series of articles (1stSteve Jobs, 2nd Michael Dell, and 3rd was written on  Warren Buffet, analysing current and past leaders to ascertain how Chief Information Officer’s (CIOs) can learn better management by applying the management practices of leadership, practiced by these leaders.

Gates has led Microsoft from start-up to‘software giant’ with quite an unorthodox style of management. On Microsoft’s website, he measures Microsoft’s success as, “We’ve really achieved the ideal of what I wanted Microsoft to become.”

PS: CIO is a generic term and other analogous titles are Head of IT, IT Director, Director of IT etc.

The Management Style

What can CIOs learn from Gate’s management style? Let’s investigate while allowing you to decide.  (In no particular order and a few other sources utilised):

1. Create and nurture ‘the correct culture.’ – ‘John Battelle co-founded Wired Magazine. He says Microsoft was the pioneer of the new-agey workplace, making work as comfortable, inspiring and fun as possible so workers would spend lots of time there.

John Battelle: And as a matter of fact, at Wired we adopted that stuff. We had a chef and a masseuse, all sorts of services, because we wanted our employees to stick around. I believe Microsoft gets a lot of credit for that.

Bill Gates didn’t even finish college, but the office culture he created at Microsoft is now being taught at the country’s top business schools.’ – Courtesy of Marketplace

2. Develop a Clear Vision–and Stick to It. – From the beginning, he dreamed of developing Microsoft into a corporate giant. For CIOs this is one of the most important traits that MUST be part of the toolbox.

CIOs need to clearly identify to themselves and communicate to the environment that they work in ‘the vision’ that they have set out to achieve. They then need to have the confidence to deliver that vision.

3. Hire ‘Action’ oriented employees. – CIOs usually have exposure to many different environments and come across many employees. Some will be better than others, while some will be outstanding. Gates has always hired the smartest people who can ‘get the job done.’

Hire your friends and past colleagues, as they will have loyalty to you and you personally know whether they have what it takes to realise your ‘vision.’

4. Relax and feel at home – According to Matt Richey, ‘Microsoft has a simple way of maximizing its employees’ productivity: It allows each individual’s office to be as individualized as one desires.

That means making the office more like home. Everything from real offices (not cubicles) to windows in most offices, from free soft drinks to no dress code, from an open supply room to anything-goes work hours. Quite simply, these policies improve employee morale, and thus increase overall productivity.’

5. ‘Image’ is everything. – Gates has successfully changed his image over the years from a geek to corporate leader and philanthropist.

CIOs need to change their image from just being technology leader to leaders who understand business and can apply their strategic IT and business skills to the wider business.

6. Successful innovation and success in general may be built on failure: Yep, Gate’s has constantly had Microsoft innovating along. Currently though, as many large IT businesses employ smarter and smarter employees, time will judge who can innovate the most and bring to market technologies that have ‘stickiness.’

The question these companies have to ask themselves is that can employing ‘smarter’ employees stop the next Google , or Microsoft from raising its head?

For those who have been following my blog, I mentioned this ‘war’ state in Google Apps – The myth, hype and reality , Weather bulletin – Google Cloud and icy Microsoft downpour & Search wars – Past, Present and future – Bing, Google or new entrant?

Microsoft has proved that failure can lead to success and continues to innovate by investing in many technologies. Some will inevitably fail while others maybe huge successes. Many businesses lack of innovation is due to their fear of failures.

7. Be ‘shrewd’ and keep the team on its ‘toes.’ – Gate’s, is known for his sharp cross examination of employees who present new ideas, innovations etc.

He analyses information quite quickly and gets to the bottom of the matter at a rapid pace. Employees have criticised this approach and associated quick, sharp, snappy analysis that at times is uncomfortable (in employee’s views). These qualities of Gate’s have enabled Microsoft to dominate personal computers (PCs). CIOs need to understand employee perspectives and ‘effectively quiz’ their teams on solutions being proposed.

8. Ruthlessly protect your ‘budget.’ – According to Matt Richey, ‘Even with its billions upon billions in cash, Microsoft is as frugal as Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s a company that buys canned weenies for food, not shrimp. Until last year (1999), even Bill Gates and his second-in-command Steve Ballmer flew coach. (For scheduling reasons, the company purchased its first corporate jet.)

Bucking the trend of most large, wealthy corporations, Microsoft remains in start-up mode where tight budgets are the rule. When you sit back and think about it, this frugality is less surprising and even explain how a company can come to accumulate such great hoards of cash.’

9. ‘Stop’ the ‘mad bureaucracy’ – I have mentioned this before in a post (can’t think of which one though) and it gets reiterated again by Microsoft. As Matt said, ‘The plague of most big companies is bureaucracy and stupid rules. Thielen gives the example of an un-named high-tech company that sent a four-page memo to all of its employees on proper security badge procedure, including infinitesimal details on how and where to wear the badge.

To that, Thielen states, “Does Microsoft manage to avoid this type of inane garbage? By and large, yes.” Unlike most companies, Microsoft actually assumes its employees are smart. Rules at Microsoft are few and far between, and the ones that exist tend to make sense. Having only a few important, logical rules means that employees actually remember and follow them.

Some Sources of Information and further reading:

How to be the next Bill Gates

Former MS employee recalls Bill Gates’ management style

The 12 Simple Secrets of Microsoft Management

Fiedler Model and Level 4 leadership

Choosing technology over customers

“Only buy something that you’d be perfectly happy to hold if the market shut down for 10 years.”

Warren Buffet (1930 – ) World’s most successful investor

I recently received a blog post from Software Advice on – Why the Technology Matters – An Analysis of Consona’s Acquisition of Compiere. That blog post made me think about my recent posts over the last few months on Cloud Computing and Google Apps etc in May, June, my blog post last year on ERP and this year’s – Leveraging IT for Competitive Advantage – Myth or Reality? The ERP blog post covered the recent acquisitions that had happened within the competitive ERP arena and Leveraging IT for Competitive Advantage – Myth or Reality? attempted to address whether competitive advantage could be realised through effective use of IT.

