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Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Complexity of Choice and What it Means for IT

AUTHOR: Daryl Bishop

I recently listened to an interview with Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice1. In his book he explores the modern Western industrial society tenet that, as individuals, in order to maximize our welfare, we all need to have freedom—and the way to maximize individual freedom is to maximize freedom of choice. So what happens if consumers, for example, have seemingly unlimited choice?

Schwartz’s hypothesis is that the sheer volume of choice in front of consumers today causes paralysis rather than liberation. Instead of selecting “a thing” that best suits us, we are confused by all we have to choose from and are often dissatisfied with our ultimate choice (the pursuit of perfection effect). The author goes on to suggest there may be a causal link between the increased percentage of depression cases in Western societies and the choice paradox. Schwartz suggests that the magic number for choice in retail is between six and eight; under six and it feels like we have no choice, and over eight—too much choice.

I have observed this effect for quite a few years now, and I term it the “Boost Juice effect.” A number of years ago in Australia, there was a surge of juice bars, the most recognizable being Boost Juice. There was one other major juice bar chain (its name escapes me), and several smaller ones across the country. At the time, Australia was going through the juice version of the Dutch Tulip craze—juice bars on every street corner.

The difference for me between Boost Juice and the also-rans was not the quality of product, rather that Boost Juice had a limited menu, and it was relatively simple to choose your juice. If I wanted a smoothie, there were six flavors to choose from and similar for a fresh juice. The other bars went with the total freedom of the “make it yourself” formula. I had one juice from this store, and to be honest I found the process to make my own juice confusing, and frankly it took me too much time to make my mind up. Sure the juice was fine, however my experience wasn’t great. While I’m not saying the other stores disappeared solely due to “the paradox of choice” conundrum, I do believe it was a contributing factor.

So What Are the Implications for IT?
My position is that a contributing factor for failure or missed objectives in technology programs and transformation endeavors is too much freedom of choice. With so many conflicting and complementary options from different vendors, CIOs and IT management—with the best of intentions—strive for perfection and, for the same reason as consumers, are ultimately let down by the experience. Instead of looking for the best-of-breed products at each level in the stack, make decisions from a viewpoint of integration, solution-orientation and integrated services.

When assessing the purchase an IT solution, ask whether:

  1. The vendor provides an integrated solution; do I have to buy plug-in components from other vendors to complete the stack? My observations are that for some of our customers integrating so-called best-of-breed products versus single vendor solutions often drives integration and support issues during and after the project. It’s the old adage, “perfection is the enemy of delivery.”
  2. Are there clear reference sites where you can verify the integration of the vendor solution? Similar to throwing meat into the water and telling a shark not to eat, some vendors will promise any and all without providing clear evidence.
  3. Is the vendor strategy clear, concise and is the strategy and roadmap complementary to your IT and business objectives?

Definitely use competition for your own benefit; however don’t go mad with choice. Limit choice, and be smart and focused on your desired outcomes and long-term objectives. VMware provides product suites—cloud infrastructure and EUC solutions—that are heavily integrated and backed up by strategy and technology consulting services. Over time other vendors will follow, providing suites or solutions rather than point products. The VMware vCloud Suite for example, is a complete cloud infrastructure solution covering the hypervisor layer right up to the cloud portal, managing and monitoring layer. This suite removes complexity by simplifying choice, while being flexible enough to meet customer needs.

As a consumer, you don’t need to buy separate hypervisor, automation, security, monitoring and management components and then throw the integration dice. Of course, you can if you wish—choice hasn’t gone away. It’s up to you how much choice you want, and you can dial it up or dial it down. I believe too many years of “dialed-up” choice is one of the contributors to project blowouts caused by cost overruns and missed delivery targets.

Above all else, IT management should strive for 100 percent perfection in project delivery and lifecycle management. Ask yourself whether the level of choice is providing a better project outcome or rather is increasing the risk of project delivery. Where possible, limit choice and think strategically around proven integrated solutions to meet your business objectives.

1Listen to Schwartz’s “The Paradox of Choice” TED talk

Daryl Bishop is business solutions architect for VMware Accelerate Advisory Services, based in Melbourne, Australia.

