notes on information organizations

February 27, 2011

Understanding your iceberg

Filed under: information technology, innovation, organizational change — Frank Cervone @ 1:21 pm

Last week, I was at the 15th Annual International IT Management Conference. The final session was about what the conference attendees should do first thing on Monday once they got back to the office. One of the points made during the session was that people in IT need to “understand their iceberg” meaning that they need to understand the invisible issues that are creating problems in moving forward. According to research by Pink Elephant, these issues constitute the top 10 causes of resistance to improvement efforts.

What was  interesting about these points is that it most of them also apply to libraries. The same basic attitudes, behaviors, and cultural elements that impede IT also are present in librarianship and are getting in the way and impeding progress there too.

These issues are:

  1. The belief that a tool solves all problems. Consider how often we implement a new tool, piece of software, or hardware and expect it to completely solve a problem without any effort on the part of the organization to change or adapt. Clearly, that is not a strategy for success.
  2. Never mind procedures, just do what we normally do. We put new procedures in place to effect change or improve processes but then abandon them at the first sign of difficulty or when under stress rather than working through the change effort.
  3. Throwing solutions over the wall and just hoping people will follow them. A consistent lack of follow up during implementation guarantees change will be ineffective.
  4. Saying yes but meaning no. Passive aggressive behavior or conflict avoidance, either way it promotes a culture of ineffectiveness.
  5. Plan, do, stop is an approach that is indicative of no real commitment to an improvement culture.
  6. No management commitment. If management does demonstrate consistent support, then management is not committed.
  7. Underestimating the difficulty in implementation. This is complex because there are many factors that contribute to this. Two of these include not critically evaluating what a vendor tells you and a misplaced desire to speed up implementation. Whatever the reason, a flawed implementation of a new software or service has a pervasively negative effect not just on the implementation itself but the entire organization.
  8. Implementation is the objective, not what is to be achieved. This is related to point 3. For example, the point of implementing a new piece of software, such as an integrated search engine or resource discovery tool, is not implementing the tools but rather implementing the improved service.
  9. No understanding of organizational impact and priority. This is rather simple, does the larger organization care about what you’re doing? How does what you’re doing relate to their priorities and issues? If there is not demonstrable relationship, what you’re doing is irrelevant.
  10. And finally, the solution the customer sees isn’t the one that your organization (IT or library) sees. Again, if there isn’t alignment here, what you’re doing is irrelevant and doesn’t matter.

Addressing these issues isn’t something that is going to happen in a month or even a year. However, the first step is acknowledging which of these issues are prevalent in your organization and beginning to work on solutions to address them today. That’s the first thing I’m doing tomorrow.

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July 8, 2010

Why heroes are bad but mainly about rethinking systems in the enterprise

Filed under: complex systems, information technology — Frank Cervone @ 12:20 pm

In the June 15th edition of CIO magazine, Jeanne Ross discusses some merging aspects of information technology we all should consider. Although the advice to “ignore the technology” is subject to misinterpretation and somewhat naive, the basic metaconcept stands – information technology needs to be about how an organization functions as an enterprise. One off solutions that optimize small pieces of the organization will not work in today’s environment. We need to look at things holistically and work to develop systems from that perspective.

This, interestingly, is where the whole “heroes are bad” idea comes into play. According to Ross, we used to say “do something brilliant and whatever the customer wants.” This created a culture where IT people would perform heroic feats to get things done but that doesn’t work anymore. Heroism is too unpredictable and tends to “just mess up everybody else.” If we do things well in the first place, heroic behaviors will become a thing of the past.

June 18, 2010

Cutting out unnecessary complexity in IT

Filed under: complexity, information technology, management, organizational change — Frank Cervone @ 7:30 am

In a video interview with eWeek, Ron Ashkenas from Harvard discusses complexity in information technology and how to cut out IT’s complexity. However, it might be more appropriately said that what he is discussing is eliminating unnecessary complexity in IT. One way that unnecessary complexity develops in IT is when technologists intentionally make things more complicated, often in an effort to ensure job security. While this approach may have worked 20 years ago, today people just want things to work and don’t really care (and shouldn’t have to) how things work so making things more complicated can actually backfire.

In his interview, Ashkenas identified four major areas where CIOs should be attentive to unnecessary complexity:

  1. structural complexity – complexity occurs at a structural level when IT is distributed throughout the organization; CIOs should be cognizant of this and guard against duplication and redundancy that has no true business purpose,
  2. product complexity – over time, organizations develop a large portfolio of IT products and services; CIOs need to ensure that there are processes and procedures for periodically evaluating the value and effectiveness of all products and services and phasing out those that are not valued or effective,
  3. process complexity – in a complex organization, processes may develop organically and in an uncontrolled manner; CIOs should ensure that there are methods in place for managing IT processes and ensuring these processes have useful outcomes that serve business purposes, and
  4. managerial complexity – unclear or redundant directives result in unnecessary complexity as people aren’t sure what they are supposed to be doing; CIOs need to ensure that directions and outcomes are articulated clearly and effectively.