Now, as we all know from the blog post, Warren Buffet’s (World’s most successful investor) management style and CIOs, the technology business is not considered a viable investment by him as he admits that he doesn’t understand technology and considers technology too volatile.  So, when Don Fornes wrote that he thought Consona had acquisitioned Compiere ‘because the Compiere product is built on a very modern technology stack and is designed to run in a cloud computing environment’ it made sense.

This was also confirmed by a quote by Consona’s CTO, Steve Bailey, ‘Compiere is the world’s leading open-source ERP solution and the products are brilliantly architected. They run on a fully open-source stack (e.g., Java, Linux, JBOSS, Postgres), utilize a browser-based AJAX UI based on the Google Web Toolkit, and are fully operational either on premise or on a utility cloud platform like Amazon…’

Don went on to say, ‘While Consona has acquired a number of software companies based on this model, that doesn’t seem to be the strategy behind the Compiere deal. Compiere brings only 130 customers to Consona and I doubt Compiere’s open-source business model was generating big profits. Instead of buying customers and profits, Consona seems to be thinking ahead about how they can lead the market in the next generation of technology. The acquisition is more about growing organically – selling more Compiere systems – than it is about harvesting customer support contracts.’

‘Why is this all relevant to software buyers? Because there is a big shift underway from client/server systems installed “on premise” to cloud-based or software-as-a-service systems that are hosted in a secure data center and accessed through a web browser. Moreover, the open source movement is producing underlying technology that is not only free, but increasingly really good stuff. Software vendors that don’t make the transition will wither on the vine.’

‘To highlight the significance of this model, consider that a bunch of brilliant Google engineers built some cutting edge user interface technology (Google Web Toolkit) and open sourced it. Compiere turned around and used it in their products. Google did a big part of Compiere’s engineering for free…and will continue to do so. Now that’s efficient development.’

‘Compare that to an application software company that has to pay ongoing royalties to an infrastructure software company for the privilege of developing on its outdated database or development tools. The smart engineers long since left both companies so they could work on cooler projects at more modern software companies. The mediocre engineers that remain are having a hard time developing new features on old code. Sales are declining and customers are defecting (albeit slowly because it’s hard to switch).’

‘You don’t want to be that customer that is trying to defect but fears the switching costs. You want to be the delighted customer that loves their software because it works today and will work tomorrow, regardless of what new requirements emerge.’

As we are constantly bombarded by marketers and pushed towards cloud computing models, please remember that (as Marcela Cueli said in his article),

‘For a start, cloud computing is not a technology but a model of provision and marketing IT services that meet certain characteristics. Cloud is all about computer services, not products:

* The infrastructure is shared. Multiple clients share a common technology platform and even a single application instance.

* The services are accessed on demand in units that vary by service. Units can be, for example, user, capacity, transaction or any combination thereof.

* Services are scalable. From the user’s point of view, services are flexible; there are no limits to growth.

* The pricing model is by consumption. Instead of paying the fixed costs of a service sized to handle peak usage, you pay a variable cost per unit consumption (users, transactions, capacity, etc.) that is measured in time periods that can vary, such as hour or month.

* Services can be accessed from anywhere in the world by multiple devices. The cloud model leads to basically two different kinds of clouds: private and public. The public clouds are those that offer IT services to any customer over the Internet. Private clouds offer IT services to a predefined group of customers, with access through Internet or private networks. You might have also heard about internal and external clouds. The former are a subgroup of the private clouds, and provide services within the same company or corporate group. The latter may be public or private and provide services to other companies.’

To conclude, this is exactly what I have been discussing in my blog posts over the last year or so. Don’s thoughts are increasingly reflective of the technology blogosphere as technology writers’ such as Don and I understand the repercussions of the effects of cloud computing on traditional client/server models and associated revenue streams, licensing etc.

There are many facets that I have covered over the last year or so that lead companies to be in this vulnerable position where they have to resort to acquisitions to remain contenders within their marketplace. My blog posts mentioned earlier have considered these, so apart from the above posts, I will leave you with some other posts that should help companies and their management become successful.

What is Cloud Computing? Its Pros/Cons and making it work

Lawmakers question the security of cloud computing

Can IT Management failure be caused by a deadly disease? Part I

Can IT Management failure be caused by a deadly disease? Part II

I listened, you spoke but did we communicate?

IT benchmarking

The CIOs agenda and memberships

Challenges facing CIOs at the UK’s leading companies

 

Benchmarking IT

‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one that is most responsive to change.’ Charles Darwin

Benchmarking is the process of comparing one’s business processes and performance metrics to industry bests and/or best practices from other industries. Benchmarking involves management identifying the best firms in their industry, or any other industry where similar processes exist, and comparing the results and processes of those studied (the “targets”) to one’s own results and processes to learn how well the targets perform and, more importantly, how they do it.

I have been reading, The Real business of IT – How CIOs create and communicate value and as I was reading chapter 3, Show value for money, I thought to myself that I had the title for my next post. The chapter discusses, well, value for money and the importance of benchmarks, especially for CIOs who have just joined or are thinking of joining/moving to pastures anew.

Benchmarking an organisation’s IT is important whether conducted internally or externally. As the cost is quite high for conducting benchmarking via the established players, such as Gartner, many smaller organisations may initially decide to do it internally. Benchmarking has evolved now to the extent that even universities have started to run benchmarking courses, such as Stanford university’s IT benchmarking certificate, aimed at, yep, CIOs!

As quoted by CIO.com; ‘in today’s business environment, says Bechtel CIO Geir Ramleth, IT needs to benchmark itself against a new set of peers: successful technology companies that built their IT systems in the Internet era. Doing so is a painful exercise for the ego. “Corporate IT is trying to break the sound barrier, and the Googles and Amazons are NOT supersonic. They’re hypersonic,” says Howard Rubin.’

