Thursday, January 15, 2009
The Case for Good Process During Economic Downturns
You Can Only Afford Bad or No Processes When You Have Lots of Cash!
A couple of years ago during the height of the Dot-com tech bubble I remember an interesting conversation I had with a Sr. Manager of an online investment firm. We were discussing (I was selling) the need for formal and repeatable processes for IT Management in light of the obvious dependency of their business model on robust, secure and reliable IT services. Thinking that this gentleman of all people should understand this requirement in that millions of dollars of financial transactions a day were supported by the services he managed I expected him to readily agree with a hearty Amen.
However, to my surprise he looked me in the eye and said “We don’t have time or money for bureaucracy. We have built our IT systems with plenty of excess capacity and with fail over redundancy at all points of potential failure.” It was at that moment in my career that I realized that an organization can buy themselves protection/insurance from bad or total lack of process!
Over the years I have seen this fact represented in many ways:
- Multiple Service Desks all with their own tools and separate processes
- Massive amounts of wasted server capacity due to a lack of capacity and demand management
- Redundant and duplicate IT Management tools being purchased by various IT departments in the same organization
- Shadow IT groups and stealth data centers being built by “independent” parts of the business
- Multiple Change Management Processes due to political boundaries
- A willingness to solve the same incidents 1000’s of times without looking at the root of the problem
- Losing track of 10’s of thousands of dollars of IT assets due to poor tracking controls and inventory processes
- Supplier contracts expiring without knowledge until an incident occurs
- A willingness to supply multiple / duplicate versions of the same services
- The loss of massive amounts of business productivity due to Incident tickets which disappear into the IT back office black hole until someone shouts loud enough
- The total lack of ability to provide visibility into the cost of an IT Service
- The list goes on…....
The sad truth of the matter is that when times are good we don’t really look at waste in the same way. The concept of “Green” only becomes important when we run out of the resources we have taken for granted. History shows us that during times of duress and general lack of disposable funds we look hard at where we can trim the fat and find inefficiencies. (We don’t have to look too far)
We have only to look back at the last deep recession to see the very same pattern. Many of the readers of this blog may remember when quality was the buzzword of the day in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Significant effort was put into quality initiatives and the study of the Japanese manufacturing model that was eating the lunch of the US Auto and Electronics industry. (Another déjà vu)
Many organizations established quality/efficiency departments and Tiger Teams to address the issues facing the failing economy and days of double digit interest rates. So where was IT during this time of cost cutting and head count reduction? We were safely ensconced in the glass room with our lab coats and pocket protectors secure in the knowledge that we represented the future hope of the business. At this point in our history IT controls and processes were deeply entrenched and no one touched the mainframe without filling out paper work in triplicate. Costs were clearly understood and visible to all concerned.
Of course it was shortly after this that we saw the rise of the distributed IT empire when everyone and anyone could buy their own mini-mainframes (servers) and personal computers. With this new found freedom from the glass room culture went most of the controls and processes. The IT buying spree reached its pinnacle in 1999 with the Y2K party and with the dawn of the new century the economy got even stronger. Throughout the last two decades we have continued to build, buy and hire without strong governance structures, long term plans or financial goals other than “spend your budget or else you won’t get as much next year.”
Now however we have come full circle, resources are scarce and cost savings is once again the primary topic around the office water cooler. Perhaps it is time to realize that we can no longer afford excess capacity, redundancy and inefficient processes. If this is true, I predict a rise of interest in quality, Continual Service Improvement and a realization that going “Green” also means reducing waste in delivering IT services and the processes that are critical for their efficient delivery.
For a related article on this topic take a look at the post: Balancing Process Formality With Innovation
Troy’s Thoughts What Are Yours?
”Waste neither time nor money, but make the best use of both. Without industry and frugality, nothing will do, and with them everything.” ~ Benjamin Franklin