Finally, rather than move into “survival mode,” IT organizations should be proactive in working with the organization to improve processes and services. While budgets may be tight now, greater efficiencies and cost savings are best accomplished through reevaluation and improvement rather than simple cost cutting.

June 17, 2010

Why technology enabled classrooms fail

Filed under: information technology, instructional design — Frank Cervone @ 3:12 pm

It seems that many institutions race to enable technology in their classrooms assuming that the simple act of doing so is an unquestioned good. While it may be nice to say “All our classrooms are technology enabled!” an interesting question that might be asked is “So what?” If the classrooms do not meet the needs of faculty and students, they are not a success for the campus or for IT. In this article from Campus Technology magazine, some of the most common failings related to implementing technology in the classroom are identified along with some considerations on how to avoid the failure in the first place. The failings include:

  • Using technology for technology’s sake and forgetting about the teaching and learning requirements in the classroom,
  • Designing without taking into consideration the proposed usage of the space,
  • Ignoring the fact that technology will evolve over time, so design must be flexible to accomodate these changes,
  • Not identifying a technology advocate from the faculty to help drive the decision-making process,
  • Failing to provide training for faculty in the new technology,
  • Not accounting for the natural resistance of many people to change,
  • Not providing enough staff to address problems quickly as well as maintain the equipment,
  • Not creating and implementing an appropriate technology replacement plan,
  • Skipping post-implementation follow up discussions to identify any issues or problems that may exist in the rooms, and
  • Failing to standardize technology across classrooms, creating an environment where each classroom becomes a technological adventure.

Spoiler alert – for the most part, addressing these issues is common sense – just do the opposite of what’s been outlined in the various points. The more difficult issue is when you encounter resistance to doing the right thing. Unfortunately, how to get over those hurdles is not discussed in the article.

June 16, 2010

Early new year predictions related to IT

Filed under: information technology — Frank Cervone @ 8:54 am

In this recent article, Scot Finnie makes some early predictions for what will develop in the technology industry in the next year.  Based on interviews with a number of reporters and editors at ComputerWorld, he has developed the following list of trends to keep your eye on:
1. Green IT – will resurface as a major initiative, perhaps with less of the hype and more emphasis on how it contributes to long-term cost savings,
2. Cloud computing – this trend isn’t going away and we’ll see more virtualization and internal cloud-based shared-services although that adoption will be done carefully and cautiously,
3. Mobile devices and smartphones – people are going to us these devices at work and to access our services, get used to it,
4. BI and analytics – with the increasing demand for looking at information from different perspectives, this is going to be a major topic  this coming year,
5. Data de-duplication – eliminating redundant data can cut storage needs by up to 90%, so this is a no-brainer,
6. Videoconferencing – it’s mainstream today, so you need to have a plan for implementing this in your organization if you don’t already,
7. Security – as Finnie notes, it’s just a matter of time before a “next-order security threat” occurs. If a massive cyberattack were to occur, new regulations may come into place overnight, so you need to have an infrastructure in place to deal with that.

June 3, 2010

Shifting IT skills are a reality

Filed under: information technology, organizational change — Frank Cervone @ 11:49 am

In this article from NetworkWorld,  Patrick Thibodeau discusses some of the issues related to Hewlett-Packard’s announcement on June 1st that it was cutting 9,000 jobs. What is particularly interesting about HP’s action is that it really isn’t cutting 9,000 jobs but 9,000 employees whose skills are no longer in sync with HP’s needs. HP plans to hire 6,000 new workers but these people will work in different capacities such as system architects rather than system administrators.

A very telling quote from Anne Livermore, the executive vice president of HP’s Enterprise Business, explains the rationale for this massive shift in focus: “As we look back over the last five to 10 years, most of the activity in the services organizations as a broad industry statement was focused on the location of jobs, geographic locations of jobs and a lot on labor arbitrage. We think the next five to 10 years is all going to be about who can best use technology to automate the delivery of services.”

The important question for information organizations to be thinking about is how they we react to this trend in a way that preserves the integrity of the organization but also moves the organization and the people within it forward. Rather than laying off 9,000 people, wouldn’t it have been better to have anticipated the change and trained people to take on these new roles?

