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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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 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?

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