Tag Archives: CIO

There Are Only 10 Types of People

I made an off-the-cuff remark about the tendency of people to use this image to illustrate articles about ‘digital’. It appears to depict some binary instructions traversing the walls of some kind of weird quantum tunnel. Or perhaps the tunnel is supposed to represent an Internet connection, who knows?

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The Binary Tunnel

In the same publication, on the same day, we find a similar image used to illustrate a different story – this time we seem to be looking at a funky binary cube.

binarycube

In response to my plea to photo editors to step away from these abstractions of ‘digital’ Jeni Tennison asked the (not unreasonable) question “What are people supposed to use instead?!?

Jeni

I started to reply to Jeni but only got as far as “Well, they could always use…”

What could they use? What image conveys ‘digital’? My problem with the binary cube/tunnel is that binary code is literally (and I mean that ‘literally’ literally) as far from the end user experience as it’s possible to get. Binary is the bottom layer of computing – the language of the machines. Very few people in the world have ever or could ever code in binary. It’s an old joke:

“There are only 10 types of people – those who understand binary and those who don’t”

OK Mr smarty pants, what image could we use to put at the top of all those articles about ‘digital’? Well, I’m as guilty as the rest – this is a logo for the Sheffield City Region CIO Forum that I designed a while back. Spot the binary?
SCR CIO

To my shame, the ones and zeroes mean something – 010000110100100101001111 codes for the text string ‘CIO’. Sorry.

The image below is my take at representing ‘digital’. It’s not very good (I’m no designer) but it does try to depict digital in use in a way that most humans would recognise. Photo editors everywhere – I give it to you, copyright free. You are welcome.

DigitalImage

 

 

 

 

 

Not just a digital strategy – it’s a business strategy for a digital age…

By fixating on the need for a digital strategy document we can often forget that the real goal is a set of digitally enabled business strategies or service plans.

You don’t just need a digital strategy – you need all of your service areas to write service plans and strategies that exploit digital.

Digital shouldn’t be handed down from the top of the organisation – it should bubble up naturally from the people who are tasked with delivering services. The business areas should be irrepressibly enthusiastic about using technology – they shouldn’t need coercing.capture

This is why our new strategy was co-produced with the various business units in the Council, with the aim of pulling together all aspects of the organisation’s digital work under one roof.

And here it is – our Digital Council Strategy 2016 to 2019:

Click here to see RMBC’s new Digital Council Strategy

 

 

 

 

In Praise of Babel Fish and Boundary Spanners

We’re all busy. In the public sector our huge workloads are compounded by the unending need to cut back on spending in response to ‘austerity’ (I don’t believe ‘austerity’ really exists, it’s just a convenient untruth, but that’s a post for another day).

Given the challenges facing us our instinct is to get our heads down and crack on – it’s difficult to find the time to do otherwise.

There’s a danger, though, in retrenching. If we retreat in to our organisational silos then we are likely to lose sight of the big picture. Organisations need boundary spanners – those rare individuals who can sit across divisional boundaries and understand the Babel Fishwider world. If you think for a moment I’ll bet that you can identify your own boundary spanners – people who seem to be involved in everything, people who can talk in the language of other departments. Maybe you’re a boundary spanner?

One of the things that boundary spanners do is act as an organisational babel fish. My favourite of all Douglas Adams’ amazing creations, the babel fish (when inserted in one’s ear) allows one to immediately understand anything that is being said – even if it’s said in a language we’ve never heard before.

Boundary spanners can speak the language of the whole organisation, not just the discrete area which we might consider to be the ‘day job’. Anybody at any level of an oganisation can be a boundary spanner but it’s an essential skill for leaders. A departmental leader should hold the service for which they are responsible at arm’s length. A good CIO, for example, must be as close to the business uniBoundary Spannerts as they are to the ICT department. This places the CIO in a position to effect 2-way translation – ie to explain to the ICT team what it is the customer really wants and to clarify/simplify the information which flows back from the ICT team to the customer.

Professionals in any discipline have a tendency to communicate with laypeople using impenetrable language strewn with 3 letter acronyms. A good leader and boundary spanner will ensure that this doesn’t happen – they’ll be a babel fish.

Another key role of the boundary spanner is to act as a ‘critical friend’. Using IT as an example again (because that’s my area) the CIO/boundary spanner will challenge the business units to clarify their thinking when it is apparent that the customer is not really sure what they want (or, more importantly, what they need). It works the other way too – the CIO boundary spanner should push back hard on the ICT team when they are saying, for example, that something can’t be done. Why can’t it be done? Are you sure? What if we do it another way? All this happens behind the scenes and can go a long way to keeping VIPs happy elsewhere in the organisations.

