Weekly Download 14.21

download-158006_640Here’s a recap of news and notes from around the Web that caught my attention over the past week or so. Today’s theme is coffee.

I have a coffee problem. This is not news for those who know me. And, apparently, I’m on the  “snootier side” of the coffee drinker spectrum since I prefer single-origin beans. But here is a surprise: according to America’s coffee cup is half full, today’s consumption is less than half of what it was in the mid-1940s.

Much to my delight there is a well-known coffee supply and home roasting business right here in Middleton. Burman Coffee Traders modesty describes their business by saying “Coffee is our passion.” Ditto.

Who are these people who live among us? I Am Not a Coffee Drinker fails to answer a fundamental question: Why not?


From Vertical to Horizontal – What?

This is the second in a three-part series:

The key to shifting to IT as a Service (ITaaS) is to orient your focus on the customer experience. Think of the example of going to a white tablecloth restaurant. What would a memorable dining experience feel like? What goes into providing an exceptional experience?

There are many touchpoints when the restaurant has an opportunity to create a favorable or unfavorable impression. They include the physical environment (parking, waiting area, bar, noise level, seating, lighting, view, etc.), everything related to the food (planning the menu, purchasing ingredients and preparation) and all matters staffing (hiring the right people, training and having the appropriate staffing level). All of the elements affect how you feel about the overall dining experience. Just because the food buyer found great tomatoes this week doesn’t ensure you’ll have a five-star Yelp rating experience.

Think about how this maps to the services provided by an IT function. It’s really not that dissimilar, as I’ll review below. Let’s start by thinking about what we do in three major phases – design, build and run, as illustrated in our Wipfli ITaaS framework.

vertical to horizontal

Designing Business Capabilities – “Design Phase”

Within information technology, there must be considerable work to understand the business plans and needs. Based on discussions with the various Wipfli industry, service line, niche, regional and specialty groups, there is a long list of needs, projects, upgrades and opportunities. This input shapes demand for improvements to current services; changes to existing tools, applications and systems; and completely new capabilities.

Through governance, budgeting, further analysis and some careful behind the scenes arm-twisting, a rolling list of “demand” is developed.

Building Infrastructure and Systems – “Build Phase”

The demand list drives project planning and resource allocation. Effective, agile project execution adds value through the enhancement, maintenance and/or addition of infrastructure and systems. We help provide business value by providing associates new capabilities. We enable the business, we don’t install technology – anyone can do that! A Dilbert comic that illustrates this point has stuck with me over the years.

There can also be “portfolios of projects” which are grouped together. For example, there could be several annual infrastructure upgrades that are group together for implementation. “Office Infrastructure Upgrades” could include switching, storage and server upgrades (the typical way we have approached these projects in the past).

Effective Service Delivery – “Run Phase”

Service delivery is where the customer’s experience is realized. The first and last impressions are created at the point of service delivery. Is it easy? Does it work consistently? When there is a problem is there an effective troubleshooting process?

Effective service delivery doesn’t happen by accident. The problem/incident process, transition from project to operations, change management and related processes need to be designed and constantly improved upon. The focus must be on the customers “moment of truth,” which happens each time they use their technology tools.

Obviously a critical and very visible part of service operations is the service desk or help desk. The problem/incident process is most effective with a quick diagnoses and remediation. With timely root cause analysis and deployment of a fix, there can be fewer incidents for each problem.

The best incidents are the ones that don’t happen.

Problem avoidance is driven through effective transition from project to operations: testing, documentation, training and communication. Change control also helps contribute to this problem avoidance. Effective management of assets, configuration data and service definition can also help avoid problems or make root cause and remediation efficient and effective.

Next time you’re dining out, try applying this design-build-run framework. What did you notice that contributed to an overall positive experience? What went on behind the scenes that contributed to the experience? How does that align with what you do in your daily work?

Learn more: Transformation to innovation. Changing the way IT and business get done.


Weekly Download 14.20

download-158006_640Here’s a recap of news and notes from around the Web that caught my attention over the past week or so.

Ever sent an email you wish you didn’t? I have, leading to my adoption of this modern commandment: thou shalt not hit send in anger. You Can Recover From a Snippy Email, But Prepare to Grovel is a practical guide to  what type of emails to refrain from sending and how to make amends when you have done so and are regretting it. It includes a history lesson:

Abraham Lincoln is said to have advised his secretary of war, who was furious with one of his generals, to write the man a sharp letter, then “put it in the stove.”

IBM Plummets as CEO Abandons 2015 Earnings Forecast. I commented on this back in a July 2014 post.

How Wolves Change Rivers. Perhaps you’ve seen this making the rounds on the internet or Facebook. I thought it was very powerful example of “systems thinking” and how small things can impact distant and seemingly unrelated items. Like our natural systems that this video demonstrates, much of our work occurs in a larger system (such as our organization’s culture) that may be hard to see or understand.

Character matters. I don’t recall how I found Psychopaths in the C-suite: Fred Kiel at TEDxBGI, but I liked the research-based approach that links certain character traits and profitability. The four character traits studied are: Integrity, Responsibility, Forgiveness and Compassion.

Bonkers World is a fun site. Who doesn’t like comics? I particularly enjoyed the humor in this one:

Credit to Manu Cornet


Microsoft’s Reboot

imagesAs many know, I haven’t been a fan of Microsoft in recent years. This interesting article (from Vanity Fair, of all places, complete with an Annie Leibovitz photograph) puts the “financial model” angle more front and center in my thinking. Perhaps with Nadella’s leadership, Microsoft will move faster and transform themselves.

