Thursday, December 19, 2013

Building Agile Organizations: Common Good Services and Adaptibility

The economic downturn in the business world generated business commentary that can be useful for today's changing higher education market.  "The agile organization puts its 'non-negotiables'... in the center, while empowering the local units... to be more responsive and adaptive to local markets, customers, and trends." (Outlook 2009 Accenture).  Let's take that statement and consider how it might work on a campus, with centralized and decentralized information technology operations.

What are our "non-negotiables" that we believe must be part of central IT?

How can we encourage local support to be responsive and adaptive to department needs?

Let's look at each of these questions.  Non-negotiables are those IT solutions and services that benefit the campus community.  The higher education IT organizations appear to favor the term "Common Good Services," originally attributed to the University of Minnesota.

Purdue University provides a nice example of how they use the idea of central services to make organizational decisions in their document Common Good Services Philosophy.  In that document, they speak about the recognition of core services:
""Common Good Services" refers to that set of basic, non-specialized computing resources that is
beneficial for nearly all members of the Purdue community.  Common Good Services are those
basic information technology services that most community members would agree are critical to
conducting business (academic, business, student, and research) at a modern research university."
These services are always on and not customized to a specific department.

The University of Texas at Austin uses the Common Good list to identify services that are funded and available through a core data and network charge, so there's an established funding link.

I like how these organizations have identified those core services and clearly linked them to their specific applicable funding models and to their decision processes.  Also, using the philosophy to explain why something is centrally funded versus funded by a local department is very useful.  

How can we use this to enhance an adaptive IT organization?  By clearly establishing the solutions and services that are core and part of the common good, we are transparent in priority setting and funding models.  We can use this to explain how we spend our budget funds, as so much of what we maintain for the common good can lack transparency to senior leadership.  

Common good services provide a consistent service level, in a practical way.  Faculty members and students, walking from one academic building to the next, can expect a consistent level of network services, for example.  Redundant processes and duplicative costs are removed, freeing resources to work on other priorities.

The common good services can provide a reliable, consistent, and stable foundation on which to build more responsive and adaptive solutions at the edge.  If we provide a consistent core, and then encourage local units to build responsive and locally customized solutions on that foundation, we can promote organizational adaptability and responsiveness.  The Outlook 2009 Accenture article on agile organizations suggests:
"The bureaucracy that results from an overly centralized model can stifle innovation and result in delayed market responsiveness.  On the other hand, an overly decentralized model can result in inconsistencies in response, slower product development, organizational redundancies and excessive costs."  

On my campus, while we've clearly identified our core services to our community, we haven't done as well as Purdue in documenting the philosophy.  I can see where doing so would help our community understand what is centrally funded and what is at the edge.  It would also help our IT managers understand how certain decisions are made and how they can help work with that model.  This will be a step in our process of building a more agile IT organization.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Resources for Agility: Knowledge as a Resource

I suggested that we need to track resources beyond the typical project management trio of resources of time, people, and budget.  If we are truly building agile and nimble IT organizations, just tracking those three items (time, people, budget) will not create the environment needed for success.  The consumerization of IT is making it easier for the departments we serve to simply bypass the university IT organization.  Policy that forbids bypassing central IT will only work so far and so long before our communities determine that IT simply is an obstacle to their own success.  We need to offer our constituents options that compare favorably to externally provided resources, or when that isn't possible, we need to offer valued-added services in the selection and management of externally provided resources.  Simply comparing time, people, and money resources on projects will not yield a full description of any service.

Another resource we need to track is knowledge, as represented in the skills and talents held by our IT staff members.  For example, we may have the right number of people for a project.  We may have managed the project portfolio so there is time to execute the project.  There may be adequate funding for the project.  But with the device and software proliferation we are seeing in the industry, there may not be adequate knowledge to execute the project.  In prior times, we likely would have embarked on a technology training program to bring our IT staff members' skills current to the technology direction. But if we do that today, how well will we compare to a service-provider who can start the project today because they already have the skills?  Can our communities wait for us to retool?  So knowledge is another resource we have to track.    

What does it mean to track knowledge as a resource?  We need to keep technology skill inventories so we know the list of skills that are present and ready to use.   When we hire for a position, we need to identify the organizational skills gap and we need to hire to fill a skills gap.  But increasingly, we also need to hire people who demonstrate an ongoing ability to learn, to add on skills, to up-skill their current knowledge, and do so at a pace that matches the environment.  

The hiring process needs to emphasize the selection of an employee who can demonstrate the ability to personally manage many skills.  For example, hiring a strong and specialized Oracle database administrator may fit an organizational requirement.  Likely our interviews and selection process emphasize Oracle database management skills.  But really, to be successful, that DBA also has to be adept at managing modules that are installed on premise and modules operating in the cloud, managing e-mail, managing workload in a ticketing system, processing system downloads, communicating system needs to a VM / storage architect,  articulating identity management and login protocols, and reviewing firewall rules with a network security engineer, among other skills.

