Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Of Consultants and Templates

Reams have been written about challenges faced by CIOs to manage their IT Infrastructure, to justify IT expenditure to end users, to enable increased responsiveness, availability, effectiveness of their IT Infrastructure.

IT serves, as its customer, internal users and external world including clients, suppliers, and investors among others. The CIO and her team responsible for uptime and performance of their IT infrastructure needs to meet service levels for all these stakeholders.

The expectations of the CIO from organizations providing IT services include a mix of enabling meeting operational goals leading to operational excellence and the service provider being able to add value by advising on industry best practices, technology investments, future roadmaps, automation among others.

The CIO looks at a balanced offering, value for spend and of course demonstrated technology leadership from the service provider.

More often than not, the service providers read CIOs wrong, that their decision to partner is determined solely by price for meeting SLAs. Service providers are also often biased by their own strengths and experience in providing service to other organizations.

It is a well known fact that no two organizations are the same; yes they might be similar, in that they would be structured similarly, would have similar service level requirements. But all organizations differ from a culture standpoint, and how that culture affects their internal processes. if this were not the case, all organizations which have certified to standards should have been identical. Two organization which would have implemented say ITIL or ISO900(1 or 2), producing identical goods, serving identical end client markets should be therefore identical. How many identical twins have we seen in the enterprise world?

Service providers are often lead to believe, erroneously, that their template driven approach, best practices for an industry can be retrofitted exactly to different organizations in the same industry, and even sometimes across industries or verticals. This is not true.

The needs of each organization has to be assessed afresh, a value proposition prepared afresh and solutions, best practices, tools, templates aligned afresh.
Yes, it is critical to have an understanding of the vertical market and domain that the client operates in, to be able to undertake the right assessment, to be able to ask the right questions and processes to analyze. But even with deep domain understanding, each organization has to be viewed as a fresh case.

Templates and checklists are all tools which assist thinking but should not direct thinking and analysis.

Experts in IT service companies easily fall into the template trap and attempt to bake each fresh engagement using their cookie cutters. This is especially true when a service provider wants to maximize its consultants’ bill time by taking on a larger number of assignments across the year. They come in with their tried and tested checklists and tables, meet a few representatives from the IT organization, a few users, interview the CIO, and then spend a lot of time force fitting their observations into pre-defined templates. Something akin to squeezing yourself in your old tight jeans, even if you are pouring out at places. IT service companies need to take a custom tailoring approach.

They seldom use the concept of ‘voice of the customer’ so effectively used by Japanese automotive companies where they ‘listen’ to their customers views and observations and then analyze them to come up with requirements.

In several IT services providers’ template driven world, requirements are available on the template and symptoms are searched to match the requirements, observed symptom A, tick in box row 3 column 1 of the excel spreadsheet!

Seldom do consultants let CIOs or users express what they exactly need, what are their expectations and then deduce or analyze. Most Q&A sessions are close ended, which is good from speed and turnaround perspective but not great from effectiveness point of view.

One reason is also that CIOs and clients want quick results, their next appraisal is due – either by their CEO or of the quarterly appraisal of the organization by the wall street!

If realistic needs had been captured in the first place, there was no need for clients to engage consultants afresh after every few years. At least the needs would be captured and clear, a roadmap drawn and base-lined which could then be delivered by one or more IT service providers. Technology and tools could evolve to more efficiently deliver to meet the needs and could be refreshed or implemented over several years, but the plan at least would have been there.

Conclusion: Consultants need to be flexible, listen, use templates but not be exclusively dependent on them!

More in my next post.

© Copyright 2007


Blogger Manish said...

good article

3:45 AM  

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