In the end, Microsoft’s pricing model that makes many of us wonder why we pay so much may be a key factor in allowing Microsoft to sustain the path to reinvention and stability that we need in this turbulent cloud environment. Will upstart cloud solution providers (Box.com, Salesforce, Workday, etc.) that are running at significant losses and depend on successive venture capital rounds (or very patient stockholders) be able to find a sustainable business model? Or will they succumb to being purchased and then be subject to a turbulent integration period? Alternatively, do we in the SMB space have the skill, patience, investment ability and lead-time to make our own “best of breed” decisions to have our own ecosystem of solutions?

Perhaps the recycled “IBM” mantra of the 70s and 80s goes something like, “Nobody ever got fired for waiting for Microsoft.”

Here is a more negative slant on Microsoft’s relevance.

See also my previous comments from April 2014  on Teaching Microsoft to Dance.


35th Anniversary of the Spreadsheet

I couldn’t let something like Spreadsheet Day go by without acknowledging it. To be specific, VisiCalc, widely noted as the first spreadsheet for the personal computer, was released by Dan Bricklen on this day in 1979.

The accountant in me is proud to say that I have worked not only in Excel, but VisiCalc, Multiplan, SuperCalc, Lotus 1-2-3, Lotus Symphony and QuattroPro.

How may different spreadsheet tools have you used?


Weekly Download 14.19

download-158006_640Here’s a recap of news and notes from around the Web that caught my attention over the past week or so. There’s a theme: innovations in the auto industry.

I have been following the Google car and other self-driving car developments.  While it may not result in a “George Jetson” type world, there could be many derivative impacts or alternative vehicle types (see In Australian Mines, 50-Foot Robot Trucks Take Dangerous Work From Humans).

In today’s world of innovation, many disruptive changes and approaches are coming from outside traditional industries and disciplines.  Interlopers are bringing new ways of thinking and can often shatter long-standing paradigms that have existed in an industry. One automotive expert quoted in an article I read noted that Google has accomplished more in the past year of development than he thought would be accomplished in his entire remaining career!

Who are the disrupters that are encroaching in your industry? How are they stirring things up and realizing large-scale change?

Learn more:


From Vertical to Horizontal – Why?

This is the first in a three-part series:

The whole process of how to provide IT Services to an organization is going through a transformation. Much like technology cycles of the past (mainframe to distributed, PC revolution, Internet and cloud), IT departments and companies have also had to shift their work models. We’ve had shared services, outsourcing and now, the current shift to IT as a Service (ITaaS). EMC defines ITaaS as a:

…business centric approach which focuses on outcomes, operational efficiency, competitiveness, and rapid response. It optimizes the production and consumption of services consistent with business requirements.

Several elements come together to help drive the need for this change:

  1. Demand for IT solutions
  2. IT solutions need to be sustainable
  3. IT professionals need to shift their focus

Why? First, we have seen a dramatic increase in the demand for technology solutions. Recent consumer experience with technology has created heightened expectations for ease of use and mobility. New to the scene is the ability to leverage social tools in the enterprise to tap into knowledge and networks of expertise; engage associates in various professional and personal interests; and connect with customers and prospective customers in very different ways. Finally, the volumes of data that could unlock new understanding is just now starting to be tapped while there are large initiatives (network of things) that will provide exponentially more data.

IT groups are moving from focusing on providing infrastructure and large enterprise applications (systems of record) to helping drive new client services and products; new ways of collaborating across time, place, distance and organization; and rich methods of connecting with clients and prospects (systems of engagement).

IT personnel are expected to be able to provide and support more tools and software in an anytime, anyplace with anyone scenario. Traditional approaches are no longer able to meet these needs.

Second, IT solutions must be sustainable (meaning: able to be maintained). IT organizations have typically been largely reactive, focused on infrastructure and large enterprise applications. These have long provisioning cycles and long life cycles with plenty of maintenance in-between. A proactive stance— helping create a business outcome—is now expected. Solutions need to be simple and elegant, not inflexible and hard to learn. Approaches must be agile and not rigid. We must build solutions with building blocks and not make every unique solution to order. This second driver also requires a transformative shift.

Last, but most importantly, it’s about people. IT professionals are being asked to do a lot: provide excellent client service, deep technical expertise, solid routine operations and maintenance while communicating clearly in business terms. Concurrently we’ve moving from comfortable well-known solutions to cloud and multi-vendor solutions fraught with all of the pluses and minuses of “new.”

People are developing their skills, interacting with more internal and external parties, and putting together integrated solutions to provide business value. These are most often not generic, same-as-last-time approaches.

The solution involves moving to IT as a Service. This chart illustrates the model for ITaaS that we are beginning to employ at Wipfli.

vertical to horizontal

The paradigm shift involves transitioning from the primary focus being vertical silos of capabilities (infrastructure, network, applications, business analysis, project management and help desk) to a horizontal set of services broken down into three broad phases: design, build and run. Services are what is consumed; consider these examples:

  • “Communications and collaboration” service includes email, phone, web meetings and instant messaging,
  • “Workstation” service includes laptop, remote access, web access, office productivity applications and security components.

Information technology organizations must orient their operations to provide easy to consume, responsive and transparent services and not force consumers to feel like they are receiving a service produced by hand-offs between individual siloed departments.