Thursday, 3 June 2010

IT Training & IT Cuts

In these days of government and corporate cost-cutting, with IT seen as good for cutting, where does IT Training stand?

And a key question:
How much money and thought is put into (a) good quality IT training & education, compared with (b) the general level of success & satisfaction with IT?

Is there a correlation?

One thing is sure. According to surveys of senior management about IT success, and of users about IT satisfaction, it's evident that IT as a whole isn't working (which makes it easier to justify the cost cuts).

Assuming for the moment that there is a correlation - that if IT Training were bigger and better then so would IT success & satisfaction as a whole be bigger & better -

- let's look at some reasons why IT Training might not be working -

  • IT Training needs to become more education oriented, in giving The Why.
The difference between training and education:
- Training gives you the what and the how.
- Education gives you the what and the why.

So when point & click skills are taught, are they taught within the context of the tasks, internal customers, the business processess, the organisation's context and needs, and the external customer's expectations?

But in any case, point & click skills are not where it's at:

  • IT Training needs to be less hands-on point & click skills, and more about being IT Savvy;
    how to make it work

    - for people, the organisation, and customers.
A further issue is that most IT training tends to be of the sheep-dip type (as does most training in organisations), with little or no follow-through. And yet:
  • IT training would be more effective if it were staged over weeks, rather than a day or two, with the longer calendar time giving superior loop learning

  • IT Training would also be more effective with follow-up mentoring, for example by lead-users.
Lastly, IT training tends to be treated like an orphan; considered last and grudgingly. In fact the effective use of technology is only as good as the training and education in using the technology. Therefore:
  • IT Training & Education needs to be a priority rather than an afterthought.
After all, if good quality education is a key factor in lifting up the prosperity of a nation, then surely it must be for organisations, in the success & satisfaction achieved with IT.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The IT Crowd: It's in the Mind

The IT Crowd is a clever and funny award-winning television sitcom by Graham Lineham. It presents the characters in a small IT department fumbling their nerdish way through corporate life.

But is there any truth in The IT Crowd?

If there is, and if The IT Crowd is a true reflection of how the IT function and IT people are generally viewed in organisations, then it’s their own fault, isn’t it?

IT people are nerds who can hardly put two words together, have very little emotional intelligence, never keep their promises, are lost in their own little world, are always trying to confuse you with techno-speak, soak up too much resource, take forever to do anything, never listen to you, never give you what you want, do not understand the business, and are of little use beyond their role as Help Desk mechanics.

Best keep them in the basement “lurking below ground”, or better yet get rid of them and give the job to a remote site in India or the Philippines, which will resolve the problem and cut IT costs (which of course is the main priority).

And yet, in real organisations:

• How can we get closer to our external customers?
• How do we conquer Information Overload?
• How do we get value from Information?
• How can we get Data we can rely on?
• How do we get real value from IT?
• How do we get what we really need from IT?
• How do we reduce IT stress?

In a recent conversation with a senior manager, the notion was that IT is a “tool”. Another manager said that IT needs to start giving “users” what they want. Both of these notions miss the big picture.

Coming back to the original question:

Is there any truth in The IT Crowd? To what extent does The IT Crowd reflect the way IT is generally viewed in organisations?

The closer it is to reality (that The IT Crowd really does reflect the way IT is viewed in an organisation), the less likely that IT will benefit (a) the organisation, (b) the people who are part of it, or (c) their present and potential customers.

In comparison with “it’s their own fault” above, here are some ideas to consider. They're not very ‘sexy’, they do not provide any quick fix, and none of them involve the latest killer app.

• IT is not just a “tool”. It's a strategic lever.
• You don’t have “users”. You have (internal) customers.
• It's not what customers want. It's what they really need.
• IT is everyone’s responsibility.
Information Value not techlology, is what IT is really all about.
• Data quality begins and ends with the internal customer/user.
• First make effective use of the technology you already have.
• Make IT training effective; don't let it be an orphan.
• There are no IT Projects; only Business Projects.
• It’s not Them that's the problem. Us-and-Them is the problem

Here’s the main point: it all begins in the mind.

Success & satisfaction with IT
is first and foremost about how we think about IT.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Powerpoint & Information

This is about Information,
and how Powerpoint,
as an example of IT in common use, can be used to provide useful information
- or not.

It's also about how we may have a tendency to rely too much upon IT Itself.