My research has shown that Gartner has created a niche in IT benchmarking, as Gartner currently holds one of the largest global IT Trends and Benchmark Database. Dr Howard Rubin, created this global database and is a world authority on IT benchmarking and he offers the following thoughts and advice (Courtesy of Computer Aid Inc – CAI):

‘CAI: How do organizations interested in benchmarking best determine what they should be measuring and how they should be measuring?

Howard Rubin: I think the key thing for organizations is bi-directionality. That means your approach to benchmarking must come from both the top and from the bottom. From the top, you really have to understand your technology costs- the costs of your technology goods and services- almost as if you were a manufacturing company. You have to understand the cost structure of technology, what its impact is on your margin and what the impact of your technology investment is on growth, shrinkage and market share. And you have to integrate your understanding of the cost structure and performance structure of technology directly into the company’s financials.

You also have to figure out who you want to be looking at, in terms of comparisons. Is it direct peers or is it organizations that have a business performance structure that you aspire to meet? Another point I should make about the choice of measurements from the top is that there is this thing called the balance scorecard, in which people look at their finance measures, customer related measures, profit measures and organizational measures; but these are just static measures. That means that if a company’s strategic objective is to be the number one player within a given market, or to have the most comprehensive view of the customer, the balance scorecard isn’t going to cut it.

It is directional measures, as opposed to static measures, which will tell you where you are moving versus where you would like to be and what your corresponding rate of change is. And there are basically three kinds of directional measures: positional measures, directional measures, and velocity measures. In short, you need to be benchmarking where you are, where your targets are, how fast your organization is moving and how fast the world is changing. And all of this must be done within the context of strategy.

Approaching things from the bottom, you really have to understand a lot about technologies and about the technology organization itself. That means much more than just knowing how long it takes to develop an application, or the quality of your software, or the customer service component of your technology.

It means you need to look at technology as a commodity, at the unit costs. You need to be able to understand, almost like having a technology catalogue in front of you, what all of the technology components of your business consist of. What are your volumes? What are your unit costs? What are the costs to your competitors? What other alternatives are available out on the street in the open market?

And there are some other aspects, too. If you are a CFO, for instance, you really ought to understand where technology hits your P&L, where it impacts your salaries, your expense, and your depreciation. It is very important to understand how fixed or how variable your technology costs are.

Finally, there is a kind of ethereal dimension that sits on top of all of this, one which involves how well you are using technology to innovate and change your business, as compared to your competitors.

In the end, what companies really need is a full navigational system. Something that will give them the instrumentation to get them where they want to go, as well as the external calibration to see if someone is going to get there first, second, better, cheaper, or faster.

CAI: What are some of the major challenges that most organizations encounter when they first get started with measurements and benchmarking? What are some of the most common mistakes made? Do you have any caveats for organizations that are undertaking this for the first time?

Howard Rubin: When you first get started with benchmarking, and you haven’t done it before, you are basically going to be comparing data that you have internally with external data. Consequently, people will get their internal numbers and then they will get their external numbers and try to compare the two things right away. They will be looking for insights and conclusions and hypotheses. However, after the first round of benchmarking, you should really be making an effort not to look for insights and conclusions. You should be focused on rationalization. First time starters need to understand that rationalization is part of the benchmarking process. It is not a precursor to the process.

The other issue with first timers is the availability of data. It is very important to overcome the fact that you may not have a complete set of data available internally. This is always going to be an issue. Consequently, my recommendation is to look at your benchmark program as if it were a step function program: take a small core, build out, step up, sort of ratchet, take the key questions needed to answer the first, and have the benchmarking provider map your structure. You don’t need to do everything at once. You can build things up throughout the process.

A final caveat involves management by numbers. For example, you will find many large organizations that have gone through multiple mergers and that haven’t shed any of their redundant systems or redundant technologies. Certainly they can do better. But the path upwards is not going to be visible just by looking at the numbers. There may be a whole lot of other things that have to happen first. This is especially true if you are using benchmarking for internal target setting.

My brother is a really fine physician and he always advises his students not to look at the numbers but rather, to look at the patient. That’s an important caveat in benchmarking, too. The numbers will give you calibration. They will help you understand what side of the benchmark you may be on. But the goal is not to be better or worse than the benchmark. On either side of the benchmark, you can be learning how to improve your position.

CAI: You are known, among other things, for having collected and organized data into one of the world’s largest information technology databases. Could you give us more information about this repository? For example, what kinds of metrics get tracked? How broad is the technological and geographical representation?

Howard Rubin: The Worldwide IT Trend and Benchmark Database was really formalized in 1994. It was a project, as I mentioned before, which started out within the Canadian government. They were trying at the time to develop a global view of technology utilization in business.

In its current form, the Worldwide Benchmark Database maintains data on more than 10,000 large companies, each typically over 500 million dollars in revenue. It covers companies that are based across 100 countries, so it has a really massive geographic spread. There is also a large diversity of data, everything from basic business and IT spending data, to detailed data on technology platforms, programming languages, application development productivity, application quality, size and number of personnel, compensation, practices and processes, and process maturity. You will even find customer service related data.

The database is also updated continuously. We use internet based surveys for this as well as data collection mechanisms that originate from within our own consulting engagements. Consequently, we are able to keep the data fresh, on a daily basis, and we are able to update major trend levels on a quarterly basis. What that means is that if we see a major business or political change, we can sample thousands of companies within a 24 hour period to see if there is any movement. I don’t think anyone else in the world right now has the capability to determine, within 24 hours, the effect on business decision-making and technology that a world event may have.

You originally asked me about how benchmarking has changed over time. Traditionally, benchmarking has been used to compare current data to historical data. What we are seeing now with the worldwide benchmarking database, however, is the comparing of current data with current data. That’s an important development in my opinion because data is kind of like produce: it gets rotten after a very short period of time’.

