Striking a balance with home working

Posted on : 28-02-2013 | By : jo.rose | In : General News

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The announcement this week from Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer, banning the practice of working from home has divided opinion. In the case of Yahoo’s employees, she is clearly worried about the staff “slacking off” and missing the interaction with colleagues at a time when the company is under huge competitive pressure to survive. She needs to reignite the “spirit of collaboration”.

Shortly after the announcement, industry figures chipped in with their contributions.

Sir Richard Branson was quick to post his opposition to the edict from Mayer, saying that to work successfully with other colleagues depends on “trusting people to get their work done wherever they are, without supervision”.

In contrast, good old Donald Trump tweeted that Mayer is right to expect Yahoo employees to come to the workplace, adding “She is doing a great job!”

One former IBM employee went to the social media airwaves stating that that the policy was silly and short-sighted for three reasons.

  1. First, unproductive staff will be unproductive anywhere
  2. Second, Yahoo now risks losing top performers, and;
  3. Third the policy speaks of control and distrust unlikely to boost morale and engagement

We tend to agree with much of this. The problem really is in the all or nothing approach that Mayer has adopted. It is about how to create an environment that fosters productivity, regardless of physical location (indeed, it was recently estimated that $1.4 trillion is lost each year in productivity, irrespective of the seating arrangements).

The priority should be on finding better ways of working collaboratively.

The last couple of decades have brought a level of flexibility in working practices which we believe have hugely benefited both employee and employer. In the mid 90’s we started to talk about “work-life balance” and, through changing practices and technological advancements, this has evolved to where we are today.

Indeed, Charles Handy, the author/philosopher specialising in organisational behaviour and management, said;

“For the first time in the human experience, we have a chance to shape our work to suit the way we live instead of our lives to fit our work. We would be mad to miss the chance.”

However, there are of course pitfalls to allowing home working. Simply offering up the option as a kind of supplement to other rewards on an individual/piecemeal basis does not help to maximise efficiency. Similar to adopting a policy of employing remote workers or offshore resource on a case-by-case basis…it doesn’t work without looking at the bigger picture on both sides.

Here are a few thoughts in terms of a more efficient home working environment;

  • Define an operating model – this isn’t just HR policies and procedures, or leaving the ability to grant approval for home working to management/supervisors. For certain roles, particularly highly standardised or task-based, the location is truly irrelevant (so long as the rest of the environment is fit for purpose). At the other end of the spectrum there are others which require a lot more thinking in terms of team collaboration or outcome driven deliverables. Providing a schedule of onsite/home working that matches the role requirements is key. All roles need to have a defined set of principles and governance within which staff can operate efficiently. Where teams are transient, such as for projects, this structure should be well known to all and discussed/agreed effectively as part of the terms of reference for a project.
  • Build an effective “home office” space – a dedicated workspace where working at home can be achieved without the distraction of everyday life is very important. Some of it depends on your own personal discipline (see below), but where an individual works is very important. It should, of course, have the requisite technology specific to a role, but also be free from television, kids, spouses brandishing “chore requests” etc… (It is crucial to remember that personal interaction is very important, so when in the home office staff should seek to balance the day with some form of human interaction to recharge through conversation.
  • Personal Discipline – the clue in “working from home” is in the term itself. If you are one of those people easily distracted then you should avoid. Employers worry (sometimes justifiably) that by being out of sight staff will spend the whole day surfing, tweeting or on social media sites (again, some of this may be sorted through remote technology provisions). Discipline wise it is also important to have structure to the working day. With nobody potentially looking over your shoulder, you need to set clear objectives to avoid wasting the day…the pressure of an office environment is impossible to completely recreate, particularly the vision of your boss marching “Alex Ferguson style” across the floor, but you should be conscious that whilst the surrounding is more informal the role is not.
  • Oversight/Monitoring – productivity is always difficult to measure. To the point raised earlier, a balance of trust needs to be struck.  Pockets of resistance will always exist – typically from managers who can’t operate unless they are breathing down the necks of their staff.One effective measure that is used in some of the more innovative and successful technology companies is to place a much greater emphasis on peer review. For example, I was speaking to a colleague at Google recently who said that staff are not necessarily managed within the traditional organisation hierarchy – they could effectively operate their own hours as long as the objectives were delivered. When it came to assessing performance it was their peers who provided the measurement of achievement and ultimately, appraisal input. It worked really well.

For flexible working to succeed, managers need to manage their staff on the basis of results, and give them the tools necessary to achieve them.  Let’s see how Yahoo get on…


Software Defined Networking – the last piece in the virtualization puzzle?

Posted on : 28-02-2013 | By : john.vincent | In : Data

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Over recent years since virtualization capabilities came to market, most organisations are well on the way to migrating their technology infrastructure to virtualized environments. The benefits are well known in terms of compute and storage utilisation and agility. The next evolution of this in order for businesses to complete the picture and truly reap the benefits is to turn attention to Software Defined Networking (SDN) – or the virtualization of the network.

At a basic level, SDN provides a layer of abstraction between network services and the underlying infrastructure – it decouples it from the network interface level and associate networking software/protocols. By doing this a greater degree of flexibility can be achieved – it essentially eliminates the need for applications to understand the internal workings of the technical network components, such as routers, bridges and switches.

SDN separates out the identity and flow specific control from the network topology.

What is the importance of this? Well, the virtualization investments to date have predominantly focused around creating more efficient compute based infrastructure through consolidation and optimising the scarcity in physical data centre space. Increased flexibility has followed to some extent, but it has always been hampered by the lack of dynamic capability in the underlying data centre fabric, the network. Software Defined Networking removed this constraint.

In a SDN as you would imagine, it is software rather than hardware that actually creates the connectivity between multiple networks allowing technology administrators to change the configuration without altering the physical characteristics.

