Sorry we don't work like that

At the weekend I did the weekly shop at a major retailer and also dropped into a major hardware store to purchase some padlocks. What struck me was the different view of customer service.

Whilst at the supermarket queuing to pay for my purchases a number of tills were starting to get a backlog of people queuing. Rather than let us all just wait managers opened up other tills and manned them and a message came over the tannoy for all staff who could operate a till to go to the till. I quickly moved to an empty till, paid and was on my way.

The organisation was flexible to the situation and demands of the customer.

Contrast this to my experience at a major hardware store. Big queues building up, lots of staff just seeming to walk around and no real sense of thinking out of the box and opening up some empty tills to help reduce the queues. I eventually got fed up put my potential purchases down, left and went to another rival store and purchased my padlocks there.

Now I may say that I am not loyal. However psychologically I probably am. I will remember the experiences above and will probably return to the same supermarket and go to the rival hardware store.

Customer service is important and sometimes it is the little things that matter. Being flexible to adapt to the situation and provide a service that benefits everyone with little effort.

It made me think of the relationship and service of IT organisations to their customers. There must be an IT training course that teaches the so often heard responses to customers and requests of

  • It's a bit difficult.....
  • It doesn't work like that...
  • We don't work like that and can't meet that timescales / cost
  • Before we can start we will need a, b, c, d, e, f, g,......x, y, z all signed in triplicate
  • etc.

In IT we talk about agile development to develop code faster and more closely aligned to what a customer wants. We need to extend that to the IT organisation as a whole. We also talk about agile processes and procedures that can adapt, change and flex as the demand from customers adapts, changes and flexes.

If we don't, then as I did, they will go to a competitor. If an IT organisation wishes to be truly part of a business and not a supplier of services then they need to look at the customer service they provide. Not just in terms of costs and schedule but also in terms of flexibility and agility of delivery.

Customer Service perfection is a great goal to achieve. But remember perfection is a journey not a destination and you need to be able to take different roads on that journey.

Thinking inside the IT Cost Box

I am constantly surprised at the number of articles which talk about reducing the IT costs of an organisation by a certain percentage, say 20%. This appears to me to be thinking inside the box rather than outside.

IT should be viewed in the context of the value it delivers to the overall business not as a cost centre to the business. For example conversations such as “ costs £100 million to run the IT in the business. We need to reduce this so you have an objective to reduce the cost by 10%....” are one dimensional. Where is the dimension of the value that the £100 million is providing to the business?

That £100 million could be delivering £500 million profit with an associated non-IT cost of £10 million to run manual processes and procedures. So what if we increased the IT costs to £110 million and invested in change that helped to increase the profits to £600 million and reduced the associated non-IT costs to £5 million. Overall by investing £10 million in IT we have increased profits for the business from £390 million to £485 million.

A simple example but it looks like good business sense to me.

So why do people still look at IT costs in isolation of the value delivered and are set challenges to reduce the cost of IT. The challenge should be how can we maximise the value delivered to the business by IT. Maybe it could be the lack of integrated thinking between business and IT? See my earlier blog on You Never hear of Business/Finance Alignment

Sounds simple and obvious so why do I still see those articles?

It's good to talk

Earlier this week I was lucky enough to travel to London with a colleague. It was 2 hours spent with no distractions from other colleagues, no phone calls or email on our blackberry's (it was an early train and we where in a quiet coach).

It was lucky as we had 2 hours of really productive conversation covering a wide variety of topics. We caught up on movements of people, got some valuable insight and advice on new roles and discussed new approaches to challenges. We resolved a number of issues and got to know a little bit more about each other as individuals.

It was a really productive value adding journey.

It made me wonder if all the social networking, email, instant messaging and 4th generation collaboration tools such as Google Wave are actually the best value adding communication. Don't get me wrong these are all very useful and welcome forms of communication

- Blogs – I write this one, I read others to;

- wikis – I have been looking into setting up our Enterprise Architecture as a wiki and look at wikipedia's popularity;

- email – Which I use everyday;

- Instant Messaging – I am a big fan of this for quick questions and answers across a disparate and virtual community;

But sometimes it is just plain better to talk face to face. If that is not possible on the telephone. For example immersive video conferencing in an organisation is usually extremely popular. I have tried it and it is truly amazing. Is it's popularity due to being able to actually talk to someone “face to face” in real time?

Whilst thinking about this I came across a Harvard Business Review Analytic Service looking in to the importance of business travel in building and maintaining business relationships. It stated that 79% of respondents said that in-person meetings are the most effective way to meet new clients to sell business. 89% agreed that face-to-face meetings are essential for 'sealing the deal'. And almost all (95%) said that face-to-face meetings are a key factor in successfully building and maintaining long-term relationships.

So if you are trying to embed Enterprise Architecture into the heart of business thinking then you may need to do more than quote facts, figures, analysts, produce presentations and send emails. You should sit down and talk to the organisation.

And next time you are on a train search out a colleague, when in the office pick up the phone rather than send an email or just get up and walk to see the person.

After all it is good to talk.

Does Technology actually matter?

I recently read an article entitled “When Cheap and Simple is Just Fine” and had a discussion on whether the actual technology products used to satisfy a technology service in our Enterprise Architecture really mattered? It made me wonder if the two are actually complementary. Do actual technology products really matter or is a good enough technology service just fine?

There was a time when you analysed the market place, looked at reference papers, such as Gartner Magic Quadrants, brought in the technology suppliers, did an evaluation against your requirements, maybe did some pilots and then selected a technology product.

However in today's technology market many technology products are basically the same at their core. They have some “bells and whistles” around the edges to distinguish them from their rivals but are at their core the same.

So do we need to worry about technology products? Are the way these technology products interact with other technology products of greater importance?

In our Enterprise Architecture the Enterprise Business Architecture has business objectives linking to business services which contains business processes. These link to our application service domains and application services contained in our Enterprise Application Architecture. These in turn to our technology services and ultimately to technology products and how to interface with them in our Enterprise Technical Architecture. As long as the technology product satisfies the requirements of the technology service and the business services and business objectives they enable and you can interface with it in the prescribed way does it matter if it is widget x, y or z?

When you use electricity at home you interface with the standard plug of your country. The technology product that supplies the electricity could be a nuclear power station, coal fired power station or 1,000 guinea pigs running around in wheels. The product is of no importance as long as it meets your requirements of providing electricity 24x7x365 and you can interface with it via your standard plug.

So do technology products really matter today? Is how it interfaces most important? Is good enough just fine? Do technology products actually matter?