Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Policy and Legislation - greasing the wheels or a slipper slide to demise

I was reading the Washington Regulatory Update this week, and being a member of the ISACA Government and Regulatory Agencies subcommittee region three, we are exposed to movements in legislation re IT Governance in Europe, Middle East and Africa. There's a huge amount of activity at the moment, from changes at Basel, the Dodd- Frank Act et al.

For what it's worth, my pennies worth, or rather a word of caution. We must be very careful that we don't promulgate legislation and policy (even at business and professional level) that stifles the very source of capitalism it's designed to protect. There must be a balance. I'm concerned that we are striking a balance too far to one end of the pendulum. What happens when business is stifled and unemployment rises. Do we review what was put in place and then have an epiphany in the other direction. i.e. for the greater good...... which was probably the reason why we did it in the first place! At least this is why we hope this is being done, but sometimes one can't help but feel that it's political grandstanding.

Unfortunately, there's a very real fundamental that lawmakers seem to miss. The presense of policy and law does not make the problem go away or make companies and shareholders ethical. The real threat of consequence should be the kicker!!

At the same time, Boards and Management need to knuckle down and deal with the fundamentals- good sustainable business. If you're rotten, you deserve to get left in the orchard.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Making Time for the green.

I was at a conference recently and a topic of conversation revolved around the implementation of a control framework. A couple of the delegates indicated that they would not have time to implement this as it was more important to "do" other stuff like delivering service, adding value. I was shocked to say the least. It's tantamount to going on holiday without planning. Let's all get in the car and go - Where you may ask?, doesn't matter, we're busy "doing"

It's this same attitude that causes the downfall of so many companies - we must be seen to do stuff, but we don't have the time to ensure that what we are doing, is the right thing. The C-Suite must take the time and effort to ensure that controls are in place, be it a formal structure, Performance Management, business plan or strategy. It's ludicrous to not do so. This should not be an option.

Do a formal corporate review annually - take a page out of the mergers and acquisitions handbook, a good due diligence can really raise the issues to the forefront. If you're going to debate, at least debate the most pertinent issues, and make sure that these get resolved within an agreed time frame. Make and hold someone accountable. It's all a question of sustainability. Imagine if we played golf like we run some businesses. We'd never get onto the green.

Strategy for Nova Scotia

I've recently started a new service to member of the NS Association of CBD's in Nova Scotia, offering free high level advice on strategy and business direction - specifically through the Greater Halifax Partnership. You can contact me directly or through the Association. Obviously, should detailed strategic plans and business review be required, a nominal fee will be charged.
I'm also available on Skype, and video/teleconferencing.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Leadership in tough times - should it be different?

There are a number of articles recently that expound the theory that the current global meltdown requires new leadership at company level. What does this imply, that the current leadership was inadequate? Then who is to blame? Is this a valid argument?

I do believe that different management styles are required dependent on the maturity of the organisation, but this does not mean that the same management mentality must be pervasive throughout the organisation. You need to have a situation where a portion of the executive team tends toward a level 6 management style with an even balance through the rest.

Some need to innovate, some need to strategise, some need to be conservative, some need to be pragmatic and so forth. Irrespective of the economy, the organisation needs to remain sustainable and deliver to shareholder expectations. A good leader recognises this and guides and balances this team dynamic.

Why the sudden focus on cost optimisation, working capital and cashflow management, the mad scramble for customer retention in the form of innovation and close relationship management etc etc . This is company management 101, and should always be applied and the benefits maximised. If this was not done automatically, then you have the wrong management.

When the markets tough, the above just becomes tougher, not something we suddenly wake up to do to "save" the company..

So, should leadership change? I think not. Just lead in the right direction. There is no such thing as a leader for War and a leader for Peace. Leadership transcends management style. Leaders show the way in tough times, and give the the glory to others when the going gets good. Its what we do.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

2 Web or not 2 Web - What was the question?

Just the concept of Web 2.0 and the Employee 2.0 must drive the average CIO up the wall. A recent article on ATLANTA, GA, Jan 09 (MARKET WIRE) -- The growing popularity of so-called Web 2.0 sites is proportionally increasing the risk of malware attacks and data leakage for companies that allow employees to access social networking sites through corporate computers. "Web 2.0 sites are vital to those we're calling 'Employee 2.0' -- the next generation of employees entering the workforce that expect the technology they grew up with and routinely use to be part of their working environment," said Steve Sheinbaum, VP of Americas for Marshal. "While managers and senior employees might not think of text chat as a vital part of their lives, young employees probably can't live without it, which means that companies are now facing decisions about their corporate culture and security with Employee 2.0 in mind."