An article in CIO.co.uk, said: ‘Two decades of research by Howard Rubin, president at Rubin Systems, reveals two key concepts that can enable CIOs to see whether their IT investments are really adding up. He found that measuring IT spend against two factors – operating expense and net revenue – is a more accurate gauge of IT effectiveness than the metric of measuring solely against net revenue.

In addition, Rubin discovered that enterprises spending slightly more than their peers tend to have better business results. But after a certain point, that extra spending does no good. Rubin calls the sweet spot of extra but not exorbitant spending “optimal IT intensity.” He calculates IT intensity by comparing the IT spend to both the operating expense and net revenue, and has developed IT intensity curves that help CIOs see if they are under-investing, investing an optimal amount or over-investing.’ Another good article, I recently read was Using Benchmarking Metrics to Uncover Best Practices and is worth reading if you want to embark on benchmarking your IT.

I would like to conclude with a quote from The Real business of IT – How CIOs create and communicate value – Randy Spratt, CIO, McKesson: ‘We opened up our finances and made them transparent. In mid 2006, we delivered a one line allocation to the business. Now we deliver a complete invoice. Between transparency, benchmarking, and competitive bid efforts, we have strengthened the view that our finances are under control, we’re driving to continual improvement on a per unit cost basis, and we hold ourselves accountable for delivering to service levels. “We don’t hear, ‘Why does IT cost so much?’ now. Do we still have expense level conversations? Yes, but they’re more about how we can jointly reduce costs.”

Further resources:

NCC IT Department Accreditation

NCC Benchmark Surveys

Benchmarking IT services

CIO Infrastructure Benchmark Assessment Tool

FREE IT Infrastructure Benchmark

Get a free instant benchmark of your SAP system

IT Benchmark Blog

Metricsboard.com Blog

Michael Dell’s (CEO Dell) management style and CIOs

Today’s article is the second in a series of articles (First was written on Steve Job’s – Apple CIO) analysing current and past leaders to ascertain how Chief Information Officer’s (CIOs) can learn better management by applying the management practices of leadership, practiced by these leaders. It is interesting to note new technology leaders are remarkably similar in many ways. I’ll leave you to decide on their similarities.

PS: CIO is a generic term and other analogous titles are Head of IT, IT Director, Director of IT etc.

The Management Style

Michael Dell started his empire from his bedroom with $1000. Let’s see what CIOs and general management can learn from this icon of modern business and technology. (In no particular order and a few other sources utilised):

1. Constant analysis: Michael Dell (MD) – “There are a lot of things that go into creating success. I don’t like to do just the things I like to do. I like to do things that cause the company to succeed. I don’t spend a lot of time doing my favorite activities. What matters is our future plan of action. We are systematically moving to increase efficiencies, improve execution and transform the company. I constantly adjust my approach and way of doing things based on all the inputs and opportunities that I see.”

Successful businessman and leaders are constantly looking to improve their business. MD utilises this to maximum advantage. It is through constant analysis that Dell successfully started its own range of printers. From the early days, MD realised that a business MUST support itself from revenue generated and not through financial borrowing.

2. Family commitment: MD – “I think we make a priority to bring balance into our lives. To me, family is very important. So if you look at my schedule, one of the things I realized a long time ago is that there is a limit to how much productive work you can actually do in a given week. There’s also the happiness factor; if you want to do something for a long time and be really good at it, you’d better have a strategy that is sustainable and works within what’s going on in the rest of your life. For me that means that I’ve got to have time with my family; I’ve got to have time to exercise; I’ve got to have time to sleep; I’ve got to be able to take my kids to school.”

This is an aspect of life that I firmly believe in as well. Time cannot be turned around or replaced. It is very important that we spend time with spouses and spend time with our children. As they grow up we have to ensure that they become responsible and active citizens. A work/life balance is crucial and ensures that we work optimally.

3. Spotting opportunities: MD – “I do believe that you must find something you’re passionate about and follow your interests – not what others tell you to do.

We need to spot opportunities for improvement. It is not enough, however, just to spot them, the onus is to spot them and then to create an environment to leverage that opportunity and make it happen.

4. Business/IT Strategy: MD – “First of all, don’t start a business just because everybody else is doing it or it looks like it’s a way to make a lot of money. Start a business because you found something you really love doing and have a passion for. Start a business because you found something unique that you can do better than anyone else. And start a business because you really want to make a big contribution to society over a long period of time.”

When people enjoy their work, it is always more productive. Create an environment that encourages employees to deliver to their best capabilities. An environment that is not reliant on an individual’s contribution but where people work together, feel valued, are rewarded as a team and therefore can work towards a better future for the organisation.

5. Know your business and innovate: MD – “There are so many sectors of technology that are in different stages of development and maturity. If you want to be a part of that or create a masterfully successful company, that’s usually not done by replicating something which already exists. To create a real breakthrough, you have to do something which has never been done before or you have to do it in a way which is dramatically better than something that’s previously been done.”

The CIO and the entire IT department need to develop an innovative mindset. IT needs to help the business by understanding each department and then helping that department through innovative use of technology. That assists towards building relationships and reinforces the transformational capabilities of IT.

6. When the going gets tough, investment in people always pays: MD- “First, if you try to control things, that’s self-limiting. The easiest way to think about this is that if all the decisions inside an organization had to roll up to the center of the company or to one person, it’s a massive bottleneck. I believe in rules and having some order to things, but my natural proclivity is not to control everything myself. I am more inclined to provide frameworks and guidelines.”

One person alone cannot handle everything. The secret is to surround yourself with employees that are smarter than yourself. These smart people will challenge organisations and force them to think differently. I covered this, under mobility of management when I covered; can IT Management failure be caused by a deadly disease? Part II. CIOs need to understand the importance of retaining and investing in people as one of the business’s most important assets is yet again confirmed by another business leader.

