Flexibility is not strategy (part 2)

29 04 2009

I mentioned that by remaining open to everything, you risk accomplishing nothing.  The resulting dispersion of resources and effort can cause paralysis (or perceived stasis in your customer base).

So, what if you decide, like Hamlet eventually did after Act 3, Scene 1, to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them?

Come together, check your weapons at the door

First off, nobody is too busy to participate.  This isn’t a one hour lunch time meeting where you order pizza and get through it before your next big conference call.

It is a time for commitment, honesty, speaking truth to power, and putting all the assumptions or corporate mythos into play.

You are in the “cone of silence” and the “truth circle”.  If you don’t trust your players, the process will be undermined and fail.

It has to be a safe environment to air legitimate concerns and defuse feuds between leadership or divisions.  Inside these sessions, you need to show your work and shred a lot of rough drafts.

Sensitive topics will be broached and in the process of tackling these perceptions (real or otherwise) is ugly.  The process is transient and understandings will forged and dismantled many times over.

The objective is to neutralize or plot a solution to counteract threats or weaknesses.  The words and work that are said during these sessions can potentially be used (in or out of context) as weapons that could decimate morale at large.

Mind you, being iconoclastic and cavalier about other people’s beliefs isn’t the same as being objective.  Like any relationship, there may be a role for a neutral third party to arbitrate pointed issues, take down all that is said, and offer guidance to becoming “unstuck” when the topics “rathole” into minutiae. Read the rest of this entry »

What can getting “Scobleized” do for you?

29 04 2009

This is a deviation from my blog trajectory, but bear with me.

I believe in many things.  Among them, that social networking / Web 2.0 (or whatever we call it today) technologies can be used for the purposes of good rather than evil.  Especially in a manufacturing or process industries setting.  I’ll post about that sometime soon.

Obviously, I experiment in whatever media seem to be on the leading or bleeding edge and call it “work”.  I just need to get paid for it.  Right… Read the rest of this entry »

Home is where the server is

27 04 2009

It’s time to make good on my threat to post about home technology.  This post will be part of a series about stuff that makes my technical home life functional, yet very geeky.  It’s a mix of things that anyone with a small office / home office (SOHO) might enjoy using.  Some of it may save your bacon.  Even if it’s Canadian.

Just to get some affiliations out there – I don’t have particular allegiances, but typically I’m Microsoft-centric these days.  I do maintain a Mac (a post on that later), iPod, and used to have some Linux boxes around.  So I’m no stranger to any of that.

Why you need a Windows Home Server

This is a product that Microsoft got right.  There are others as well (Microsoft OneNote, and I’ll post about that later).  But I digress.

A stay at home server is right for you.  Be sure to check out the children’s books for those inevitable questions. Read the rest of this entry »

Flexibility is not strategy (part 1)

23 04 2009

You can’t focus on everything and succeed.  Obvious, right?  Clearly if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there (in this case, all roads do not lead to Rome).

No person or company knowingly decides to be everything to everyone.  But that’s exactly what happens when you can’t choose (and stick to) a specific goal.

Banking on flexibility is tantamount to saying yes to everything.

While it’s OK to be open to possibilities, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between distraction and opportunity.  Opportunity’s transient nature can lead you to chase every possible direction until you forget who you are and how you got there.

You may ask yourself, “how did I get here?”

Some companies end up backing into disperse activities through growth or acquisitions.  Acquisitions can bolster a product portfolio in an unusual direction which deviates from the company’s core competency and tenets.  Unless the company consciously adopts a new strategy. Read the rest of this entry »

Economic necessity: reaping innovation’s rewards

21 04 2009

In a previous post, I discussed the role of constrained resources in innovation.  I strongly feel that it behooves companies to create a culture of innovation by rewarding employees for their novel ideas with more than “not getting fired.”

Users develop solutions from actual problems or opportunities on the front line.  These projects can lead to significant innovations.

I like the story of Dynamic Matrix Control (DMC). If it weren’t for a long-term strike at a Shell Refinery, this new way of controlling operations would never have come to fruition.

Innovation comes in many different shapes and sizes.  Creating DMC and turning it into its own business is more of an exception than the rule.  But measureable improvements abound when users are allowed to be creative. Read the rest of this entry »

Economic necessity: When all you have is a hammer…

16 04 2009

The lure of “Something as a Service” may not be for everyone, but I think some of (the few) positive aspects of hard times are discipline and innovation. 