For example, Powerpoint came on to the scene in 1984. Has it helped or has it hindered?

What happens when we're too reliant on Information Technology? What happens when IT becomes an end in itself, rather than a means to an end, albeit a powerful means?

What is or should be the central aim of IT
in this Information Age?

And how might Information Value be defined?
How about this:

  • The central aim of Information Technology
    (at least in the business organisation working environment),
    is Information Value, which is:

    information for effective knowledge work,
    information for customer value (including internal customers),
    information for business performance,

    - information that's relevant, reliable and rapidly available,

    - as, where and how needed.

How does our use of Powerpoint, as an example of IT in common use, help in achieving this end-purpose & aim?

One of the next big things in computing will be natural interface with the computer. It's about the human computer interface (HCI). But will advances in HCI help or hinder, or both, or might it depend on how it's used? Will it be like Powerpoint?

When you hear you're about to sit through another Powerpoint presentation do you say something like:
Oh no, not another, boring batch of bullet bits!

The conventional, corporate way of using Powerpoint
is to use standard templates complete with bullet point format.

But, as the old saying goes:
A picture (or an image) is worth a thousand words.

And then, as Albert Einstein said:
Make things as simple as possible;
but no more simple than that.

So it's a balance between:
- Information Overload via a batch of boring bullet bits
- A simplistic set of colourful, image/picture-based slides, like a children's TV programme.

What would Winston Churchill or Abraham Lincoln have thought of Powerpoint, and how might they have used it?

Monday, 10 August 2009

The NHS and Systems Thinking

Break up the NHS, was the previous posting.

Now a Conservative Party think tank is saying:
Break up the NHS IT.

They say it would create huge savings for the Taxpayer.


Because the £12 billion NHS IT programme launched in 2002, which is now five years behind schedule, which is the world's largest civilian IT project, and which is already billions of pounds in the red - is too big!

So what if it's too big?

To recapitulate the tenth of the ten Systems Thinking principles in the last posting:

Every system has an optimum size beyond which it ceases to be viable, due to (1) intra-relationship complexity and, (2) for organisations and project in organisations, bureaucracy and loss of human identity with the system as a whole.

An independent review of the NHS IT, commissioned by Health Minister Stephen O'Brien, concluded that:

  1. The project had been too centralised, making it too big, inefficient, and costly for the taxpayer
  2. 50% of the IT vendors/suppliers involved had already pulled out of the project.
  3. The handling of the project to date had been "shambolic".
  4. Its bureaucracy had been "hugely disruptive for the NHS " - with negative cost & care implications for patients.
When large, Stalinist, central planning government embarks on projects such as this, albeit with good intentions, they show themselves blind to the real choice-needs of people, the cost impact implications for the taxpayer - and an ignorance or denial of Systems Thinking.

For the sake of society, for the sake of us all, this and future governments need to embrace Systems Thinking.

The previous posting says why.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Break Up the NHS

The NHS needs to be broken up. That's the first conclusion from the application of
Systems Thinking to the NHS.

Bottom-line: if the NHS were to fully adopt Systems Thinking
it wouldn't just save billions.

We'd also end up a lot more satisfied;
NHS people, patients, public.

Why bring this up now? Well it was recently announced that Britain's National Health Service is facing a huge budget short-fall and the BBC Today programme has been canvassing opinions on "where savings might be made".

But this is not quite the issue. It's more about how the NHS organisation can be more cost-effective - which is different, because it first looks at what the organisation's real aims are (and that of each part of it), and how well they're being accomplished.

So this means not piddling about with Systems Thinking (because the NHS does have courses on Systems Thinking, and it is used for trivial issues). It means
adopting Systems Thinking into the culture and fabric of the NHS.

Systems Thinking isn't about computer systems; although these are included. It's about seeing everything as a system - in fact as a system within a system, with systems within it.

You are a system. A tree is a system.
The Universe is a system. You and your laptop are a system. A football team is a system. The London Stock Exchange is a system. Every business & government organisation is a system. The NHS is a system.

This may all seem a bit academic at first, but Systems Thinking is practical and proven. It's a strategic yet structured way of looking at an organisation and each part of it, especially it's processes.

Here are ten Systems Thinking principles:

1. Everything is a system within a system, with systems within it.

2. Every system has a purpose, whether known or unknown.

3. Synthesis before analysis:
first determine the subject system as a whole in terms of it's boundaries, and then the external/contextual environment with which it inter-relates.