7. Success in general may be built on failure: MD -. “I would say a few things. First, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. That’s how you learn, so I believe a lot in trio al and error and course corrections. Often companies are unwilling to admit when they’ve made a mistake. We tend to question things more in our business.                                                           

Businesses in general do not tolerate failure and that cascades down to the employees. Employees are encouraged to succeed at all costs. Yet, both at Apple and Dell, failure is accepted as a route to success. Dell’s venture into personal organisers (The Axiom) was not successful but its move into the printer market has been successful. The secret is to learn from your mistakes, put them behind you and move on.

8. Learning: MD – “Continuous learning is also important.”

All great leaders have made it a habit to constantly learn. MD visits the companies that impress him by paying them a visit to learn how to improve himself and Dell. Other leaders such as Bill Gates are very well read and read books to improve their knowledge. The knowledge of all great minds, past and current, is available. It is upon us to seek that knowledge.

The three principles (3C’s) for successful internet businesses.

Approximately 10 years ago, MD outlined three principles that internet businesses should adopt. Many of these have been adopted and enhanced and are reproduced for you to make your own conclusions.

1.        Content

“The first stage of content means providing compelling information. This is how we started our online operations in 1993, when we put our technical databases online for customers to access. It was a relatively simple start, but it showed us the tremendous interest from our customers. By content, we mean bringing information online. Anytime you have a form, a manual, or a document, put it online. This is the foundation of any Internet strategy. Once we brought information online, it became clear to us where the opportunities were in the transaction world: simple things like order status and commerce, and we have added more complex things over time. The key, again, is that it is experiential and you learn by doing.”

2.       Commerce

“The next stage is commerce, which should be thought of as all transactions, not just buying things over the web. In fact, our first activity in this area had nothing to do with purchasing. It was simply order status. Our ultimate goal is to deepen relationships with customers by providing added convenience, efficiency, and cost savings, and a wider array of services. The Internet creates an opportunity to move these key transactions online and drive transaction cost to almost zero.”

3.       Community

“The final stage is developing an online community. We are building two-way relationships over the web with both our customers and our suppliers. Establishing communities of suppliers and end users that share common interests. In summary, the Internet is changing the face of the entire economic and social structure of not only this country but the entire world, and governments have a great opportunity to embrace it. We are seeing a transition from a brick-and-mortar government to an online government. The advantages will include things like velocity, efficiency, and a better customer experience.”

It is appropriate to conclude this blog post with a quote from Michael Dell himself on his competitive strategies “speed to market; superior customer services; a fierce commitment to producing consistently high quality, custom-made computer systems that provide the highest performance and the latest relevant technology to our customers; and an early exploitation of the Internet.”

Organisations “Don’t get” social media

Social Media: Changing Business

Image by Intersection Consulting via Flickr

POST UPDATED 09.12.11

In general most organisations still don’t understand or don’t want to understand the impact, benefits and competitive advantage that social media can, in many cases, still provide. The problem lies in the half hearted way many organisations introduce social media within the organisation. Brian Glick, in his ComputerWeekly column said that (In summary) organisations in general still thought that employees, if given the option, would spend their time on social media sites instead of working are missing the important point. Organisations could reap significant benefits and it was in the interests of organisations to improve collaboration and communication with ‘customers, suppliers and partners.’ One of the reasons for not adopting social media is that social media is at the stage where email and the Internet were 15-20 years ago. I remember that at the time many organisations used to view email/Internet access in the same way. Now, email and Internet access forms the fabric of most organisations. For those organisations that just ‘don’t get’ social media, I will provide a simple three step process to ‘get you there.’

Step One – The social media policy

This does not have to be a completely new policy; this can be an addendum to the existing computer usage or Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) of an organisation. This should include acceptable/unacceptable behaviour for employees on social media such as blogging, social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter etc. The secret is to embrace social media, get your employees involved and make them your ambassadors in the new world of social media. Tony Redshaw, Aviva CIO captures the essence well, “If you want people to use it, you have to tolerate them using it and not always in the way you expect.” To get you started, here are a few links:

Step two – Internal and external Social Media adoption

Harnessing the power of social media will provide you with two key benefits:

  1. Collaboration and knowledge sharing becomes easier. Organisations of all sizes have struggled for years to capture the expertise of their knowledge experts without much success. Internal Social media platforms make that process simple and employees are encouraged to create ‘expert’ content. Expertise becomes easier to access, as Aviva’s example (QUICK STATS – £350 Billion assets, £50 billion sales, 54000 staff, and currently 120 wikis with potential for 600 more) demonstrates. For example, in Aviva’s case, Tony Redshaw, Aviva CIO said, “One of our people in the Melbourne office was having a complex issue. Someone in our York (England) office saw their online post. Within 24 hours they had related their experience and suggested a way of fixing it, and…problem solved. There was no way before for the two to hook up and for that information exchange to happen.”
  2. The younger generation leaving schools and universities is social media literate. They already have social media profiles on Facebook, MySpace and Bebo etc. Organisations are finding it hard to recruit and retain youngsters where social media equivalents are not available internally and where social media access generally is restrained. The primary reason is that these younger people utilise these technologies to communicate and interact with the world at large. Embracing the younger generation through social media adoption can bring benefits that may not have been anticipated. They will utilise these platforms in innovative ways, providing competitive advantage and adding to the bottom line.

Step three – Setup and monitoring Social Media

Organisations’ spend tremendous amounts of their finances on marketing and advertising but tend to spend no money on correct setup, creating the correct social media culture and actually monitoring social media. For the past month, I have been researching an organisation that thinks that it ‘gets’ social media. The way they have decided to setup their social media, I am sure, in their opinion is correct. Let me just explain how they have setup their social media. They have a blog but only their wholesalers can access it and oh, by the way, they would have to register to read the blog articles. They have setup a social media account with one of the main social media platforms. End customers are not allowed to become members of that group, as it is aimed at the wholesalers only. Customers have been wandering the web looking for information about their products but cannot easily access information about their products or have anywhere or anyone to go to for further information; even product enhancements have been discussed by customers. An independent site talks about the chemical products in their products as naturally occurring and their website fails to display that information. Ok, so why am I telling you all this and why is it important?

