March 21 2016

The cloud simplified 02:52 pm

Marc Saltzman at the recent Growing the North conference, reminded the audience that. “There is no such thing as a cloud, it is just someone else’s computer.”  Clear, comical and concise.  To many in the audience the marketing hype was now clear and the definition simplified.

So if the cloud is someone else’s computer paying for that service is the equivalent to paying rent.  If you need ongoing rental services of someone else’s computer who is that likely a good deal for?  Yes, rent is fantastic for an occasional user.  I rent lawn care equipment and power tools when needed.  Our company rents moving equipment when upgrading the office.  The reason we don’t rent much of anything else for the office is that it is expensive.

If you have occasional, infrequent needs for technology resources rent is a great way to go as well.  Rent a server for an afternoon for testing.  Rent some storage for a couple weeks for a project.  Rent a website for a couple months for some marketing, you get the idea.

Recently we met with a couple energy service clients.  Cash flow was important.  Return on investment was important.  Price was important.  Anyone taking a critical view of ongoing rental services for their technology is probably going to find a lower cost, higher payback method pretty quick.  It doesn’t take a fancy title or high math to calculate that the cost to use someone else’s computer adds up to a lot more money than buying your own computer to do the job.

In its essence that is the cloud simplified.

February 19 2016

Growing the North 2016– Too Optimistic? 08:46 am

Attending the 2016 conference titled Growing the North Feb 17-18 was a real pleasure.  The atmosphere was very positive and the variety of the speakers was amazing.   One of the most controversial speakers was Peter Ladner, author of the Urban Food Revolution .  Peter is part of the David Suzuki Foundation and started off his presentation with some criticisms of inefficiencies in the cattle industry.  This is a very tough way to warm up a crowd in northern Alberta during a recession!  I am sure if Peter comes back he will bring his message with a great deal more alignment to the local needs of the Peace Region.  I personally found his core message of how to bring variety and control over your food supply by innovative local growing methods and approaches to be refreshing and inspirational.  As a garden grower and someone who is very interested in the nutrition in the food we eat these topics are important to me and my family.  Thanks Peter for standing tall in the hallway after such a politically charged Q&A session!  That took some courage.

 

Reluctantly not wanting to fade popular consensus I’ll take Jackie Forrest’s glowing forecast of world oil demand in the 2nd half of 2016 to task.  Jackie is a hometown Grande Prairie girl now Vice President of Energy Research in Calgary with ARC Financial Corp and author of the blog ARC Energy Ideas.  Sharp, knowledgeable and one of the closing speakers what she had to say carried a lot of weight.  Her price forecast for oil was to see it rebound based on increased demand in Q3 and Q4 2016.  To me this message felt good.  If oil production and demand were going to equalize in the 2nd half of this year it encouraged a feeling of let’s just hang on 6 more months and then hope for going back to the way it was will return.  This is a technology blog but as CEO of pcit I am also responsible for gauging reality.    Our little tiny resources and financial perspective is willing to step out on a limb and suggest there is no way at all this forecast has a chance of being reality.

 

Demand is not going to pick up in the 2nd half of 2016 for several reasons.

  • ECRI index gives little hope this will occur
  • China’s private debt is over 200% of GDP.  This equals crisis in every historical occurrence.  It does not equal increased demand.  The descent into much slower growth versus the hope of increased demand is already very apparent.
  • Recency bias in how GDP has performed in the past is a long standing estimation error by economists world wide.  There is a consistent and pervasive trend to overestimate the potential of the future the last 7 years.
  • Over 600 rate cuts worldwide by central banks since the 2008 recession have exported deflationary forces to external foreign currencies.  This does not translate to increased demand it translates into a deflationary environment.

While I’d love to be riding the wave of a booming economy as much as anyone else the other side of the wave is the trough.  Very few have wanted to think of the trough and how long and difficult that could be.  Perhaps it would have been less of a positive message at the conference to push out hope to an unknown date.  But Growing the North first requires surviving the North.

October 13 2015

Strategy, Revenue and Security Insights From Amazing Conference 09:39 am

Tech Data put together a gathering of some of the most progressive organizations in the technology industry for their annual North American TechSelect conference this past week Oct 6-9, 2015. It was a great time to be in Boca Raton Florida where the sky was sunny and not a touch of fall could be found anywhere. In Grande Prairie our first frost had already arrived before leaving for the event. In Boca we had to move breakfast from out of the open sunlight as it was too hot by 9am in the morning. Quite a difference.

Listening to some of the biggest organizations in the industry present their best practices, industry trends and product focus was very informative indeed. One theme that kept recurring from Cisco, HP, VM Ware, Intel and more was how valuable good security solutions are at this point in time. CEO’s and management simply don’t want to be known as the next place where data was breached and their vulnerabilities made public. This is just a further convergence of an observation made at the beginning of the conference. ‘Companies are now realizing that their technology strategy and business strategy are really the same thing.’ This observation was attributed to Accenture in 2015 and it is just as applicable for the security needs of an organization as it was for any new revenue and business opportunities that are available.

A good security practice takes the operational disruptions and impact of security breaches and creates restore processes, remediation processes and root cause analysis steps to help reduce and eliminate these instances from recurring.  A good security practice also benchmarks the results achieved and compares them to a baseline of what is possible.

I had the opportunity to speak with Scott Schweitzer from Cisco, Vice President of Security at length one evening on the typical security spend per user and typical results one could expect from that spend. This type of data is not yet mainstream. At pcit we are updating our tools and processes to keep our customer’s from being the next data breach headline. The threats are very real and pcit as well as the media and the entire technology industry have seen the increase and severity of malware in 2015.

