Technology Empowerment vs. Frustration: A User(s) Guide

Posted on : 30-04-2012 | By : richard.gale | In : General News

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One of the most exciting aspects of running an IT Consultancy is the variety of views and opinions we get to hear about from our clients, teams, suppliers & partners. We want to focus this month on looking at the relationships between business users of technology and the IT departments that supply solutions.  As with most ‘marriages’ this is a complex, ever changing interaction, but two factors are key to this are: Empowerment  and Frustration.

We think we are on the cusp of a major change in the balance of power between the user and IT departments, this happens very rarely so we are watching with interest how it develops over the next few years. Business users now are digitally aware, often frustrated by tech departments and confident enough to bypass them. This is a dangerous time for the traditional IT team and trying to control and close down alternatives would be a mistake and is probably too late anyway.

The graph below highlights how users frustration with IT has increased whilst their ability to control has diminished. There was a brief (golden?) period in the 1990’s where Desktop computing and productivity tools helped business users become more self-sufficient but that was then reduced as IT took control back of the desktop


Business Frustration vs. Empowerment 1970 onwards

Business Frustration vs. Empowerment 1970 onwards

The 70s – the decade of opportunity

Obviously computing did not start in 1970 (although Unix time did start on Jan 1st…) but the ’70s was perhaps the time when IT started making major positive impacts to organisations. Payroll, invoicing, purchasing and accounting functions started to become more widely automated and computerised. The productivity gains from some of these applications transformed businesses and the suppliers (IBM, IBM, IBM etc) did phenomenally well out of it. User empowerment was minimal but frustration was also low as demand for additional functions and flexibility was limited

The 80s – growing demands and an awakening workforce

The 1980s saw the rise of the desktop with Apple and Microsoft fighting for top-dog position. This explosion of functionality was exciting for the home user initially and then quickly grew to be utilised and exploited by organisations. Productivity tools such as spreadsheets, word processing and email allowed business users to create and modify their working practices and processes. The adoption of desktops accelerated towards the end of the decade so we make this decade as: Empowerment up (and growing) and frustration down.

The 90s – Power to the people (sort of… for a while)

Traditional IT departments recognised the power of the utility PC and adjusted (and grew) to support the business. Networks and so file sharing, and as importantly, backups became the norm. Business departments were  becoming more autonomous with the power the PC gave them. Macros and Visual Basic add-ons turned into business critical applications, new software was being produced by innovative companies all the time. Business users were free to download and run pretty much anything on their work computer.  The complexity of IT infrastructure and applications was increasing exponentially… so inevitably things began to creak and break, end user applications (or EUCs as they became known) could be intolerant of change (such as a new version of Excel), also they were often put together in an ad-hoc fashion to solve a particular problem and then woven into a complicated business process which became impossible to change. This, with the additional twist of the ‘computer virus’ gave the opportunity for the IT department to lock-down users PCs and force applications to be developed by the new, in-house, development teams. Result for the 1990s – User frustrations rising, demands rising and empowerment on the way down.

The 00s – Control and process

The dawn of the new millennium, the first crash of the dot coms and the lockdown of user PCs continues at pace. The impacts from the ’90s – unsupportable applications, viruses, complexity of the desktop were joined by higher levels of regulation, audit and internal controls. These combined with a focus on saving money in the still expanding IT departments caused further reduction in user abilities to ‘do IT’. In large organisations most PCs were constrained to such an extent they could only be used for basic email, word processing and Excel (now the only spreadsheet in town). Any new application would have to go through a lengthy evaluation, purchasing, configuration, security testing, ‘packaging’ and finally installation if it was required for business use so inevitably – User frustration was rising to dangerous levels and empowerment was further degraded.

The 10s – A digital workforce demands power

The controls and restrictions of the ’00s now ran into signification budgetary restrictions on IT departments. Costs were, and are, being squeezed, fewer and less experienced resources are dealing with increasing demands an pace. Frustration levels were peaking to a point relationships between IT and business were breaking down. Outsourcing parts of IT organisations made some significant savings on budgets but did nothing to reduce user concerns around delivery and service (at least in the short term).