Let me explain. Social media is not a tool where the success can be measured in a given time frame/short term. Relationships are developed and nurtured utilising various social media platforms over both short/long term. It is a tool that allows us to interact with each other and our customers. The need is to, ‘engage and interact.’ This particular organisation has not done that. In actual fact, it has unconsciously created all sorts of barriers stopping its very customers reaching and interacting with it. I couldn’t find any evidence of anyone utilising social media to have any conversations anywhere with its customers. Social media is not being monitored and so this organisation has no way of knowing if anyone is posting any comments (positive or negative) anywhere on social media.

For example, I did come across some negative comments that could have been countered by simply informing the customer on where to find the information. Another example covered in my blog post a few weeks ago showed that if , Toyota had monitored social media, it would have become aware much earlier that its customers were unhappy and that it could impact Toyota’s reputation. Here are a few links to get you started:

More SM Tools:

Hootsuite , Tweetdeck , Yoono , Wefollow , Listorious , Twellow , Twellowhood , Klout , Visibli , Quora, Instagr.am , Pitchengine , Addictomatic , Tubemogul , Untweeps, Twitalyzer , Topsy , Ping.fm , Friendfeed , Google Alerts , Postrank , Storify , Backtype , Big-boards/ , Getclicky , Twitterfeed , Twitter Search , Onlywire , Hashtracking , Socialmention , Seesmic.com/ , Flock , Pingdom.com/ , Hubspot , Diaspora , Monitter.com/

Top Commercial Tools for large organisations (Cost more, probably not affordable by small business or for personal use):

Top 20 Social Media monitoring vendors for business

Radian 6 , Lithium , Attensity 360 , Alterian , Spiral 16 , Buzz Logic, Cymfony , Cision , Trackur

In summary:

  • Ensure that you have appropriate policies/guidelines to help employees navigate social media.
  • Adopt social media in a way that benefits your organisation and interact with a wide audience.
  • Monitor social media and use it to interact with your customers, suppliers and partners.
  • The objective internally is to create an environment of collaboration that allows the open exchange of ideas.
  • The objective externally is to create a ‘buzz’ and awareness about your product and organisation, in addition to PR.

International and UK Law and how it relates to IT and Computers

Even when I was in university, I used to be both fascinated and confused by law. It was just as well that I had to contend with just one module of law as I made a conscientious decision that when I embarked on my career, I would leave the law and related computer crime etc to lawyers. As most of my regular readers know by now, I am usually sat around subconsciously searching for a topic. I don’t usually have a list of topics lying around and usually during the week something happens that leads to an article being posted. Well, it’s either that or on the weekend, I have a sudden panic attack that leads to me writing or babbling on about something. A few days ago, something similar happened that has led all of us to this post.

While researching, I came across an intriguing paper by Warren B. Chik, titled Challenges to Criminal Law Making in the New Global Information Society: A Critical Comparative Study of the Adequacies of Computer-Related Criminal Legislation in the United States, the United Kingdom and Singapore. This led me to find another interesting paper released by the UK home office on The police recording of computer crime that seeked to contribute to the Home Office and law enforcement efforts in tackling the lack of visibility of computer crime offending, a situation that was hampering efforts to assess and tackle the problem.

Let me clarify a few things first before we go international. British law is based on common law. The underlying principle of common law is the principle that it is unfair to treat similar facts differently on different occasions. IT and computers are not likely to be governed by common law, unless there is a case precedent.

The next one is Tort law concerns civil wrong doings and is used as a civil action by one citizen against another. Tort law may be used in some cases of IT/Computers, for example under the Tort of negligence and copyright infringement.

The last one that I want to discuss is statutory law. This is the law that has been passed by parliament. ‘Statute’ is generic and collective, while ‘act’ is specific and singular. An act is thus a statute, and the acts generated by a legislative body are collectively referred to as satutes, but ‘act’ is normally used in the formal title of a statute. You could thus talk about ‘the statute on rural land use planning’ or ‘the statutes regarding rural land use planning’, but the title(s) of the actual statute(s) would be something such as ‘Rural Land Use Planning Act’.

As the UK is part of the European Union, the UK is subject to the Law of the European Union. That means that EU law has direct affect within the member states and overrules any other existent law.

In addition to the measures above, internationally, many governments assist each other through Extradition treaties. This is the official process whereby one nation or state surrenders a suspected or convicted criminal. In the UK, the Extradition Act 2003 underpins the high profile case of Gary McKinnon.

As I said in a previous post, the ugly side of social media, UK’s national law is adequate for dealing with national social media abuse but there are no international agreements/treaties in place where a cross border offence happens, for example, significant online abuse is concerned involving two individuals in two different countries. The encouraging factor I found during the investigation of that post was that even countries such as Pakistan have produced legislation to combat electronic crimes. The main act to combat computer crime within the UK is the Computer misuse act 1990

The scope of Computer law is to protect individuals and liberty, so these are the current laws applicable within the UK:

Human Rights

  • Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950 (not enforced in UK until November 2000)
  • UK Human Rights Act 1998
  • Consumer protection act 1987

Freedom of Information

  • UK Freedom of Information Act 2000

Data Protection

  • Data Protection Act 1998 (extended the scope of data protection beyond automatically processed data)
  • The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 – EC Directive

Health and safety

  • UK Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, supplemented by
  • UK Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992