VMware AccelerateTM Advisory Services can help you define your IT strategy through balanced transformation plans across people, process and technology. Visit our Web site to learn more about our offerings, or reach out to us today at: accelerate@vmware.com for more information.

Would you like to continue this conversation with your C-level executive peers? Join our exclusive CxO Corner Facebook page for access to hundreds of verified CxOs sharing ideas around IT Transformation right now by going to CxO Corner and clicking “ask to join group.”

Delivering and Deploying IT Services: The Poison and the Remedy

AUTHOR: Eric Ledyard

IT is caught in the middle of two opposing forces at all times—balancing the demands of the business with the challenges of IT. To be successful, the IT organization needs to change the way it creates, deploys and runs the services it provides the company.
I find when working with most of my customers that there is a dichotomy between the goals of the business leadership teams and the goals of IT. For the CIO to be successful, she needs to solve for the challenges facing her organization while enabling the business to achieve its goals—in a full strategic partnership—through the delivery of products and services as an IT service provider.

The first step for the CIO is to build an agile IT infrastructure that streamlines the development and deployment process of new and existing IT products, which speeds time to market of new services, which then enables the business to attract and retain new customers thereby increasing enterprise growth. This also allows the company to either retain its industry leadership or gain market share by outpacing its competition.

I continuously reinforce with my customers that IT should be viewed not as a cost center as it traditionally has been, but rather as the vehicle for driving additional top-line revenue within the company. The compelling benefits of modernizing the application development lifecycle, as an example, and the profound impact that can have on the business is detailed in this recent VMware Accelerate white paper.

The next challenge the CIO faces is how to reduce the operating costs to provide services to the business without impacting the flexibility and agility that allows her IT organization to drive down the time to provision and deploy services. This has always been a daunting question for the CIO—how do you continue to provide the highest levels of service to your users and respond quickly to business needs without overcompensating through inefficient staffing and/or underutilized infrastructure?

The Journey to IT Service Provider Excellence
In working with many large organizations, most recently one of the largest global financial institutions, I have determined that there is a solution to achieving the goals of the business while dramatically reducing costs. The IT organization’s journey is made up of three core pillars: operational (which includes organizational), financial (ITBM and ITFM), and the infrastructure and technology stack. Only by optimizing all three core pillars will the CIO meet the goals of both the IT organization and the business.

By optimizing operational and organizational aspects, the CIO can fix many of the problems of traditional IT environments. Time to market is reduced from weeks to hours by automating processes and procedures. The number of people it takes to get services built and provisioned into the environment is further reduced by leveraging integrated development and deployment tools. The IT organization is streamlined by eliminating silos of disparate teams working on isolated projects—bringing them together as one team, with a common set of goals and focus.

Implementing an integrated IT financial management and IT business management suite provides visibility into actual costs to provide services to customers, and, can optimize the environment in real time—making decisions that keep costs low by choosing the most effective way to provide services. In the same way that a stock broker makes decisions based on a toolset that tracks real-time markets, the CIO gains the power to become an IT service broker—making decisions based on real-time financials coming out of the environment.

Finally, an elastic, agile infrastructure stack can introduce new, increased levels of agility and response time to provision and deploy new services. The CIO can keep costs low by moving away from complex siloed infrastructure pools toward software-defined resource pools on common infrastructure. Then, by leveraging IaaS capabilities such as full automation and self-service provisioning, time to market is reduced and solid application platforms are provided quickly and reliably.

Ultimately, the ability for the CIO to provide the business with the services it needs has never been easier to achieve. Technology advancements and toolsets allow today’s CIO to become a valued business partner, driving top-line revenue and increasing earnings per share to company shareholders.

Coming soon…how to become the best service provider in the industry to the business.

Eric Ledyard is a business solutions architect for VMware Accelerate Advisory Services. Follow him on Twitter @ericledyard

VMware Accelerate Advisory Services can help you define your IT strategy through balanced transformation plans across people, process and technology. Visit our Web site to learn more about our offerings, or reach out to us today at: accelerate@vmware.com for more information.

Would you like to continue this conversation with your C-level executive peers? Join our exclusive CxO Corner Facebook page for access to hundreds of verified CxOs sharing ideas around IT Transformation right now by going to CxO Corner and clicking “ask to join group.”