Those of us on the vendor side of the IT business can sometimes despair.
All the great technology we work so hard to bring to market meets the stark reality of IT organizations unprepared to leverage what the technology can now do.
But, within the gloom, I occasionally get to meet a customer who is reasonably prepared to move forward to the next logical step in their journey.
And it gives me hope that we as vendors might be doing a few things right after all :-)
Sizing Each Other Up
When I get in front of a customer or partner group, it's inevitable that we size each other up. They're trying to figure out what I'm all about, and I'm trying to calibrate them as well.
I have no idea of what they think about me initially. I don't spend too much time worrying about that; I'm spending all my cycles trying to figure them out as quickly as possible.
I've fallen into using a three-part metric to assess an organization's IT function.
- How mature/advanced is their technology infrastructure?
- How mature/advanced are their organizational and operational processes?
- How engaged is IT with the business?
You've got to light all three categories for me to relax and really get into the fun stuff. Well, I had a great session this morning with a great EMC customer who was at the high end of the spectrum in all three regards.
And now they wanted to move things forward.
This company is in the transportation infrastructure business. I quickly realized that much of their thinking about IT infrastructure reflected their core business in some positive and not-so-positive ways.
They are "all in" on VMware and server virtualization. If one would map them to the three-phase model I tend to use, they're at the very end of phase 2 (virtualizing business critical applications and re-wiring IT operations) and were ready to seriously consider phase 3 -- running IT as an internal service provider.
They use a predominance of EMC technology and services throughout (thank you, as always), so their technology infrastructure was relatively both advanced and mature/stable. Good.
As I probed as to how the organization was structured, more good news.
Although they hadn't done a lot of IT process redesign (and associated organizational/role redesign), they were all working together as team. I didn't see any signs of the usual us-vs-them boundaries and behaviors that frequently arise in larger IT organizations. In a nutshell, they were collaborating well together to overcome the differences between traditional IT and newer ways of doing things.
And -- yes -- they were completely aligned and engaged with the business.
During the first intro session, the senior IT VP took us all through their business model at a conceptual level, and how that translated into a shift in IT priorities. All very logical and sensible. Not only that, there was clear evidence of "blurring of boundaries" between what IT did and what the business did -- everyone was largely on the same team.
I am rapidly growing to dislike IT vendor employees (from any company!) who think that their mission in life is to make their tiny bit of the technology seem incredibly relevant, and that all others suck.
A few in our industry have largely shifted our viewpoints to the customer's journey -- and how we can help.
My job, then, was to show them how we could help them on their journey. I use EMC IT's example to compare and contrast experiences -- in some cases, they're doing stuff better than we are, in some cases the opposite is true. It's not about being right or wrong, it's about learning from each other.
We ended up talking mostly about three big ideas, and how these concepts could move them farther and faster.
As an IT team, they freely acknowledged that they were starting to work together in new and different ways (good) but hadn't really thought through what that all meant, and reinforcing the transition with a more formal structure.
I presented a quick schema of how we were doing it internally in our own IT group, the rationale for doing so, and the pros and cons we had experienced so far. I don't know if they're going to move in this direction, but it was a fun back-and-forth debate about people, roles, careers, evolution, etc.
Stepping Off The Ledge Of IT-As-A-Service
When I got into the IT-as-an-internal-service-provider and moving towards a self-service model where IT isn't in the loop as much, the room split along predictable lines. A few people at the table saw this as important, and a few were very vocal that this was complete and utter madness.
I reframed the discussion as "how might you get from where you are to where you want to be" rather than debating the merits of the idea itself. Bottom line: proficient users are going to want to consume IT as a service, and they'll eventually work with anyone who can do that for them -- internal or external.
I presented the model that EMC IT was using -- quarterly "drops" to the business of incremental *aaS functionality -- infrastructure as a service, platform as a service, shared bus apps as a service, and "experience as a service (desktop).
What I admired about the model is the fast-cycle iteration that allowed progress to be made -- and parallel maturation on both the IT *and* the business side on how to best use this stuff without blowing things up.
I don't know if I convinced everyone -- but there was considerable less agitation in the room afterwards.
And -- Yep -- Vblocks
They hadn't heard what we were doing around Vblocks. Turns out that their architecture guys had sort of put together their own version of pre-integrated infrastructure along the same lines, and were pleased with the results.
I then asked them if they wanted to continue doing that sort of work on their own, or if they'd prefer to consume it pre-integrated and supported as a whole. Trick question, I know.
Given their geography, I was able to rattle off a few service providers that were standing up compatible Vblock infrastructure, which gave them some interesting new options on capex/opex tradeoffs.
Lots and lots of questions. Frankly, they struck me as ready for this sort of thing. I think they were intrigued, to say the least :-)
And A Few More Surprises
It's amazing how conventional wisdom gets turned on its head when you start meeting IT organizations that really have their act together.
For example, there's good market data that most IT organizations are seriously concerned about security and related issues when considering external services. Well, I'd argue that there's a strong correlation between IT organizational maturity (along the lines outlined above) and being concerned about this issue.
If you've got good infrastructure, good process and a good relationship with the business -- security shouldn't be a major concern when considering external service providers. It can be managed effectively just like any other concern -- and I've got several customer examples as proof.
However, if you don't have good infrastructure, good process and a good relationship with the business -- yep, you should be concerned about that -- and a whole bunch of other things as well :-)
Of course, they came armed with a thoughtful list of areas where EMC could improve going forward. I thanked them for that list, and strongly encouraged them not to be shy about putting their list in front of us early and often.
We depend on vocal customers to get better at what we do. It's not a pleasant conversation always, but it's vitally important.
That being said -- they went out of our way to praise us as a shining example of what IT vendors should aspire to be -- true partners. I thanked them, and gave the credit where I thought it really belonged -- the EMC sales and support team who are dedicated to their success.
And that sort of made my day ...