Special thanks to A&G Advisory and Mark Thompson, author of Admired, for presenting at the conference. Both of these sessions were extremely valuable. I read the book Admired on the way home and found it to be very helpful.

September 30 2015

What Value do you put on Operational Excellence? 11:06 am

I am surprised to believe that operational excellence can be undervalued but from all our research and information gathered across the technology industry this belief seems to resonate from almost every corner.

What we mean by operational excellence is that the quality of the operation of technology can vary between organizations. This variance is often attributed to the foundation the technology is put on or the quality of the technical resources implementing the solution. Both are factors but there is also a 3rd factor and it is the overall measure of operational quality of the technology. This 3rd factor appears to be a key productivity driver and organizations can pick up a quick and sizeable boost in efficiency by spending time on developing their operational excellence.

Let me offer an example.   Let’s assume no technology put in place is perfect nor can maintain perfection. Our example would involve every new piece of software or hardware as they always needs some form of adjustment, patching, maintenance, etc. as well as adjustments to user’s needs. But how much is normal? What defines an excellent operational level of performance? Based on our experience no one really knows what excellent results are. Even more amazing is that if they do know it exists there is hardly value on great results versus mediocre.

Even the respected and knowledgeable analysts from Gartner, whose entire business model is evaluating the quality of IT technology and people, suggests IT management should set the bar a little bit below excellent. These analysts suggest that IT Operations is something that CIO’s should not get any better results from than good as no one in the executive suite values operations much better than good! I am paraphrasing but can send the source for those interested.

Our impression is that ‘good enough’ is somewhere slightly above the point where staff aren’t complaining or frustrated right now. This would seem to be intuitively correct for if everyone could do their job what more should management want? Apparently the statistical average of good enough is somewhere around 1 to 1.5 requests per user month. Citing Gartner again this level of requests is assumed to be operationally good and there is little value in pursuing excellence. Put another way most users, analysts, and executive leadership seem to think it is okay to need IT support once or even twice per month.

Our results are different. We believe a request from each user can be lowered to a single request every two months, three months or in some cases even every four months. This is what we define as operational excellence. As the CEO of a technology support company this level of excellence is very valuable. It means each support person could support up to 200-400% more people and still deliver the same quality of service. That seems significant. Even better is the result for our customers. It could mean that each end user we support is spending as little as 25% of the time on technology related issues as what many organizations and analysts would consider normal. Our understanding is that 25% of the time spent on any task multiplied by the number of staff in an organization could be valuable.

Put another way the key to getting everyone to work efficiently and effectively is often attributed to specific technologies. These technologies currently carry names like the cloud, business intelligence, collaboration, the right tablet, mobility, security, the right software, etc. Just today I found a new graphic produced by a vendor that highlighted 7 key things every organization must do to be productive. In it the list included other important subjects such as strategy, alignment and some of the already mentioned hot words. Operational excellence once again didn’t make the list. Perhaps operational excellence was number 8 but we are skeptical it even made the top 20. What if one organization bought the hot technologies and had 2-3 times the number of issues arise as their competitor who had operational excellence? Both may be effective but the high degree of differentiation could be a difference maker. Especially if those requests start to arise at the time of key deadlines or heavy workloads.

We believe operational excellence should be on almost every operational related executive’s radar. The difference in the organization’s level of productivity, risk exposure and overall staff satisfaction with technology can be sizeable. As the leveraging of technology becomes more and more pervasive across organizations of all size this focus should only increase with time.

Of course defining what is a request requires some clarification but I’d welcome starting the conversation on the value others put to operational excellence.

September 1 2015

Don’t Lose Your Best Resources To Things Like Paperwork 11:19 am

Could your best staff be tied up doing volumes of great work that could be automated?  It is a scenario we have seen time and time again.  The really high performers are counted on to create a great deal of work output.  And they do.  Yet in the middle of their busy workload no one has taken the time to really dig into how this valuable resource really does what they do and if it could be made easier.  Those dedicated people who stay late, put in the extra effort and are dependable can be such an asset.  It can become easy to let them keep doing what they are doing without asking too many questions!

When those high performers who get the most work done keep their heads down and plough through the next assignment without ever changing their work flow what is really affected?  Typically those staff are resourceful enough to find a way to get the job done.  But the net result is the organization suffers.

Consider the Vice President who has tremendous operational command of the organization and great customer service skills who spends 20 hours of his week creating reports.  Really, 20 hours every week?….Wow.  Another example would be the assistant we found who was behind saving 700 emails to the correct folder because she had been cross training other staff.  The assistant no doubt was paid the same whether she did this work or other more client facing work but it was the organization who was losing a valuable team member to the mundane.  The problem was this was a workflow created a long time in the past when email volume was a fraction of what it is now.

In these examples great organizations lost some of their best resources for hours each week doing mundane tasks that could be automated and simplified at a very low cost of implementation.  Tools and technology had changed but the organizations work flow had stayed the same.

Probably more than any other profession your Information Technology resources are in a position to learn how other staff get work done and evaluate how well aligned those work habits are with what is possible.  Given the right direction and process they can see the potential where others see the routine.  They know how to make the technology do the work.

Putting a program in place where your top performers spend time serving customers while an experienced technology professional observes the workflow can lead to breakthroughs.  Typically it is best to use a well rounded technology professional who may not be an expert in any one field but has a combination of real world experience and business skills.  Put another way, you don’t just want a geek because they won’t get the real business priorities and they’ll over complicate the solution.

Professionals at PCIT can deliver this service at no additional charge as part of our ongoing technology support services.  The differences can be significant and the cost is typically negligible.