As you would imagine, as this technology is emerging there are already different approaches. At a basic level, these are;

  • Network Virtualization – a complete software stack to create the network, including virtual switches and routers
  • Network Programmability – this involves centralising control of the network infrastructure for configuration changes

So which vendors are leading the charge towards SDN? Both traditional network vendors and start-ups are at the forefront of the revolution. Let’s take a look at some of them;

We should start with the company that is synonymous with network infrastructure. Cisco are in a great position to be a leader in the SDN arena, but also stand the most to lose in that it allows network engineers to support switching fabric across multi-vendor hardware (indeed, it has been referred to as the “Cisco killer”). They have reacted not only by opening up access to the software operating system on its products but also purchased start Cariden at the end of 2012 for $141m. Alongside this they provided a $100m investment in Insiemi which was created by several Cisco engineers.

At this point we should mention the open-source OpenFlow protocol – this layer 2 communications protocol provides software access to the forwarding plane of a network switch or router over the network and is a key part of many SDN efforts (the two are sometimes wrongly confused as the same). OpenFlow was created by the founders of Nicira, prompting VMWare to purchase them for $1.23 billion as part of its overall strategy in July 2012.

Indeed, there are many other startups who are embracing the OpenFlow standard including BigSwitch Networks, Plexxi, Embrane, ADARA Networks and Vello Systems.

Juniper recently announced its SDN strategy, hot on the heels of Cisco, with its acquisition of Contrail Systems for $176m (which was only founded in 2012).

Alongside this, many established network providers have aligned their capabilities to OpenFlow as well, while still offering proprietary APIs. It’s still early days, so keeping plenty of eggs in many baskets is sensible (Note: both Cisco and Juniper still get 60% of their revenues from network hardware).

This week IBM announced support for the virtualization of network infrastructure that will extend the benefits of a cloud delivery model to communications networks as part of its Smarter Communications initiative.

There are huge benefits to SDN, specifically in terms of how organisations can benefit from optimizing data deployment such as specialised routing of specific, business driven content. Google has used it already to boost utilisation with most companies achieving 40% network utilisation whilst they claim a much higher rate, nearing 100%. You can also use SDN in the future to redirect network traffic to less utilised data centres.

It will be interesting to see how this develops through 2013.

CIOs bank on trendy technology as a priority for 2013

Posted on : 28-02-2013 | By : jo.rose | In : Cloud

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Firstly, thanks to everyone who completed our Broadgate Predictions survey for 2013. We closed it off today and will publish the results in our March BROADSheet.

What is clear as a general theme is that organisations are putting more emphasis on new technology innovation to drive further business value for internal and external clients. CIO budgets have been flat (at best) for several years now so they must look at new ways to deliver improved technology services from the perspective of cost, quality, agility and competitive advantage.

(Note: the exception to this is in financial services where budgets for risk & regulation are swallowing the discretionary spend – in itself a big issue).

So how are CIOs fairing against the challenge of exploiting new technology effectively? Well in another recent survey by Gartner CIOs believed they were only realising 43% of technology’s potential. Now, this is a difficult measure, and one which is not really fleshed out. However, the headline number is startling and putting it out there will cause businesses to question what the world might look like by tapping into the other 57%…

The problem is that the mantra for years now has been efficiency – doing “more with less”. But this only goes so far and as we wrote in our November article about the big banks, CIOs are running out of their most precious commodity, time.

Therefore, CIOs are starting to think differently around new technology, particularly in the area of mobile, data science (we don’t like the “big data” tag), cloud services, social media and consumerization, which have or are entering market maturity.

Mark McDonald, group vice president and Gartner Fellow says;

“CIOs require a new agenda that incorporates hunting for new digital innovations and opportunities, and harvesting value from products, services and operations”.

It is a really good point. These technology advances provide the basis of a new way of delivering technology services. It isn’t really about being an innovator or “pioneer”, but more about changing the objectives, behaviour and culture of the CIO organisation to embrace new ways of delivering value.

We are certainly at a tipping point. Another more worrying finding of the Gartner survey was that around half of the CIOs surveyed (covering some 2000 companies) do not see the role of IT in the enterprise changing over the next 3 years.

Really? As the new digital innovations become more pervasive in society those that do not have a plan to embed these into transformation of applications, infrastructure and operations will, in McDonald’s words “…consign themselves to tending a garden of legacy assets and responsibilities.”

Digital technologies dominate the CIO agenda for 2013. The top 10 global technology priorities reflect a greater emphasis on externally-oriented digital technologies, as opposed to traditional IT/operationally oriented systems.

Over the next 10 years, CIOs see the following technologies fundamentally disrupting business;

  • Mobile technologies (70%)
  • Data Analytics (55%)
  • Social Media (54%)
  • Cloud (51%)

Naturally, many of these have the greatest transformational power when combined together rather than in isolation, similarly to our article this month on Software Defined Networks.

What is key is that we also think further about the changing role of the CIO and leadership throughout this journey. Over the last 10 or so years we’ve seen CIOs become more business aligned and commercially aware. The old days of simply being the “engine room” for data processing are long gone. Indeed, there is a much greater awareness from CIOs in recognising (and being recognised) in terms of technology innovation and the value in delivering business solutions.

As this evolves further, CIOs will potentially find themselves in new territory again in leading solutions outside of the traditional technology role, such as acting as the enterprise chief digital officer, being involved in new channels to market, leading real business solutions in a more collaborative way to shape competitive and innovative digital services etc…

This requires a new ethos and potentially new skills. For example, those CIOs that excel at driving cost savings/efficiency may not necessarily be the same ones to lead the business through the next phase of digital innovation. It will be the CIOs that grasp this and change (or step aside) will offer businesses the most.