Connected intelligence for stable, accelerated change

Consider, "Change before you have to" versus "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." While it might seem trite, it's the reality of the tension faced by the modern executive. It's the ultimate catch-22, acknowledging that the promise of progress is inevitable and unpredictable, while the desire (and sometimes pressure) to maintain stability and control is paramount, out of fear the cure is worse than the disease. 


The former pithy quote most often attributed to former GE CEO "Neutron" Jack Welch, reflecting the pressures we're all under to anticipate the needs of the customer and stay ahead of the adversary. The call to action is a simple one, essentially calling to disrupt rather than be disrupted. For certain types (for example, me!) it's a motivating call-to-action that immediately fills my mind with the possibilities of tomorrow. It also reflects the reality that nothing stays still for long - pity the poor Kodak disrupted by the digital technology it helped create, ironically even Kodak's digital nemesis such as Flip, Nortel and potentially even Blackberry/RIM. However that represents one side of the debate.


My more operationally-minded colleagues immediately react more cautiously with questions reflecting their professional measures, and frankly, their personal sensibilities. "We just got the service stable, a change will require a lot of time to review, can we do this in a month? We're already stretched for resources, where will the people money comes from? How do we protect the existing quality of service? What if the new idea fails to take off? Can you guarantee no additional security risks? How do we prove compliance given the complexity of our systems?"


Sound familiar? I haven't chosen those questions randomly, they are all asked by IT professionals every day (if you're not hearing these questions, WORRY!). The modern enterprise exists in a world where technology and software in particular are no longer just services supporting the enterprise, they define it. With a software defined enterprise's systems being both interconnected and interdependent, the above questions highlight the fear we have of breaking something that's become so inherently complex. As a result, change often grinds to a halt, legacy systems are not modernised, technical debt mounts, agility and innovation become costly and painful. 


Personally, I blame Adam Smith. Given he's not been alive for 200 years, you might think it's unfair to attack the work of the English gentleman responsible for penning "An Inquiry into the Nature and Cause of the Wealth of Nations," but it's the slavish devotion to the principals outlined in "On the Division of Labor" that I think has caused the most headache for change in this modern world. The idea of specialising work centres is nothing new, it generally helps to drive down costs and improve competence. However, over specialisation and excessive controls can also increase hand-offs. 


A hand-offs in this case is an activity transferred between people or works centres for further value adding. Hand-offs are a direct consequence of specialisation or because of internal controls. Because they typically involve the imperfect transfer of knowledge, hand-offs introduce errors and time delays that drive up work-in-progress, that is, unless we introduce a system of Connected Intelligence.


A key principal of Connected Intelligence is that we should be able to utilise Big Data and advanced automation to service customers faster, improve costs and reduce internal and external risks. A well designed system of Connected Intelligence:

  • corrects errors at the root-cause (reducing rework)
  • improves customer service by reducing variability
  • critically it also reduces the number of hand-offs.

To build a system of Connected Intelligence for the New Style of IT, I recommend using the principles first documented by "Re-engineering the Corporation" authors Michael Hammer and James Champy, specifically:

  • combine several work centers into one where possible (think DevOps)
  • empower employee to make decisions (do you REALLY need to have a CAB meeting for every change?)
  • ensure steps in the process are performed in their natural order (think addressing application security defects during development rather than in QA) 
  • understand that processes might need multiple versions (think Waterfall and Agile)
  • perform the work where it makes the most sense (operations teams should not be fixing developer defects)
  • reduce checks and controls (again, do you REALLY need to wait a week for the next CAB meeting if the QA team have run their regression tests across an automated deployment and signed off the change?)
  • embrace hybrid centralised/decentralised operations (for example HP's Service Integration and Management)

and most importantly:

  • make sure that a case manager provides a single point of contact (don't make the customer work for you!)

For a great example of the thinking and architectures behind Connected Intelligence for stable, accelerated change there's some great resources at HP's Power to Change website as well as looking into HP's IT4IT initiative and finally Charlie Betz great Lean4IT blog.


What's stopping you from having the power to change? 


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About the Author
Paul Muller leads the global IT management evangelist team within the Software business at HP. In this role, Muller heads the team responsib...

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