Rights of disabled  people

  • Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and 2004

Intellectual property rights

  • Registered Designs Act 1949
  • Design Rights (Semiconductor) Regulations 1989
  • Patents Act 1977
  • Trade Marks Act 1994
  • Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 amended by:
  • Copyright (Computer Programmes) Regulations 1992
  • Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997
  • EC Directive  on  the  Harmonisation  of  certain  aspects  of  copyright  and  related  rights  in  the  information  society  2001 (should  have  been  implemented  in  EC  countries  in  2002;  is  proving  controversial  and  has  not  yet  been  implemented  in  UK  law)

Contracts  for  computer  systems  and  software

  • Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 (Software)
  • Sale of Goods Act 1979 (Hardware)
  • Misrepresentation Act 1967 (Hardware)
  • Unfair contract terms act 1977

Electronic  commerce  and  contracting

  • Consumer protection – Distance Selling Regulations 2000

Torts

  • Civil liability may attach to a person independently of the existence of a contract; I.e. negligence, defamation, malicious falsehood and nuisance
  • Computer  Misuse  Act  1990  is  now  in  urgent  need  of  reform,  but
  • Computer  Misuse  (Amendment)  Bill  2002  was  not  passed  by  parliament

Unlawful  data  use  and  data  publication, Obscenity  and  pornography

  • Obscene  Publications  Act  1959
  • Protection  of  Children  Act  1978
  • Criminal  Justice  Act  1988 e.g.  Harassment
  • Telecommunications  Act  1984
  • Protection  from  Harassment  Act  1997

The CIOs agenda and memberships

Being a CIO is quite a lonely existence. When a CIO starts his/her new role, they are expected to provide an organisation with an IT vision and then have to work towards that vision. The CIO then becomes a salesman and proceeds to sell that vision to his/her own teams, at board level in an easy jargon free language but also to all the internal and external stakeholders of an organisation as well. As he/she drives the team towards that vision, he/she also has to ensure that systems are stable, reliable and maintainable to support business activities with minimal downtime. In addition, he/she has to be aware and ready for emergency situations with disaster recovery/business continuity plans. It is no wonder then that the CIO, as the ultimate IT authority within an organisation can feel isolated and alone at times.

Well, that was the legacy that we all inherited. In 2004, a group of CIOs got together and discussed whether it would be possible to have tools and resources at a CIO’s disposal that could remove this isolation and add real value for not only the CIO but for the organisation as well.

So, how did I get involved and where is the CIO Executive Council (Council hereon) heading? Well, I got involved quite accidentally, to be truthful having, bumped (cyber equivalent of) into a senior executive on a social media site. Once I saw the potential of the membership and knew how helpful the membership was for CIOs, I felt proud and privileged to assist and further the profession by welcoming CIOs within the UK to become active members.

To the CIO, there are many memberships available but there is currently no membership available that is by CIOs, for CIOs. The uniqueness of the CIO Executive Council is that it is comprised of hundreds of leading CIOs globally, who together form a reality-tested peer advisory resource. There are no vendors, consultants, analysts, or hidden agendas, just IT leaders. The common denominator is that they are all committed to helping members save time and money, avoid mistakes and make better leadership decisions.

CIOs don’t have to walk alone anymore as the Council, at the request of a member will instigate and establish a match, with, for example a CIO with “been there” experience to help mitigate risk and share a treasure trove of knowledge and insight. Humans are unique as we like to share the knowledge and experience that we have gained, for the wider good and it is indeed this quality that has allowed mankind to conquer water with dams and to reach for the stars. The CIO Executive Council recognises this and allows CIOs to learn and share knowledge directly with each other to remove the necessity of “reinventing the wheel”. This knowledge sharing is continued by providing members the opportunity to speak at global events and sourcing authoring, if they wish, in CIO magazine. Mojgan LeFebvre, CIO of Biomerieux said, “There’s nothing more reassuring than picking up the phone and calling another CIO who has faced the same challenges and the right solution. The readiness of peers to share their experiences and knowledge is incredibly valuable – more so given the global reach of the Council and access to peers all over the world.”

The Council’s Future-State CIO program was developed by a group of thought leaders from many global companies and the goal was to define the future of the CIO role and then to offer a path forward based on essential executive leadership competencies.

In the past, CIOs have spent the majority of their time managing their time for operational excellence.

Today, most CIOs are expanding their focus to include partnering with business on business transformation.

The future state CIO will spend the majority of his/her time driving business strategy and innovation for competitive advantage.

Finally, I want to take some time to discuss the IT Value Matrix. This was created by dozens of Council members joining forces on a schematic that would highlight the key characteristics and activities that optimise the value of IT to the enterprise. CIOs have used this to influence business stakeholders and explain to their staff how to focus and organise the IT function. I could list other benefits and value for the CIO, such as content/research/whitepapers, suffice to say, the CIO Executive Council membership is as valuable to the CIO, as tools are to a workman.

In summary and to finish with a quote, the CIO Executive Council works for the CIO, as it is by the CIO, for the CIO and the “secret sauce” of the Council is the extensive encrypted database of members’ needs, interests, goals and expertise. David Wright, CIO Europe, Capital One PLC said,” Council resources and peer discussions help us refine our strategies and develop key leaders.

Now, that is a powerful concoction!

I welcome UK CIOs to attend the CIO Executive Council’s next European Regional Meeting, 2 Dec 2009, in London.

Please click here to register your interest to attend (CIOs only, please)  or contact me directly, as below.

For further information and to become a member, please contact me via:

Email: ahmed@itfindit.com

Mobile: 07771 776752

Next week, I’ll be discussing either Microsoft’s Courier dual screen booklet OR How can an organisation leverage IT to create competitive advantage?

Yep, I haven’t actually decided, yet, who knows something else may catch my attention and I may decide to write about something completely different. Why not, after all, it is my blog!

