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Data Management // Big Data Analytics
03:05 PM
Jim Ditmore
Jim Ditmore

New Technologies Require New Organizational Approaches

The cloud, mobile and big data movements put a premium on speed and innovation, not just efficiency and security.

IT organizations are challenged to keep up with the latest wave of cloud, mobile and big data technologies, which are outside the traditional areas of staff expertise. Some industry pundits recommend bringing on more technology "generalists," since cloud services in particular can call on multiple areas of expertise (storage, server, networking). Or they recommend employing IT "service managers" to bundle up infrastructure components and provide service offerings.

But such organizational changes can reduce your team's expertise and accountability and make it more difficult to deliver services. So how do you grow your organization's expertise to handle new technologies? At the same time, how do you organize to deliver business demands for more product innovation and faster delivery yet still ensure efficiency, high quality and security?

Rather than acquire generalists and add another layer of cost and decision making to your infrastructure team, consider the following:

Cloud computing. Assign architects or lead engineers to focus on software-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service, ensuring that you have robust estimating and costing models and solid implementation and operational templates. Establish a cloud roadmap that leverages SaaS and IaaS, ensuring that you don't overreach and end up balkanizing your data center.

[ Use the latest technologies to boost server efficiency and performance. Read Why Your Data Center Costs Will Drop. ]

For appliances and private cloud, given their multiple component technologies, let your best component engineers learn adjacent fields. Build multi-disciplinary teams to design and implement these offerings. Above all, though, don't water down the engineering capacity of your team by selecting generalists who lack depth in a component field. For decades, IT has built complex systems with multiple components by leveraging multi-faceted teams of experts, and cloud is no different.

Mobile. If mobile isn't already the most critical interface for your company, it will be in three to five years. So don't treat mobile as an afterthought, to be adapted from traditional interfaces. And don't outsource this capability, as mobile will be pervasive in everything you build.

Build a mobile competency center that includes development, user experience and standards expertise. Then fan out that expertise to all of your development teams, while maintaining the core mobile group to assist with the most difficult efforts. And of course, continue with a central architecture and control of the overall user experience. A consistent mobile look, feel and flow is essentially your company's brand, invaluable in interacting with customers.

Big data. There are two key aspects of this technology wave: the data (and traditional analytic uses) and real-time data "decisioning," similar to IBM's Watson. You can handle the data analytics as an extension of your traditional data warehousing (though on steroids). However, real-time decisioning has the potential to dramatically alter how your organization specifies and encodes business rules.

Consider the possibility that 30% to 50% of all business logic traditionally encoded in 3 or 4 generation programming languages instead becomes decisioned in real time. This capability will require new development and business analyst skills. For now, cultivate a central team with these skills. As you pilot and determine how to more broadly leverage real-time data decisioning, decide if it will be necessary to seed your broader development teams with these capabilities.

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Competing Demands

Overall, IT organizations must meet several competing demands: Work with business partners to deliver competitive advantage; do so quickly in order to respond to (and anticipate) market demands; and provide efficient, consistent quality while protecting the company's intellectual property, data and customers. In essence, there are business and market drivers that value speed, business knowledge and closeness at a reasonable cost and risk drivers that value efficiency, quality, security and consistency.

Therefore, we must design an IT organization and systems approach that meets both sets of drivers and anticipates business organizational change. The best solution is to organize IT as a hybrid organization to deliver both sets of capabilities.

Typically, the functions that should be consolidated and organized centrally to deliver scale, efficiency and quality are infrastructure (especially networks, data centers, servers and storage), IT operations, service desks and anything that should be run as a utility for the company. The functions to be aligned and organized along business lines to promote agility and innovation are application development (including Web and mature mobile development), data marts and business intelligence.

Some functions, such as database, middleware, testing and project management, can be organized in either mode. But if they aren't centralized, they'll require a council to ensure consistent processes, tools, measures and templates.

For services becoming a commodity, or where there's a critical advantage to having one solution (e.g., one view of the customer for the entire company), it's best to have a single team or utility that's responsible. Where you're looking to improve speed to market or market knowledge, organize into smaller IT teams closer to the business. The diagram below gives a graphical view of the hybrid organization.

The IT Hybrid Model diagram

With this approach, your IT shop will be able to deliver the best of both worlds. And you can then weave in the new skills and teams required to deliver the latest technologies such as cloud and mobile.

Which IT organizational approaches or variations have you seen work best? How are you accommodating new technologies and skills within your teams? Please weigh in with a comment below.