Some users started to ‘rebel’, the increasing  visibility of software as a service (SaaS) enabled certain functions to implement simple but functionally rich solutions to a team or department relatively easily and without much/any IT involvement. did amazingly well through an ease of use, globally available, infrastructure free product which did everything a Sales team needed and could be purchased on a credit card and expensed…  Internal productivity tools such as Sharepoint started being used for  complex workflow processes – by the business without need for IT.

At the same time personal devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops (BYOD) became the norm for the business community. They want and are demanding ability to share business data on these tools.

Public cloud usage by business users is also starting to gather pace and the credit card/utility model means some functions do not use IT for certain areas where quick creation and turnaround of data/processing is needed (whether that is wise or not is a different question).

So what are IT departments doing to ensure they can continue to help business units in the future:

  • Become much more business needs focused (obvious but needs to be addressed as a priority)
  • Encourage the use of BYOD – in the end it will save the firm money through not having to purchase hardware
  • Aggressively addressing traditional structures and costs – ask questions such as
    • “Why can’t we get someone else to run this for us?” – whether outsource, cloud or SaaS
    • “Why don’t you have a SaaS/Cloud enabled product?”
  • Become a service broker to the business – looking ahead and managing service and supplier rather than infrastructure, applications or process.

User empowerment rising but user demands and frustrations still high

The 20s – Business runs business and Utilities run IT

What will happen in the next few years? Who can tell but trends we are seeing include:

  • There will be a small number of large firms with massive computing capacity – most other organisations will just use this power as required.
  • There will be new opportunities for financial engineering such as exchange trading computing & processing power, storage & network capacity.
  • IT infrastructure departments in the majority of organisations would have disappeared
  • IT for business organisations will consist of Strategy, Architecture, Business Design, (small specialised) Development focusing on value-add tooling and integration, Relationship and Supply management of providers, products and  pricing

All these point to more power for the business user but one trend emerging which may reverse that is the on-going impact of legislation and regulation. This could limit business capability to be ‘free’ and the lockdown of IT may begin again but this time more from government onto the external suppliers of the service resulting in increasing frustration levels and reduced empowerment….. interesting to see how this goes.



Integrated ‘IS command and control’ – can cloud-based services deliver it?

Posted on : 30-04-2012 | By : jo.rose | In : General News

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For years, many IS organisations have lacked efficient and effective IS command and control processes. Key IS processes involving internal teams, business stakeholders, projects, executives and third party providers have fallen short.  They largely rely on weak, paper-based processes. Reporting has been manual. Dozens of processes run using spreadsheets, documents and shared lists.

Integrated IS governance has been elusive.  Convincing senior managers they have any kind of line-of-sight and that they are seeing ‘one version of the truth’ has been impossible.

The traditional approach is to spend lots of time and cost worrying about low level integration of data and tools. Investment is spent on workflows and customising SharePoint. But the result can still be a set of shared lists. Some of this is valid, but for the most part it misses the point.

The core information needed to run an effective IS organisation is accessible anyway.  It’s just a case of pulling it together into a ‘governance model’ based on largely industry-standard core processes. It needs a consolidation process, coupled with a set of tools for data capture, automation and control. The more effective, 80:20 approach, delivers IS processes and governance as a series of small steps. Impressive results can be obtained in a few weeks.

Making a difference

Key processes support a rapid delivery model. A good approach is to look at the three levels of prioritisation below (though never forget that organisations can pick and mix the delivery approach).

Tier 1

  • IS performance visibility and reporting (and connecting this to core data sources like the helpdesk data centre tools, etc).
  • Service Provider reporting (and connecting this to the IS and business value chain).
  • PMO automation (phase 1 – portfolio, programme project visibility).

Tier 2

  • Business reporting from IS – providing focused view of IS operational and project performance impacting each business stakeholder group.
  • Resource management, stakeholder reporting.
  • Automation of business change requests.

Tier 3

  • Business requests for project investment, portfolio prioritisation.
  • Third Party Management for major contracts.
  • Scenario planning for investment.

