I pass on an interesting and amusing article from James Herbert of supplier Methods on the lessons he thinks a popular enterrainment show might provide for us in the Cloud...
There was a period in my life recently when I was obsessed with only two things: The first, how do I deliver a Cloud-based ICT architecture into a certain local authority; the second, Strictly Come Dancing! The former was because at the time I was responsible for ICT, Customer and Business Services at the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead - the latter because my 4 year old daughter is obsessed with this ‘cheesy’ but highly entertaining talent show.
The twin obsessions reached fever pitch when the final stages of the hugely popular Saturday night show coincided with one of my speaking events at a high profile technology conference. I awoke in a cold sweat in the early hours, several days before the event, acutely aware that I was hopelessly ill prepared to speak at the conference. Also, that cheeky chappy Russell Grant was likely to exit at the next stage of the process – and his were the only routines that I found vaguely interesting. Then it hit me: I could bring these two obsessions together in my pending speech.
How, I hear you ask? Well, some of the contestants in Strictly and the voting process offer us a lighthearted analogy for the Cloud journey. Perhaps one that helps to engage non- technical colleagues. First, let’s set the scene. I was on stage during the afternoon. Without wanting to be disrespectful to my fellow speakers, I think that by the time I stood up, most of the audience were feeling pretty uninspired by four hours of presentations on datacentre consolidation, security models and IT shared services. (I’ll return to shared services in a moment). Even though I say it myself, I think that Strictly lifted the crowd, who I think, in the main were interested in technology but certainly were not ‘techies’. By the way if you are responsible for ICT, these are the people you need to convince so start dusting off your easy-to-understand analogies now.
Even before Strictly was mentioned, the speech started controversially, as I name-checked those groups that should be helped by improved local government technology – like families, vulnerable groups and schools. The preceding lack of reference to customers by public sector technologists and suppliers throughout this 8 hour conference should have been a worry for the ICT profession; particularly when, post Cloud, we are supposed to be helping our business colleagues understand and exploit their data as opposed to fixing the plumbing.
Anyway on to Strictly. I choose two of the main protagonists, Harry Judd and Russell Grant and tried to describe their key characteristics. It went something like this: This is Harry. Harry is flexible, lean and adaptable. He can learn new routines easily and could probably perform well with any partner. Generation Y recognises him, partly because he has strong presence within social media and can use it to get his messages and brand across easily. Actually, judging by my wife’s reaction to Harry, it isn’t just generation Y who would be happy to dance with him!
Russell - the ghost of IT 'past'?
Then there is Russell. Don’t get me wrong – Russell is ok. Basically, he works, and he is still in the competition. He’s actually quite popular amongst certain groups who would like to see an older, more established personality win. However, he’s bloated, he’s not Agile (geddit) and he has had to have special routines designed for him. I don’t know this for a fact – but I suspect that after a dance, when he is a bit tired, a specialist and highly paid team of experts have to put him back together in increasingly complex ways. Crucially, he has a young and nimble dance partner but she is held back in what she can do by his own limitations.
If Harry and Russell personified ‘ICT,' who would you be today and who would you want to be? However, just to prove that I am not some sort of Cloud arriviste, I went on to cover what I believe to be the most important actions in getting your own cloud strategy going.
These are summed up in three words: Education, Momentum and Architecture. Education because the audience (which in my case was also the workforce) and our customers plus the judges (the politicians and executives) need to know what you are going to do, and why. This is harder than it sounds and a whole article could be written just on the best way to achieve this. However, once these groups are bought in to the idea and excited, they can really become the biggest advocate of a new way of delivering technology. (Think: get the judges on your side early, otherwise you might be voted out before you’ve really started.)
Momentum, because if you wait till the end of the series to perform you’ll be voted off much sooner. Remember, talk is cheap, and Cloud is an overused word – so you need to have some sort of controlled version of “build it and they will come”. We started with Cloud based productivity, a limited Salesforce pilot and running some new apps from infrastructure as a service, for instance, but there are other options. As long as you are learning and not spending too much money at this early stage, then the benefits of that experience will be reaped later on.
And Architecture, because whilst you might want to look like some kind of chilled out innovator on the surface, you need to know how you are going to transform your ICT landscape in very minute detail. In other words, you may be a great dancer - but you need access to an expert choreographer. Amongst other benefits this means you can start future proofing your near term ICT purchasing decisions right now. If you can’t afford the right calibre of architect, then you will need to access that talent in a different way, otherwise Cloud could just leave you with a bigger Total Cost of Ownership [TCO] than you had before... and a load more unhappy customers.
Who’d have thought that Len Goodman could be compared to an Enterprise Architect?
Just one last point: I did promise to come back to Shared Services. The ICT Shared Service that the public sector should be aspiring to is a multi tenanted platform, sufficiently Open in its standards and design so that it can be shared by millions of organisations and users across the world. This is in contrast to the more traditional version, which is ‘Council A shares a data centre with Council B’.
A big contrast. Just a thought – perhaps one to return to…?
The author is a managing consultant at Methods, a privately owned UK based 'Services Aggregator and Service Innovator'