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User Rank: Apprentice
3/15/2013 | 4:03:08 AM
re: New Technologies Require New Organizational Approaches
PT, I agree that the analyst who can bridge the business and IT is extremely valuable. Further, you should definitely construct your business-aligned team with plenty of such analysts to enable IT to construct an optimal solution for the business. Thanks for the addition. Best, Jim
PT Lam
PT Lam,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/15/2013 | 3:57:32 AM
re: New Technologies Require New Organizational Approaches
Hi Jim,

I'm not sure the kind of "generalist" you mentioned refers to a role like business analyst.

If so, I don't think a "generalist" is just a guy who "practices administrative skills" with a little bit of IT knowledge. He is the guy who bridges the gap between business and IT, which is the task that most "IT experts" have long failed to accomplish.

User Rank: Apprentice
3/12/2013 | 11:52:29 PM
re: New Technologies Require New Organizational Approaches
Dear MyWor1d and dangeluc,

Let's see if I can state it more clearly... what I am suggesting is that there is a vast difference between someone who is an expert practitioner in one infrastructure area (say servers) who can apply his engineering skill more broadly versus a generalist, who has no in depth mastery of any one component area and is practicing 'administrative skills' across a broad range of decisions. When I have seen organizations make key decisions by such generalist (versus an expert apply his skills more broadly), I have seen much poorer choices and results that then had to be remediated.

The key point is: leveraged business knowledgeable experts to handle those functions aligned best to the business, and leverage strong teams of experts to drive high performance for those functions best aligned as utilities. Feel free to augment either team with outside experts that can lend value, but don't burden either team with generalists, that do not understand any of the underlying technologies. I would suggest these teams easily outperform a team of generalists. And by the way, my read of the labor market is that no one wants to be called a generalist.

Now, let's talk about risk and your statement that risk is just one of several business drivers. Please recalibrate to the framework I laid out and one often used where a comprehensive set of drivers for a service or product are:
- business feature or capability
- cost or efficiency
- quality
- time to market
- regulatory and risk

Generally, you work to optimize all of these dimensions. But the point of the post is that to optimize business feature or capability and time to market, you need to align closer to the business. And to optimize cost, quality, and risk (or regulatory) goals, you centralize or leverage a utility. Note, most companies have one Chief FInancial Officer and one Chief Risk Officer or Head of Legal Counsel for a reason - so they can control these domains across all of their business units. So let's not confuse risk as a 'business' driver, while it is inherent in any business activity, modern operational risk practices have clearly defined domains outside of the germane business products, features and services. Yes, you do want to integrate how you handle risk, particularly operational risk within a business units practices, but that does not mean it is common with business features or capabilities.

Perhaps this provides more clarity in these areas. Best, Jim

User Rank: Strategist
3/12/2013 | 2:03:05 PM
re: New Technologies Require New Organizational Approaches
dangeluc, I find two others gems in the article, "Build multi-disciplinary teams to design and implement these offerings" and "let your best component engineers learn adjacent fields." And what do you get as a result? The generalist which is a high value commodity in a profession gravatating more to micro specialization. I've known many companies that left little question in their desires, lower salaried generalists for day-to-day maintenance and the occasional, high cost outsourced specialist if needed to supplement on a project basis. The accompanying graphic resembles many of the inflexible siloed structures of years past. This author seems to have once again published an article that muddles his overall affermation.
User Rank: Apprentice
3/12/2013 | 2:28:36 AM
re: New Technologies Require New Organizational Approaches
"In essence, there are business and market drivers that value speed, business knowledge and closeness at a reasonable cost and risk drivers that value efficiency, quality, security and consistency."

Nope. Risk drivers are just different business drivers. One of the value of generalists is that they understand this.

I am a bit confused by the entire line of argumentation in this article. It seems that I could sum it up, "Don't hire just generalists, but hire generalists with specific skills that they can bring to the table." Hardly revolutionary. And in that case, what value do the skills-specific staff really have beyond being the farm team for the future generalists? Why not outsource the skills specific stuff and focus on hiring those engineers with the ability to be generalists, even if that means going to the external market?

I figured I was going to see something about how companies should leverage core technical skills in areas where they can differentiate the best. Instead, I see things like this:

"Assign architects or lead engineers to focus on software-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service, ensuring that you have robust estimating and costing models and solid implementation and operational templates."

If technical staff had the ability to do robust estimating and costing, and see the big picture well enough to do solid implementation and operational templates, we would have a new name for those people: generalists.
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