Approached in this way, organisations can make headway quickly. Much of the tier 1 and 2 priorities can be delivered in 8-12 weeks as long as the following simple rules are adopted:

  • Think about the core ‘decision points’ in and around IS. Buy in a ready-made IS governance model, don’t ask someone to design it from scratch.
  • Go top-down – not bottom up. You will get there faster and obtain results that will gain confidence with the business
  • Be a ‘consolidator of information’. Don’t get bogged down in trying to build an elaborate data and system integration for reporting. Cloud products do this for you and quickly connect to existing data sources.
  • Accept 80:20 completeness. Start from what you have, deliver ‘quick winds’ that make a difference and work outwards in small steps.
  • Look at what you can get out of the box. Consider using a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) Platform (see below). Avoid lengthy and expensive integration projects.  Our experience is that they rarely deliver effective results.

 What’s clear is that a game-changing approach is needed to deliver an integrated command and control processes for IS departments. Choosing the right SaaS solution lets you do this: SaaS can be implemented quickly with impressive and fast results.  Look for an out of the box solution that offers nothing less than these key IS governance processes:

  • IS performance reporting to internal and external ‘governance points’.
  • Portfolio, programme and project management.
  • Business workflows for requests, approvals supporting both the business units and third parties.
  • Common IS-wide processes for issue and risk management, escalation, reporting, resource management, timesheets.
  • Management of third party service provider contracts, including, commercial, operational and transformational performance.

So can cloud service enable integrated IS command and control?  In truth, it actually looks like the most strategic way forward to the majority of organisations.

Contribution by: Stephen Randall is CEO of Execview, a ground-breaking Enterprise Platform for delivering and managing business transformation, operational excellence and strategic outcomes available as SaaS.  For more information contact us at or visit

“C-Level” job titles – too many chiefs?

Posted on : 30-04-2012 | By : john.vincent | In : General News

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I recently saw a press release about a new Chief Operating Officer hire at a top tier bank within their retail banking unit. Amongst what I assume are the traditional COO responsibilities, part of this persons remit was to drive “customer service, innovation and technology”.

Knowing a number of people in similar roles at this company I pinged an email over to a friend asking how many COO’s does the company require?, to which the response was “one for each business and no need for CIO’s anymore”.

That got me thinking on a number of fronts.

Firstly, I’m of an age when C-Level was an executive at the head of a organisation or business unit, normally either resident and/or responsible to the board of the company. These are very important roles providing ownership, accountability and leadership both from a strategic and tactical level.

Chief: One who is highest in rank or authority or office; a leader…Most important or influential.”

However, over recent years it seems that certain C-Level roles have been duplicated and positioned throughout organisational functions, often being further removed from the original hierarchy (particularly with respect to CIO’s and COO’s).

Whilst I understand the rationale to have some level of realignment as business evolves, both from a scope and scale perspective, it does seem that we’ve gone a bit too far. One organisation we know effectively has 3 tiers of COO within the IT department alone…seriously? Does this devalue the importance of the role?

The second point is about the plethora of C-Level titles themselves, which are exploding at a rate which may require its own standards organisation to manage it. Here are a few which you can tick off ( there’s a prize for anyone with a full house…).

Of course, there are many more (take a look at Wikipedia for a exhaustive list ) than included above. The good thing is that some, such as the titles of Chief Procurement Office and Chief Risk Officer, do still seem to be bestowed on an individual.

Recently there has been an increase in a new role, the Chief Digital Officer (not to be confused with Chief Data Officer which also exists in many organisations). This is a high-level executive reporting directly to the CEO and someone who’s seen as “instrumental” to the future of a company according to a report published by executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates. Search requests for this new role are up with organisations such as GlaxoSmithKlein and Starbucks all appointing CDOs.

Maybe this marks the start of a new, more significant emphasis on the importance of technology innovation as an enabler for the traditional C-Level leaders to gain a place at the top table (see “From CIO to CEO – Can clouds break glass ceilings?”)

We also believe that we are a tipping point now with respect to the operating model for support functions such as technology, operations, finance, hr, etc… ( see our article last month asking how much we need to Run the Bank ).

As part of this evolution it is important that the proper consideration is given to the job titles and role descriptions…and maybe, just a few less chiefs.