4. Every system must inter-relate effectively with its external/contextual environment environment to survive and remain viable.

5.a. The parts must intra-relate effectively for a system to inter-relate effectively with its external/contextual environment.
5b. Human organisations need effective dialogue and collaboration to inter-relate effectively with their external/contextual environments.

6. Synergy is where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts;
it results from the actualisation of ideal intra-relationships between the parts, for the respective purpose of each intra-relationship, within the overall purpose of the system.

7. Every part of a system is dependent on the other parts.

8. If each part of a system operates as efficiently as possible in itself, then the system as a whole will be ineffective.

9. First look to the idealised design based on the purpose of the system, regardless of practical constraints.

10. Every system has an optimum size beyond which it ceases to be viable, due (1) intra-relationship complexity and, (2) for organisations and projects in organisations, bureaucracy and loss of human identity with the system as a whole.

These principles have deep implications for the NHS, and indeed for any business or government organisation. There are a few organisations around the world whose leadership has made Systems Thinking happen in their organisations, and it has made a big difference.

So which of these principles is the NHS especially in need of recognising and/or adopting?

The most apparent is that the NHS should be broken up. It's the biggest per capita organisation in the world. True, the Chinese Army and the Indian Railways are bigger, but these two countries have much bigger populations.

If it's to be more cost-effective the NHS needs to be
broken up, de-centralised, and federalised.

One last thing: Systems Thinking cannot happen unless the leadership of an organisation gets behind it.

At the same time, neither can it happen unless NHS people are also behind it. There is a way of doing this which, like Systems Thinking, is also practical and proven. It's called Genuine Action Learning (GAL), as originally developed by Professor Reg Revans, and successfully applied in many different contexts around the world.

It's a form of DIY change management, and it has been described by a very successful business leader as "The most powerful management tool ever identified."

But this blog article is already long enough, so Genuine Action Learning must await a future posting.

Friday, 30 January 2009

How IT Can Save The World

In our day to day working life the pressures of time, information and task naturally lead us to be concerned with the immediate issues on the plate; how to resolve this, make it easier to do that, get better at something else, or even what to do about the job itself.

But there is a huge issue which overshadows every other issue
- at least when it comes to Business and Information Technology (IT).

It's an issue that's right at the top of the Business Agenda and, if it could be resolved, it would affect for the better virtually everyone and every company, if not the national economy.

It has been called the "Holy Grail" of Information Technology in Business, and it's the issue of:
How to get Business & IT truly integrated, aligned and joined up.

By this is meant:
Joined up
Business Needs & Opportunities
IT Capabilities & Resources

If it could be achieved it would lead to significant payback:
1. For people.
2. For your organisation.
3. For the national economy.

If, or perhaps when, this joining up (as it's called here) can be achieved, it will enhance our working lives in the form of reduced stress, enhanced satisfaction, and greater achievement. That is, we'll be able to get things done more effectively, efficiently and enjoyably.

It will make the organisation we work for more cost-effective, profitable, and achieving of its aims. And it will, or at least could, improve if not restore the viability of the national economy itself. Even further, it will enhance the quality of life across society as a whole.

These are grandiose claims! In fact they appear similar to the recent Freudian slip made by the head of government who claimed that financial measures about to be introduced through Parliament would "save the world".

And yet the potential rewards in the microeconomic, macroeconomic and sociological effects of joined-up Business-IT in the aggregate, across the national and international scene, are simply staggering!

Few have been able to see this Big Picture Impact of joined-up Business-IT. Many have instead been bemused or bedazzled by the technology, regardless of its people and business net-benefit.

And some will not be aware that we have a problem
- or an opportunity.

For surveys repeatedly show a huge gulf between the priorities of people and business on the one hand and what IT could contribute on the other. As evidence of this we occasionally learn of big IT failures, even though these are just the tip of the iceberg.

So there are trillions of dollars, euros, and pounds sterling being wasted every year, and thousands upon thousands of lives being negatively impacted.

But, notwithstanding the wonderful advances in IT, the answer is not in new technology, for IT in business is a double-edged sword. It can be a blessing or a curse; it all depends upon how it's developed, managed and used. So what's the answer; how do we get joined-up Business-IT?

