There are fewer sobering moments in the life of a Principal Technology Architect (which is apparently my official new title) than returning from a trip to the crazy world of Silicon Valley and next day finding oneself standing before a room full of CISOs from some of the leading Fortune 100 companies, rattling off a tale of enterprise IT transformation.
At full tilt, twenty minutes in, reliving past milestones with the help of some Keynote wizardry and what can only be described as a Jumbotron behind me, I am vaguely aware that the words cascading from my distinctly Northern cake-hole don’t seem believable to anyone in the room, let alone this over animated presenter, and that’s quite a good thing for everyone.
Why? Because I once heard this phrase (from a very successful CEO) and I have never forgotten it, such was its impact on me:
The best feedback you can ever receive is the one that makes you the most uncomfortable.
If they feel uncomfortable, that’s good. If I feel uncomfortable, that’s even better.
The presentation is part circus, part theater, part trend observation, part strategy, and yet, by far the largest part, is an absolutely a true, honest to goodness reflection of some of the amazing work that we have done over the last few years to fundamentally change the way IT services are provided and consumed in our organization.
Sometimes, I find it mentally and physically refreshing to stand back from the every-day hubbub of being inside the sausage factory and share “why and how” we did what we did with an audience. Any audience in fact. And if the content of the story helps with change their thinking on how to address their challenges, even in some microscopic way, then I am worth the price of admission alone.
Oh wait, it’s free.
All I want is for the audience to leave with a new view, an opened mind on “what might be possible”. Be a disbeliever, a Doubting Thomas, be paralyzed with fear or meh (take your pick), be consumed by an irresistible urge to pick up the closest thing not nailed down and hurl it in my general direction whilst mumbling words like “charlatan” and “vagabond”. That’s perfectly OK….but….above all else, please, please uncomfortable with what you are hearing. Being uncomfortable will spark your innovation and creativity by challenging status quo. It worked for us.
At events like the one I describe above, I find it surprisingly easy to switch heads, from my future facing technology-cum-strategy mindset to the pragmatic deliverer of the best business-aligned IT change story that money can’t buy – well – not from us anyway – and I firmly believe the reason for this comfort level is that I don’t have anything to sell.
Of course I know my own material inside out and that helps the story to flow, but being considered a credible source by a peer group is a unique position to find myself in as it helps me get a rounded view of where other organizations truly are in their thinking of next generation IT delivery (notice I didn’t say cloud as that is merely a small-ish part of the story) and helps me galvanize my assertions of how very, very different our organization is from many others, especially those who are literally crippled by compliance and legal requirements.
Oddly, some may think, this really isn’t a story about public cloud, nor private cloud and despite the tongue-in-cheek Presidency and the industry press we have attracted in the recent past, it is, really nothing more than a story of understanding how critical it is to align yourself to your business, such that you enable your business to be successful – this isn’t rocket science but it is hard to achieve. The true enabler of business will, by definition, help remove barriers effortlessly.
In fact, would go as far as to say that any next generation IT service that isn’t aligned is almost certainly doomed to fail and the notion of labeling every potential business value add as a “cloud” solution is just plain stupid – and we know that there ain’t no patch for stoopid.
If I were an enterprise CISO in today’s maelstrom of consumerization, digital natives, distributed workforces and smarter-than-ever shadow IT departments, the first thing I would do is seek approval from the CIO to issue a blanket ban on the words “we can’t” and replace them with “let’s look”. How about this ?
“We can’t allow personal smartphones to be used”
“Let’s look at what it would take to allow personal smartphones to be used”
“We can’t use public cloud services”
“Let’s look at the main areas that we are concerned about and assess them diligently”
“We can’t let users access facebook”
“Let’s look at the usage policies and see if they are outdated”
Even if the ultimate answer is negative, due to whatever conclusion is drawn and whichever compliance or legal requirements cannot be sufficiently satisfied, the point of this is that these are things that need to be addressed today – addressed by those who understand the implications and can make the informed decision.
The change is already here. Horse. Bolted. Barn. Door. Locked. If organizations are not getting ahead of this curve then the shadow IT department is going to do it for them. And we know how that could end and that’s what I mean by being uncomfortable enough to think about getting aligned.
In closing, and rewinding back to the CISOs….there was a wide range of representation and very switched on people. As I expected (and as Chris Hoff and I politely exchanged views on recently) many of the organizations represented were at various stages of their thought process and action planning to deal with the new wave of challenges, risks and policy creation / rewrites from BYOC to MDM to Social to Cloud and Back Again. It’s really interesting to see the differences in cultures first hand.
It turns out that Hoff and I were in violent agreement.
It is fair to say that many of them are moving in the right direction, but this is going to be a long, long road and if anybody is left in any doubt that the adoption curve of this next generation of services is going to be one that plays out over years and not months – I’ll invite you to the next session so you can see for yourself.