April 5, 2010

gender discrimination linked to poor management

Filed under: cultural trends, information technology, management — Frank Cervone @ 9:08 am

This short article from NetworkWorld reports on a new study by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology which indicates the women are more likely to be discriminated against in the technology sector because of the “hero mindset” to save failing projects. This mindset is the factor in creating the discriminatory environment  because it works against employees with family responsibilities. According to the report, these family responsibilities tend to still be overwhelmingly borne by females.

Some interesting facts from the study:

  • Men and women tend to value the same success factors which include, among other things, being: analytical, questioning, risk-taking, collaborative, and being sociable.
  • Senior-level women in IT are much more likely to have a partner who has primary responsibility for the household when compared to women in entry or mid-level positions – 23.5% compared to 13.4%.
  • Senior-level technical women are more likely than men to forego a partner and children to advance their careers.

Unfortunately, the study does not come up with any immediately actionable ways of correcting these problems. The two major suggestions from the study include:

  • Interviewing all female applicants for a position because there is evidence women are eliminated from candidate pools during resume reviews in greater proportion than men are, and
  • Developing a software tool that would detect bias in documents, such as performance evaluation and letters of recommendation.

July 28, 2008

developing the next generation of library leaders

Filed under: change, information technology — Frank Cervone @ 10:14 am

What we can learn from the IT industry in developing the next generation of library leaders? While it is true there are many differences between libraries and information technology organizations, there are many similarities as well. For example, just as “the next 10 to 20 years are going to be challenging” for IT, so they will be for libraries as well.

As is the case in IT, the work of librarians is shifting from being based on technical skills to more broadly focused positions where strategic knowledge is the key to long term success. Against that backdrop, library administrators need to actively groom replacements as well as the next generation of leaders who are able to integrate the role and functions of the library into their organizations.

While some of the details may differ between a library and an IT organization, the article at CIO Magazine points out the importance of mentoring, developing, and succession planning in the coming years. As so many of the baby boomers retire and the number of people pursuing advanced academic studies drops, we need to get more creative about how we’re going to work in the future.

January 25, 2008

taking a cue from "IT Doesn't Matter"

Filed under: change, information technology, service models — Frank Cervone @ 1:33 pm

Several years ago, Nicolas Carr made quite a stir with his article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “IT Doesn’t Matter.” His main argument was (and still is) that while IT is essential it is not strategic. According to Carr, companies can’t gain strategic advantage from their systems because everyone is running the same systems. Over the last several years, many have either endorsed or refuted Carr’s views.

Until recently, it hadn’t occurred to me how this might relate to libraries, but after reading an article by Paul Ingevaldson, it seems to me that libraries are facing the same issues that IT does. Almost all libraries run the same systems, often with little or no customization other than changing the colors of the web pages to match the organization identity. Librarians haven’t traditionally thought about how what they do contributes to what the corporate sector calls “strategic advantage” – that is, aligning the outcomes of the library to the outcomes of the larger organization they are part of. We often see our libraries as entities unto themselves.

This kind of thinking has to change. To be successful, libraries have to differentiate their services from what can be obtained elsewhere. As has been the case in IT, a lot of the benefits traditional services provided are now commodity items that are moving to self-service models because they’re so automated they do not require the high level of expertise they did in the past. This is happening whether we like it or not.

What savvy IT departments do today is develop custom services and applications that work directly with the unique strategy of the organization. Libraries need to take a cue from this and do the same for their organizations as well.

November 5, 2007

refocusing our attention in the world of institutional repositories

Filed under: change, complexity, information technology — Frank Cervone @ 9:51 am

Dorothea Salo’s recent post in Caveat Lector is just the latest thing to remind us what we’ve known for some time now – that the successful institutional repositories (IRs) are those where the library has been proactive in soliciting content and has actively taken responsibility for doing all the work to get the content into the IR. Even so, success in IRs must be thought of in terms of modest acquisitions since no IR has truly taken off the way their planners had hoped. Part of this seems to be related to the work libraries have to do to convince faculty that an institutional repository is a worthwhile endeavor. This reluctance to engage with an IR effort seems to be mainly because the incentives to faculty just aren’t obvious to most of them. In general, faculty don’t see longevity as an issue for their published material, whether that’s reflective of reality or not. The biggest gains that have been documented in relationship to gathering faculty contributions have been in grey literature.

What I found somewhat discouraging about Salo’s post is the apparent ambivalence toward student contributions. We tend to forget that a lot of the emergent research in our institutions is conducted by students. This is reflected in the reality of most IRs where the majority of contributions are, in fact, from students in one form or another. McDowell’s article in the latest issue of D-Lib is just the latest study to document this.

Perhaps, if we focus on what is meaningful to faculty and students, rather than what is of interest to us as librarians, we might be more successful in getting participation in our IRs.

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