The answer is in a holistic approach. That is to say, there is no silver bullet; not in better business process, project management, development methodology, data cleansing, protection against malware, software testing, or whatever. Joined-up Business-IT and its benefits can only be achieved through a holistic approach.

A forthcoming book by the author of this article, The JUMP Model: Joining Up Business and IT, follows upon several years of global research with leading academics, with business leaders , with people 'on the ground', and with feedback from sharing with professional and corporate audiences.

The JUMP Model and its accompanying Process is not a development methodology. It is a holistic, practical, action-oriented approach for getting Business Needs & Opportunities joined up with IT Capabilities & Resources.

As a professorial friend of mine at a leading MBA school said: "So James, do you think you've got this Alignment Thing finally sorted out? My answer: "Well since you ask, yes, I believe I have".

It's the reason why this blog posting is the first for quite a few months; the author has been busy!

The photo of the first BlackBerry President of the United States is a supreme example of a non-IT person who has grabbed technology with both hands (or with one hand, at least), and put it to effective use in (a) beating the competition, i.e. getting elected, and (b) doing his job. An examplar for joined-up Business-IT!

Sunday, 20 April 2008

IT and Your Health

You hear so much bad news about big money and scarce resources being wasted on mega health projects that it's nice to get some good news about IT and your health. It's particularly nice if that good news affects your own life for the good.

To begin with, a good search engine now knows more and can tell you more than your doctor can, with whatever concerns you, either preventive or remedial. You are your own best doctor. So between you, your doctor and the Internet (and it might be a good idea to include God as well), you should be able to optimise your health situation.

And of course, not forgetting a healthy diet and exercise - on which you can also get the best advice through a good search engine. For example, it was on the internet that this writer discovered the amazing health benefits of sprouted seeds. They contain much needed enzymes to keep the stomach and digestion healthy, and are an organic, ever-fresh source of nutrients which are about 40 times more nutritious than ordinary, fresh vegetables.

But getting more specific on technology, if you have ever had to wait interminably for X-rays to be processed, or in some cases having them get lost, then the good news is that old-fashioned photos and use of snail-mail are going out.

Instead, some hospitals are now scanning the image straight into a central radiology database and making it instantly available across and between hospitals and consultants. Not only that, but because the images are available on high-resolution screens, it does make it easier to scrutinise the image and make a diagnosis.

Also, speech recognition is being added for the radiologist, so as to reduce writing, typing and transcription errors, and the time involved.

The x-ray images are input, along with any drawings made by the doctor, consultant or specialist, and get integrated into your electronic patient record.

In addition, with wireless networks, it means that bedside input & output to/from the patient record becomes feasible.

It means no more lost records, more reliable data, and much faster response to patient needs.

At least this is what it means in theory. The other factors, apart from the technology, are the people, process, organisation and management (PPOM) factors. These things, more than the technology itself, are the priority for getting things right in Health Care.

Systems Thinking; treating everything as a system, within a system, within a system, is the key to getting PPOM right, and a future article will focus on Systems Thinking.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Innovation through Customers

About a year ago Dell Computers launched a community site aimed at interactive feedback with customers, for the purpose of improving products and customer service, and responding effectively to customer needs by using this Web 2.0 technology.

The site is called IdeaStorm and, judging by the comments and interactions so far, and especially the rapid response to customers enabled by the site, it seems to be a great success.

The site is powered by, a SaaS purveyor of Customer Relationship Management Systems (CRM), and is based on their own Ideas Exchange.

Standing back and taking the Big Picture view, what's happening here is improved innovation and product leadership through collaboration with customers through a fairly new technology tool.

It represents innovative synergy between (a) the business organisation, (b) its customers and (c) information & communications technology (ICT). The prediction is that it will benefit the Business in achieving competitive advantage, provided Dell continue to innovate, and tie in its Business Processes with the site.

How did this innovation come about at Dell? Was it a top-down thing, or was it bottom-up? The guess is that it was a bottom-up idea and, if so, it gives an object lesson in using IT and people in achieving competitive advantage.

The people at the bottom, or more correctly at the Coal face, were empowered to innovate, and the people at the top provided the Governance that explicitly or implicitly laid down the principles and set up the organisation structures to make it all happen.

This use of ICT to bring customers into the innovation circle is predicted to grow, according an article in the December, 2007 McKinsey Quarterly.

And it's a good example of what this very blog site is all about.