Reflect on Michael Porter’s HBR article “What is Strategy” to see what I’m talking about.  As is validated in this blog post, everyone will cut costs and focus on operational excellence, but that opportunity is transient.

Innovation through discipline is typified in my work with small theatre companies.  The arts have known nothing but hard times.  Yet, we have pulled off miracles with zero money.  That’s not to say we couldn’t have used more funds, but creativity was the order of the day to make something out of nothing.

User innovation, like art, may actually thrive in hard times.

The sin of opulence?

Fifteen years ago great debates raged on USENET newsgroups about the merits of programming in constricted resource environments (yes, comp.sys.*.advocacy).  Assembly vs. higher level languages.  It was very geeky.

The premise was simple: relying on hardware for performance lead to undisciplined code.  Today’s constraints are different, but using existing assets better will force creative thinking – as long as there is incentive, and merit is recognized.

Users may not have access to anything in today’s buzzword parade (SOA, SaaS, etc.),  but they will discover great potential in tools like Microsoft Office.  Innovative users will exploit all their available resources if they have the time and incentive.

Problems will be solved in new ways, costs may go down, and new value may be discovered – if users are empowered.

The revolution may not be scrutinized

In almost any company, certain users have the flexibility to operate on the outskirts of IT’s control.  So experimentation could already be underway.  Using the Office example, users can install a long term trial version in stealthy manner and create the “next great thing” right under the nose of IT.

These installations can grow gradually with minimal impact on operations, and users can solve some really interesting problems for the business by just assembling components. 

D.I.Y. solutions to problems like document management, “Excel hell”, and rich application construction without programming are all possibilities given the capabilities of Office.

But companies must create a structure to reward the curiosity of its innovators.  Fear of job loss is not a motivator.  In today’s world where company loyalty has dwindled on both sides, a collaborative approach to surviving and thriving is not an option, but a requirement.

In a later post, I’ll write about how and where to draw the line in order to reap the benefits of these innovations sustainably.  Then we’ll discuss what this means for vendors.

Economic necessity: where have all the users gone?

14 04 2009

Now is the time for vendors to seek out their buyers and users (and know the difference).  Grassroots user support helps keep a vendor’s platform relevant and endorsed as critical infrastructure.  Vendors that take an active role in assisting users will also make users shine and avoid “going legacy”.

The strategy is simple to articulate, but hard to deliver: change the argument from “cost savings” to “new value” as easily as plausible.

Keep in mind that vendors also need to show momentum to buyers.  By acknowledging appropriate compatibility and buzzwords surrounding their product, they stay viable from a customer-funding standpoint.

User shrinkage

Layoffs have many layered, long term effects.  Users and buyers at customer installations will be faced with some very difficult and immediate cost-cutting decisions.

For software companies, that means familiar users and buyers may disappear or “go dark”.  This triggers a cycle which could slow software releases or cause product stagnation.  None of this helps the case for software upgrades or roll-outs.

Savings as a Service?

During cost-cutting season, users will look under every rock for opportunities to keep their teams employed and food on the table.  If users look under your “rock” and find a shiny new replacement technology with promise, you’ve got problems.

Everyone’s heard of “the cloud” right?  Vendors offering tangible, useful services in the cloud may help IT staff and users alike carve out narrow savings and innovation opportunities.

Software as a service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and even Datacenters as a Service (DaaS?) have all received  much attention in the recent past (much like SOA used to).  Heck, I even wrote a couple articles about SaaS and manufacturing in 2008.  The cloud is now chock full of capable, credible options.

Remember: upgrades are ugly, so if the cloud fixes a problem appropriately, it’s on the table.

However, disrupting the status quo is a difficult decision.  The switching costs associated with swapping out an existing application or infrastructure may be too great to undertake as customer staff and support wane.

But trading on fear, uncertainty and doubt is not the answer.

Get tangible before the pressure builds

Immediate value is something vendors need to demonstrate hand-in-hand with users to maintain relevancy.  Working with customers early to understand their objectives can keep their user support base on staff while uncovering new, valuable opportunities.

Know your landscape: vendors threatened by the cloud or that lack a “cloud positioning strategy” had better create one. 

Adopting a proactive stance may turn a potential liability into an asset and transform a “cost savings” argument for displacement into “new value” built on existing assets.