Let's review how baseball teams select players for whom they wish to trade.  Maybe a team manager starts by picking the position - like first base.  Sure, the team wants a .300 hitter and low error rate.  But when you read about it, they look for hitters that will have high hitting percentages in the particular home ballpark. Does the candidate bat better against left-handed or right-handed pitching? Management will look at how well that hitter hits in the post-season or at various positions in the batting order. Management may dig even deeper, looking at fielding percentages in different player-on-base scenarios.  And so it goes, digging deeper and deeper into the stats to see exactly which player is really the best fit.  

I'd like to get to a point where we know all the "specialized skills" and "deep skills" that we need in our IT organization.  Also, we should analyze technology directions requiring new or upgraded skills, and have that articulated into our skills inventory.  The skills inventory also needs to identify gaps and match gaps to hiring and training processes.    Our training programs need to be looking out and building training plans for each employee that builds added skills, not just replacement skills, into the future, filling gaps in our inventory.  Employees that can handle this level of adaptability over time and quickly respond with new skill building are going to be the valued team members.

I wonder if we can use our growing knowledge of analytics to managing knowledge as an IT organizational resource.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Creating the Agile and Nimble Organization

I have been thinking about the challenges we are facing in our colleges and universities, and how to build the teams and the IT organizations that are ready for future challenges.  Martin Ringle, CIO at Reed College, and I have chatted a little, and Marty extended an invitation to present and participate in a strategic discussion at the NorthWest Academic Computing Consortium (NWACC).  I accepted with pleasure; I thought the interaction with such a talented group of IT leaders would be inspirational (and it was).

Knowing that I needed to be ready was the best motivation to pull my ideas together.  First, all the talk about MOOCs and cloud computing had pushed the idea that our organizations need to change. There are many articles about higher ed IT being in a period of transformation; for example:

"A Transformative Period:  Is Higher Education IT Having an Identity Crisis?"  Grama, Joanna Lyn. EDUCAUSE Review Online, June 2013.
If we are indeed in a transformative period, a different organization model, one that is more nimble and agile (not to be confused with formal agile methodology), would be better equipped to be successful.   If that's so, what are the characteristics of an agile and nimble organization? How do we know when we have fully addressed those components?  I'm going to make that the focus of my blogging efforts for a while.

I started with a basic review of business literature and found these documents from the business world:
Blanchard, Stacy, Cheese, Peter, Silverstone, Yaarit, and Smith, David. (2009, October).  "Creating an Agile Organization". Outlook: The Journal of high-performing business. 
Project Management Institute. (2012). "Organizational Agility".  PMI's Pulse of the Profession.
Selingo, Jeffrey J. "Attitudes on Innovation: How College Leaders and Faculty See Key Issues Facing Higher Education," The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2013

The McKinsey Quarterly. (2006) "Building a nimble organization: A McKinsey Global Survey".  The McKinsey Quarterly.

The business world experienced this transformative state after the 2008 economic crisis.  The literature from that realm suggests the following response mechanisms as key success components:

  • Quick response to strategic opportunities
  • Shorter decision cycles
  • Focus on change and risk management
  • Integrating the customer voice
  • Building interdisciplinary project teams

From those readings and analyzing other general news comments, I've built the following list of components that I am calling the "Agility Resource Model":

These eight characteristics would represent the resources we need to manage if we are to create agile organizations.  The numbers, for now, are placeholders indicating an equal slice.  I am working on building a model behind the resource display that would allow an organizational leader to do some assessment and analyze how well leadership is addressing each of the eight resource factors.

Those who traditionally manage projects will recognize the time / people / money resources that are managed in any project.  But if we are creating organizations that need to be resilient and response in changing times, we cannot limit our thinking to those three resources.  Transformative periods, characterized by turbulence, instability, and ambiguous, unknown futures, require organizations to be nimble.   IT organizations need to present adaptability in addition to speed; they must be quick to adapt. We need to change tactics and direction quickly, and once headed in a direction, we need to maintain a fast pace.  We need to demonstrate responsiveness to impacts that will inevitably occur; we need to respond, not panic or succumb to being overwhelmed.

Over the next few weeks, I'll explore this topic in more depth.  As always, I appreciate your comments and feedback.

Friday, May 3, 2013

MOOCs: Campus Conversation

Another campus discussion is forming on MOOCs and our institution's role.  This is the story I am working on for our campus.
Discussion on the Educause CIO list indicates that CIOs have a lot to say about MOOCs and educational delivery through technology.  Many thoughtful ideas were shared as to whether MOOCs are disruptive technology or another avenue of pedagogical evolution.  Much discussion occurred about whether this is a technological issue or a pedagogical issue.   
I am drawn to recent comments from retiring NASA CIO Linda Cureton about her experiences learning about leadership from Gloria Parker, former HUD CIO:

  • There is the technical component like the enterprise architecture delivery.
  • There is a leadership component. You have to learn to interface with the executive ranks of the agency and balancing the demands of OMB with the mission.
  • There is the people component. You need to develop people skills to persuade, cajole and begs with folks to accomplish your agenda.  (1)

There is a technical component, a leadership component, and a people component to the MOOC discussion.  Governance processes are needed with the transition to MOOC delivery, just as with all our campus technology culture changes.  I note the best and brightest CIO minds shared a terrific amount of information that should be shared as our campuses look at new directions.  I took all of the CIO discussion to date and tried to turn statements and concerns into questions suitable for our academic leadership and governance mechanisms.  We have created a strong list of questions that can be used to open discussion.

