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CIO Imperative: Master Customer Experience to Remain Relevant

Begin a New Life as an Innovation Services Team and Deliver the Experience Your Customers Feel Entitled To

Heman Smithcustomer experienceBy Heman Smith

What is meant by customer experience – for those whom IT serves?

Today’s customers are used to immediate access to an app, typically via a mobile device, immediate ability to execute a task, and immediate results.  This delivers satisfaction and a positive customer experience.  Every industry is experiencing this, with nearly any transaction type you can imagine: banking, healthcare, retail, hospitality, travel and more. Surprisingly, this perceived expectation of immediacy is also spreading rapidly to sectors commonly considered slow to change and respond to change: public sector, utilities, military, etc.

Perception is reality – because people make decisions based on what they perceive to be true. Customers (internal and external) will now often choose the path to easiest results and lowest cost, with less loyalty and commitment than ever before.

What must be done for IT to regain its “preferred provider” status?

Whether we like it or not, IT is not always seen as the business’ preferred provider.  In-house IT is no longer seen as a “must-have”.  Alternatives not only exist, but are expanding and becoming equivalently mature and capable (SaaS, cloud-native apps in the public cloud, etc.). What must IT do now to develop and provide new value to replace its old role and charter?

Optimize Core Services

Immediately and aggressively optimize the core services IT offers that support easy application development, deployment, access and consumption:

  • IaaS, PaaS, Environment as a service, etc.
  • Open and flexible application access
  • Support any app/any device/anytime/anywhere (ie: EUC via solutions such as VMware’s Workspace ONE)
  • Application-focused security based on modern, multi/hybrid cloud-data center network models (VMware’s Airwatch, NSX, etc.)
  • IT-as-a-Business practices: show-back, charge-back, etc.

Embrace the Innovation Services Brand and Mindset

Move away from the legacy name and identity of IT (Information Technology), and adopt a new stance or brand as “Innovation Services”, leading the charge to provide capabilities-as-services needed by the business, using a best resource model as appropriate (developed, or brokered). Much of this change is leadership and culture driven, with process re-design and technology choices supporting the decisions made.

This approach requires the practice of teams counseling together to create an ideal process for delivering more ideal outcomes; both (1) internal to the teams themselves, making their lives easier, and (2) external to the end customer, making their lives easier.  This delivers better customer experience to each party!

Because of this shift in stance, the choice of technologies made by the team(s) is determined by the needed outcome, and how well a technology can rapidly, easily and cost effectively enable that outcome.

Will that cause a lot of technology loyalty shift? Yes.

Must vendors respond by being on-point to support that speed and adaptability in order for their IT customers to deliver better experience and outcomes? Absolutely!

The applications people use, coupled with ubiquitous mobility – are driving the pace of business and IT. DevOps is a response to that opportunity and pressure.

Develop Your DevOps Model… Now

IT must leap into supporting and accelerating the successful adoption of an appropriate-fit DevOps model in order to be of real value to the business. If Infrastructure Services teams don’t clearly understand this mandate, and rapidly take the stance of championing DevOps, then the application development side of the house will find other resources. This change is not optional; it is already underway, and will occur rapidly in the near future whether or not traditional IT teams want it.

If IT doesn’t rapidly respond to this need and change, its chance to be the business’ preferred provider will disappear because some new, successful, out-sourced or internally-stood-up alternative will be entrenched, and change will be seen as too difficult, or unnecessary.

What does this mean for me as an IT leader, and what can I do today?

Delivering exceptional customer experience must be the new mantra and reality for any effective IT leader, and thus for their IT organization. Becoming an “Innovation Services” team, instead of old-fashioned technology maintenance team is the key.

Focus on reducing friction in how any “consumer” (internal / external) accesses and consumes the new services (EUC, IaaS, PaaS, DevOps, etc.). The very mindset of IT staff must shift from habitually operating from a “keep it up and running” mentality – operations first, and adopt a new framework.

Innovation Services now focuses on:

  • How can we make “this” (whatever service “this” may refer to) easier to do, access, support, etc.?
  • How can we make consumption more appealing, more cost effective, more transparent?
  • How can we make us and our services as invisible as possible?
  • And, as I often hear during consulting conversations with frustrated IT leaders: “How can we function more like, so we can compete with, Amazon?”
  1. Mindset is a critical first step: Words have power. So take a stand, make a commitment, and step up to a different future. Craft a vision of opportunity, and invite each member of IT to step into becoming part of the new Innovation Services organization.
  2. Thinking through, and adopting a proven model for change as an Innovation Services provider is the second step. VMware has leading practices and services that assist with this.
  3. Re-organize based on service delivery function, not technology silos.
  4. Stick with it through the challenges of change. Partner with those who know and can coach you to success.

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Heman Smith is a Strategist with VMware Accelerate Advisory Services and is based in Utah.

Successful Transformations Require Clarity in Strategy and Execution

Heman Smithby Heman Smith

blog_graphic_CIO_clarityThe recent “The State of IT Transformation” report by VMware and EMC is an up-to-the-minute overview of how companies across multiple industries are faring in their efforts to transform their IT organizations.

The report offers valuable insights into the pace and success of IT transformation over the last few years and outlines where companies feel they have the most to do. But two specific data points in the report – highlighting gaps between companies’ ambitions and their actual achievements – struck me in particular. Here they are:

  • 90% of companies surveyed felt it important to have a documented IT transformation strategy and road map, with executive and line of business support. Yet over 55% have nothing documented.
  • 95% of the same organizations thought it critical that an IT organization has no silos and works together to deliver business focused services at the lowest cost. And yet less than 4% percent of organizations report that they currently operate like this.