Sometimes boundary spanners emerge naturally – perhaps because a good leader intuits the need. Sometimes it’s just that the individuals concerned are a bit nosey and like to know what’s going on. Don’t worry though, if you don’t have boundary spanners you can make them – it’s not hard. I recommend ’embedding’ people in other departments – go talk to the various business units, attend their management meetings and, importantly, try to take a step away from your own service area and view its performance in the context of the organisation’s strategic direction.

I’ve talked about IT here but all parts of the organisation need boundary spanners – particularly the corporate support services such as HR, Finance and Legal. The cartoon below (and oldie but goody) illustrates the dangers of not having enough boundary spanners involved in any activity…

project_management

Embrace Shadow Tech or Die

Shadow Tech‘ – we IT folk do enjoy our cool-sounding names don’t we?ShadowTech

The term Shadow Tech refers to the use of consumer technology by the workforce, usually in a way that is not sanctioned by ‘Corporate IT’.

Generally speaking the IT department does not like the  business to use any technology that they (IT) haven’t selected, procured and learned how to support. The instinct of your average IT team is to declare shadow tech verboten, often citing ‘security’ as the reason.

Today’s shadow tech manifests itself in the form of iOS and Android devices. Our employees have them at home, love them and can see how they will help at work – but the IT team says “No, it’s not safe“.

‘ICT as Denier’ is a dangerous role to adopt. I’ve already written about the battle with pernicious ‘security’ but when it comes to shadow tech the real threat is to the IT department – the threat of irrelevance.

We can illustrate the risk by casting our minds back to Shadow Tech 1.0. Less than 30 years ago the IT Dept. was about number crunching and centralised computing – the mainframe was still king. Then in the late 80s and early 90s the Personal Computer (PC) started appearing in people’s living rooms. “Wow!” the people thought “These PCs are great, I can see how this would really help me with my work.”   

The IT Department said “No – that’s not how we do it – if you want some computing doing come to us and we’ll sort it out for you”. So the business promptly ignored IT and went out and bought PCs.

Shadow Tech

PCs proliferated on desktops throughout the organisation and a person in each area would often adopt the mantle of ‘the guy who knows about computers’. Within a few years we had mini-IT Departments all over the place, less control at the centre and an uncoordinated ad hoc approach to technology exploitation.

Wind forwards 20 years and many organisations have now managed to wrest control of ICT back to the centre. The PC (laptop) is ubiquitous but that’s OK because it is now approved and controlled by the IT team. Meanwhile, in the data centre, the mainframes have gone and Windows servers hum away contentedly – all is well with the world.

But hark! Here comes Shadow Tech 2.0 the iPhone and iPad started appearing in people’s living rooms. “Wow!” the people thought “These mobile gadgets are great, I can see how this would really help me with my work.”   

The IT Department said “No – that’s not how we do it – they are not safe. If you want some computing doing come to us and we’ll give you a proper computer”. So the business promptly ignored IT and went out and bought iPads.

Shadow Tech

We know what happens next because we’ve been here before.

(There’s something here that needs exploring around the importance of ‘Institutional Memory‘ in helping us avoid repeating the mistakes of the past – but that’s a post for another day)

Again Corporate ICT loses control – but this time the stakes are far higher. Both the volumes of data and the sensitivity of the data in use are hugely increased compared with 25 years ago. If the end users succeed in bypassing the IT Department then there’s a real risk of a security breach (and near certain compliance problems) – and the users will find a way to use these devices at work because people are clever.

The CIO’s role in this is to act as a trusted advisor to the business. IT should be a door-opener not a gate-keeper. The IT team need to get ahead of the curve and work out how to use these amazing new devices safely. Buy lots of different models and trial different management software then go back to your business users and say “Hey, look – we’ve worked out a way that you can use these things at work.”

But it doesn’t stop there – Shadow Tech 3.0 is already upon us and its name is Software as a nephoService (SaaS). I am a huge advocate of cloud computing and SaaS and I’ve written about this before. SaaS is so good (easy to use, cheap and easy to deploy) that your users will already by eyeing it/using it. Most SaaS tools require little more than a browser – your users are able to purchase their subscription and be up and running on the new application without IT ever knowing about it. This represents a serious threat to the organisation’s data as it is unlikely that the user will have checked that (e.g.) the data is being stored in the EEC.

The CIO’s job here is not to issue a diktat “Staff must not sign up to cloud based software tools.” rather we need to educate staff as to the risk and request that they run all such proposals past the ICT Governance Team so that they can do the due diligence/legwork around security. Sometimes there will be a genuine reason why a SaaS application should be blocked in the corporate world (e.g. DropBox *shudders*) – but usually this stuff is safe to use.

This is ICT adding value to the organisation and it’s a pointer towards ICT’s new role (the inexorable movement from the management of tin and wires to the management of data and risk).

So, be a door-opener not a gate-keeper because, guess what, Shadow Tech 4.0 will be along any day now…

Door-opener not gate-keeper

Door-opener not gate-keeper