Can IT Management failure be caused by a deadly disease? Part II

W. Edwards Deming

Image via Wikipedia

Dr Deming has always stood out in the crowd for me personally, as he continued to teach in what he had always believed in, even when he was doubted on his own home soil. This has always been a trait of most great leaders and in the true spirit of leadership, the knowledge and conviction he had developed for management was not held back but was applied with tremendous success in Japan. This was enough to create the ripple effect/tipping point for his teachings to be given credence back home in the US and Europe. A testimony to his success is the fact that at Toyota’s headquarters, his framed photograph has an even larger frame than the founder of Toyota, Kiichiro Toyoda.

Dr Deming originally developed, what he considered the five deadly diseases of western management (Two more were subsequently added, excessive medical care costs and excessive legal damage awards, not discussed in this post).

I agree with one of my readers, Thomas Keplar, who posted a comment a few days ago, “Lot of good idea’s in TQM, also a lot of areas that still must be understood that TQM will not provide answers other than as Ishakawa said “unless you have senior
management buy in, do not implement TQM”. It is a well known fact, comprehended by the recent credit crunch, management of the banks and the finance sector, that, businesses do not fail, management fail. As I go through this post, hold these two thoughts, as the importance of these two thoughts will become clarified.

“Unemployment is not inevitable but of bad management”- Dr Edward W Deming.

The five deadly diseases that cause IT management failure

1. Lack of constancy of purpose

This happens for three reasons. Firstly it happens, where the most senior IT position is a functional Head reporting into a board Director, for example, Head of IT reporting into a Finance Director. In this scenario, senior management, i.e. the CEO and the board, have not been able to communicate well enough to the Finance Director and hence the Head of IT, the business vision and the direction and/or there is a lack of planning for the future. In this situation, the information provided to the Head of IT, is second hand and as the information has been forwarded, the Head of IT, cannot understand the perceptions, background and discussion that may have led to that business vision and direction. This is management failure, in the making, as the board have failed to understand that IT should be represented directly at board level.

Secondly, it can happen where IT is represented directly at board level, the IT Director/CIO does understand the business vision and the direction but the board as a collective have no planning for the future and while they are looking after their, “cash cows”, they do not have the product of tomorrow.

The recent banking crisis is evidence of this happening. Although, explaining it is quite complicated and the way banking in general works reflects that as well, in a nutshell, the banks had, inadvertently, started to finance an expansion of lending by borrowing. IT Management, were not, in my opinion, privy to this information and as evidenced in the 90’s, rogue trader, Nick Leeson’s case (the achievements of these traders and their ability to circumvent systems and procedures).

Thirdly, as future products and innovation is stifled (Both by the business and within IT – Lack of innovation), the roadmap is unclear; processes and IT controls become inadequate and subsequently cause the failure of the business. If on the other hand, the future was planned effectively, for example, it would have been quite clear to the bank that this sort of lending was high risk. As such, it should have been reflected within banking IT systems and as a consequence would have been caught or captured by the intelligence built into the authorisation processes.

2. Emphasis on short-term profits

Again, there are two ways of looking at this. I will not go into the business aspects now but will start to deal with only how the second disease impacts IT departments.

This happens when IT departments either become quite insular or are lead to become insular as despite their attempts to, for example, attract additional funding for programmes of work that work towards longer term planning, they are stifled and are forced to think short term and are constantly, “fire fighting”. Innovation is frowned upon and newer innovative ways of using IT for competitive advantage cannot happen in this kind of environment.

This results in sacrificing the long term growth of the company for short term gains. The emphasis is on short term profits/dividends, no matter what. IT is contributing to anything it can do to raise the value of company stock, in the short term only.

3. Annual rating of performance

This is an area of Dr Deming’s theories that I do not have to adjust for IT. The annual rating of performance is an arbitrary and unjust system that demoralises employees and nourishes short term performance. It has an added side effect as it annihilates team work and encourages fear.

This annual rating of salaried people is also called the Merit system, annual appraisal and management by objective – management by fear is a better term. This system works by rewarding employees for what they have done in the past year, i.e. performance pay. The effect is devastating as the employee must have something to show and this in turn nourishes short term performance and annihilates long term planning and team work. As each employee is encouraged, to show and prove their individual contribution to qualify for the performance pay, it stifles team working. Even if individuals are working productively as a team, inadvertently, they are identifying ways in which to use the team work to justify that all important, performance pay!

Dr Deming’s theory encourages teamwork in its true sense. Actively listen to other team members’ views and ideas and counter members’ weaknesses while using the strengths of the team. This is impossible under a merit rating.

Even more damaging is the fact that when ratings are given out they cannot be understand well enough by employees and as to why they were not rated high enough.

It would be better if this system was a lottery where at least there is a good reason not to understand better, as employees would not feel superior or inferior.

4. Mobility of management

The annual rating of performance encourages mobility of management. As employees are not getting a raise, they are not loyal anymore. This has a devastating effect on the business as people have no roots in the company and are not there long enough to understand the business well enough. Management requires good knowledge of the company, its problems, production and service capabilities and that takes a long time.

For example, if a project manager has just arrived at the business and does not understand its culture, overview of its IT systems, IT and business strategy and is made to work on an individual project, how can he/she understand the overall  impact of what it is they are delivering?

5. Use of visible figures only

Finally, we arrive at disease number 5! Most IT departments will use figures that are known, for example, service desk figures. This is because most business schools and graduate degrees encourage us to use these figures. The power is in knowing known, unknown and the unknowable.

Now, the question some of you may ask is that, if it is unknown, how could it be important? Well, we need to understand the multiplying effect of a happy customer and also the unhappy one. Understanding these figures is absolutely crucial for IT departments, as just with the given example, if we can understand the multiplying effect, we can harness the effect and turn the unhappy customers into IT ambassadors within the business.

Final thoughts

As always, I look forward to your feedback, and encourage all my readers to post their opinions, both here and within the forums that I am a member of.

Do you have any areas of IT that you would like me to discuss? Please feel free to suggest any future posts by leaving your comments. I am currently compiling a list for future blogs.

For further information:

The W Edwards Deming Institute

Dr. Deming – The 5 Deadly Diseases 1984