So where's the business rationale in all this. I'm inundated with calls to have access to this site and that technology and this latest gimmick blah blah blah! Where did the business sense go? The article above neglects to address the question - will this make the business better, will it give a better return to the shareholders?, give us competitive advantage? gives us long term sustainability?

New technology must have a place in the business fabric, but unless it serves a business purpose or addresses a business requirement, why have it. The challenge of course for the CIO and CTO, is to take that intuitive leap forward to find that reason. You have to lead from the front!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Strategy & Leadership - removing the hype

The views on strategy range from alignment (Passive following adherence) to transformation ("strategic" intervention). Strategy and the formulation of it have become such a hyped process that senior executives are paralyzed into inaction.

I'm not going to labour the point on what strategy is, or what makes it good or bad. It's really a pragmatic approach to what is in essence a bunch of simple questions:

  • What are the shareholders expectations?
  • Is what you are doing now sustainable, or is what you are going to be doing in the future radically different ( for whatever reason - market forces, new technology, competitors, divestment, integration etc)? - don't whitewash the reality.
  • Put it on the table - not the solution, just the facts of where you are now, and where you want to be ( a combination of short, medium and long term goals)
Get you executive team to put their experience together and create a workable plan to get you there. It doesn't have to be perfect. We all fall into the trap of trying to create the perfect strategic plan, when it is in fact a living, breathing process, adapting and adjusting to change.
What you don't know (the gaps), get your professional staff to fill in, i.e. what process needs to be developed , would new technology be required, is it going to change the way you market, are you're customers going to be interacting with you differently? etc.
Don't discount the use of tried and true basics, adapt if you must, but don't have a knee jerk.
Make the time with your executive team to actively engage and set in motion the plans to make the strategy come true. Do it! I'm sure I'm not the only executive that has attended strategy workshops and seen little or no action come from them (Its all about strong leadership here) and ensuring the operations are being dealt with by competent staff, and allowing the executive to get on with making the future happen.
If things change, as they will, have the maturity to change with it, you can't predict the future nor is it likely you will sail straight to the goal. A little bit of tacking will be required. At least you will be reaching your destination.
Having a "good" strategy and doing nothing, equals a "bad" strategy with lots of activity. The saving grace of the latter is that there is at least a chance that you will recognise your errors and fix them as you proceed.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tactical Business Intelligence - its about fit and choice

CIO's often face ongoing criticism about technology services, the "IT doesn't give me what I want" versus the " But its designed to do it this way - best practice" syndrome. So who's fault is this, and what can be done to remedy the disparity in view points, as obviously this is a road to knowhere?

There is no one size fits all approach to business intelligence. Perhaps I have a more simplistic, practical view (don't underestimate the complexity behind delivering "simple") of the approach to BI. I've spent a lot of time with the executive team in defining the requirements, but at this level, the focus appears to be limited to historical results. A well presented Balance Sheet offers no value in terms of proactive management, it is what it is.

So when you start exploring the alternatives and asking "What would be the key things that if you knew them, would make a fundamental difference to you ability to respond proactively?", you see the blank stares. Its not easy. What is that prescient feeling that senior executives develop over time to say " there’s something wrong here" to be proved correct on further investigation? How do you translate that into tactical business intelligence?

At one stage of my career I could walk through an industrial plant and sense quite clearly if there was a problem. I've developed the same sense over the years with IT infrastructure and delivery, and reading financial statements. If something doesn't gel, I follow my gut instinct. I’m not often wrong.

You have to develop an early warning system at tactical level, sensors as to the quality of business you are doing now, in real terms. You can’t rely on history to trigger proactive management. What these will be are dependent on the type of business you manage, but here’s a clue – put yourself back in the position where you were at operational level. Try and remember the challenges you had, the information you would have killed for to make you job easier, that little bit of advance notice that would give you the edge. If you can do this, you’re on the right track.

An example of this in a service environment would be a “potential late delivery” sent out as an email of flashed to a website/ dashboard/ display. Perhaps this is not so simple, as it does imply you have the right data in place to do this i.e. lead times, routings, capacity planning etc. This is in all likelihood the source of the issue – no basics in place.

As I said before, simple tactical reporting is not simple, it requires a level of operational capability that to a large degree has been diluted through apathy and neglect. Companies that have a solid core of operational professionals are well aware of this secret.

In conclusion, Tactical BI=solid operational core, this is where you get the value. Executive dashboards are exactly that, dashed.