Both of these are very revealing, I think, and worth digging into a little deeper.

Taking the second point first, my immediate reaction here is: Could IT actually operate with no silos? Is that ever achievable?

To answer, you have to define what “silo” means. A silo can be a technology assignment (storage, networking, compute, etc..) and that’s usually what’s meant within IT by the word.  Sometimes, though, it represents a team assignment, whether by expertise or a focus on delivering a particular service, that is in its own way a type of silo.

So when companies say they wish they could operate with no silos and be able to work together, I wonder if that’s really an expression of frustration with poor collaboration and poor execution? My guess is that what they’re really saying is: “we don’t know how to get our teams, our people, to collaborate effectively and execute well.”

If I’m right, what can they do about it? How can companies improve IT team collaboration, coordination, and execution?

Being clear about clarity

The answer takes us back to the first data point, that 90% of companies feel it’s important to have a documented IT transformation strategy and road map with executive and line of business support, yet over 55% have nothing documented. A majority of companies, in other words, lack strategic clarity.

Without strategic clarity, it’s very difficult for teams to operate and execute toward an outcome that is intentional and desired. Instead they focus on the daily whirlwind that surrounds them, doing whatever the squeakiest wheels dictate. I’m reminded of what Ann Latham, president of Uncommon Clarity, has said: “Over 90% of all conflict comes from a lack of clarity.”

Clarity, in my experience, has three different layers.

Clarity of intent.

This is what you want to accomplish (the vision); why you want to do it (the purpose); and when you want it done (the end point). You can also frame this as, “We want to go from X (capability) to Y (capability) by Z (date).”

Clarity of delivery.

As you move towards realizing your vision, you learn a lot more about your situation, which brings additional clarity.

Clarity of retrospect.

We joke about 20/20 hindsight, but it’s valuable because it lets us compare our original intentions with outcomes and learn from what happened in between.

Strategic clarity is really about that first layer. If companies are not clear upfront about what they want, it’s almost impossible for their teams and employees to understand what’s wanted from them and how they can do it – or to track their progress or review it once a project is complete. Announce a change without making it clear how team members can help make it a reality and you invite fear and inertia. While waiting for clarity, people disengage and everything slows down.

I’ve seen, for example, companies say they’re going to “implement a private cloud.”  That’s an aspirational statement of desire, but not one of clear intent. A clear statement of intent would be: “We’re going to use private cloud technologies to shift our current virtual environment deployment pace of 4+ weeks into production to less than 24 hours by the end of June 2016.” Frame it like, and any person on the team can figure out how they can or cannot contribute toward that exact, clear goal. More importantly, the odds of them collectively achieving the outcome described by the goal are massively increased.

I suspect that the overwhelming majority of companies reporting that they’d like a strategic IT transformation document and road map but don’t yet have one, have for the most part failed to decide what exact capabilities they want, and by when.

This isn’t new. For the last 30 plus years, IT has traditionally focused on technologies themselves rather than the outcomes that those technologies can enable. Too many IT cultures do technology first and then “operationalize it.” But that’s fundamentally flawed and backwards, especially in today’s services-led environment.

Operating models and execution

Delivering on your strategic intent requires more than clarity in how you describe it, of course. Your operating model must also be as simple and as focused as possible on delivering the specific outcomes and capabilities outlined in your plan. Otherwise, you are placing people inside the model without knowing how they can deliver the outcomes it expects, because they don’t know what they’re trying to do.

Implementing an effective operating model means articulating the results you are looking for (drawn from your strategy), then designing a model that lets employees do that as directly and rapidly as possible. That’s true no matter what you’re building – an in-house private cloud, something from outside, or a hybrid. Everyone needs to know how they can make decisions – and make them quickly – in order to deliver the results that are needed.

That brings me to the my last observation. When companies have no documented strategy or road map (and remember that’s 55% of companies surveyed in the VMware/EMC report), they are setting themselves up for what I call “execution friction.” With no clear strategy, companies focus on technology first and “operationalize” later. They end up in the weeds of less-than-successful technology projects, and spend energy and resources on upgrading capacity, improving details, and basic IT pools, while failing to craft a technology model that supports delivering the capabilities written in their strategic model. It’s effort that uses up power while slowing you down instead of pushing you forward: execution friction. Again, it’s viewing IT as a purchase, when today more than ever it should be viewed as a strategic lever to accelerate a company’s ability to deliver.

In his book on strategic execution, Ram Charan says that to understand execution, you need to keep three key points in mind:

  • Execution is a discipline, and integral to strategy
  • Execution is the major job of the business (and IT) leader
  • Execution must be a core element of an organization’s culture

Charan’s observations underline what jumps out at me in the data reported by the VMware/EMC study: that you can’t execute effectively without strategic clarity.

Wise IT leaders, then, will make and take the time necessary to get strategically clear on their intended capability outcomes as soon as possible, then document that strategy, share it, and work from it with their teams in order to achieve excellent execution. If more companies do that, we’ll see silos disappearing in a meaningful way, too, because more will be executing on their strategy with success.

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Heman Smith is a Strategist with VMware Accelerate Advisory Services and is based in Utah.