Our questions:   

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Wireless Networking - Planning Shift

I'm working on how I will explain the wireless network expectations shift to my campus.  The following story is where I am starting.

Wireless networking was first implemented around 2000 as a service to fill gaps in locations that were underserved by wired networks, especially in the Residence Halls.  In early 2003, we developed a campus-wide wireless network plan. In 2003-2005, we completed expansions into Dodge Hall, Kresge Library, Pawley Hall and Elliott Hall.  By 2006, funding for expanding the wireless network was not available.  All funds were used to refresh or maintain the existing wireless network.  A proposal was submitted and approved for a base budget increase in June 2006.  This enabled a campus wireless network that met the requirements of coverage and roaming.  The wireless culture moved from a “gap provisioning” to a “coverage provisioning” model.  We stilled viewed the wireless network as a convenience and not the main business network, and security was handled to that lower standard.

Culture shift:
Today’s community expects shows a culture shift:
  •  Wireless must meet a standard of preferred access point, as a primary network, not just a convenience network.  The standard expects a client who is using the wireless for primary work, and not just for roaming access.
  • As a result, the current wireless network technology provider is no longer meeting service expectations, for us or other clients.   
  • Density to handle volume is expected, not just coverage.  We have an increasing number of requests, for example, for an entire classroom to access the same resources on the wireless at the same time.  Students are carrying more devices that connect, such as a smartphone and a tablet at the same time.  This translates into greater density, which means more wireless access points are needed in a space, and more capacity for traffic is required on the network backbone.
  • Those using Internet Native Banner are increasingly asking for the security to access Banner on the campus wireless network.  That capability is not currently available.  As departments buy more tablets and devices that do not have wired connections, we soon expect this to be a wireless network service requirement.
  • There are more requests for guest access, particularly for events.  This is currently in review with legal.  If we open the network to the community, that just puts more traffic burden on the network and increases the need for greater density.
  • The vision is “stadium density.”  Imagine 60,000 fans showing up at the Super Bowl, as happened this year, and all expecting to connect to the wireless network to access the same resources at approximately the same time.  While we likely will not have to match this standard, this is the vision we need to keep in mind.

Action Steps:
UTS completed a Request for Information from all key wireless vendors.  Based on the vendor responses, several vendors were invited to temporarily implement their product in the Oakland Center.  The results showed two product vendors met university requirements.  An RFP will soon be released to obtain pricing from those vendors.

Under the current university funding model, we will be able to annually replace 20 to 25% of the wireless footprint, as it existed in 2006.  We expect the new Engineering Building to be the first building with "stadium dense" wireless, meeting the community's expectation for wireless, and funded with the building fund. 

We do not have funding to accelerate the wireless network technology shift, including changing to a more robust platform and installing additional wireless access points.  We do not have funding for a technology refresh in the Human Health Building in 2017-2018.   The result will be a growing gap between the provisioned level of wireless network service and the service level expectations of students, faculty, and staff using the wireless network.   

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Benchmarking, Trending, and Inspiration

Have you ever followed Bill Cunningham in the New York Times?  You can read about him here:  New York Times - Bill Cunningham On the Street

His life story fascinates me.  Cunningham is a photographer.  He mostly takes something that might be called fashion photography, but I would call it art photography.  He moves through the city of New York looking for fashion trends.  I have to say that carefully.  He isn't given an assignment like "Take photos of red coats" and then he looks for red coats to photograph.  He studies and watches and observes until the trend emerges before his camera.  He seeks inspiration from the visual world he sees on the street.  There's a terrific documentary about his work.

Cunningham started his life's work as a photographer on the street during World War II.  He still bicycles around the city and his photos gather attention.  You can watch current video clips with him narrating what he is seeing:

So much of what we talk about in information technology centers around analytics and data trends.  There is much discussion about looking to our data to find trends, and to benchmark where we are compared to our peers.  There is certainly a value to using the past and our data in order to understand the road we travel.  We need data analytics to inform our decisions.

Bill Cunningham inspires us to look around ourselves, and to be intensely observant.  He doesn't gather data about how many red coats are purchased, and then go out to take photographs about red coats.  His is not a data-driven endeavor.  There certainly is a value for merchandisers to track data that way, but observational trends add value to that discussion, particularly if you want to be creative and forward-thinking.

We need to observe details around us.  Trends happen right in front of us, if we pay attention.  We can't lose sight of what is around us and in front of us.  What paths do our students choose to walk right now?  What classes are they taking now?  What are they telling us?  We can be inspired to find links and connections in what is happening now.  This is the creative edge and allowing ourselves the time to observe, synthesize, and connect details is inspirational and motivational, as we try to invent our technology future.