Conclusion: The quality and precision of variables used in a plan will decide the fate of any plan. Variables come in many forms: sales, market trends, technological enhancements and so on.

Practical issues, such as the size of any given budget in a plan, may also influence and qualify the variables. Limitations on available resources may influence decisions to account for all relevant variables.

For example, the existing status of technology, or if a competitor has succeeded to your cost, could yield more realistic and sharper variables for planning.

All variables must be included in a general or master, plan, or in the appendix to it. The reason is straightforward, as it will indicate the thought process used to develop the plan and why. This level of information will also assist in subsequent iterations because the elements are discernible.

Two straightforward techniques can improve planning:

  • 1. Review past plans and the logic that gave those plans coherence.
  • 2. Cluster the variables of your current planning so that the relationship between them and net effect of one versus the other is clear.

By doing so the thought processes within the plan should be focused to everyone involved in the process.

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Last month we introduced the concept of a vendor management program. We noted that most mid-size organisations do not consider the full life cycle of product selection; instead, they tend to focus on purchase price alone. IT acquisitions are usually made by the IT department in isolation, without the proper insight of the business requirements and with the primary focus being on "speeds and feeds," price and the ability of a vendor to deliver a solution quickly. This month we provide a framework for the process.

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One of the most difficult dilemmas an IS project manager or CIO is likely to face is what steps should be taken when the client will not accept a proven technical solution, e.g. because she claims acceptance will compromise her ability to meet her performance criteria set by the CEO.  

While the ‘crash or crash through' approach is tempting, it is risky. Pursuing it is likely to bruise everyone involved. Another option, which is to go to the CEO to get the matter resolved, is not politically astute. In most firms it is lore that asking the CEO to resolve an impasse is viewed as failure.

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Conclusion: In his book Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin argued ‘that it is neither the strongest, nor the most intelligent but most responsive to change that survive'.   Over the last four decades we have seen many species of IT professionals rise to lofty heights briefly prosper and then rapidly become extinct.  If you are of the Genus IT Darwin's theory of evolution is critical to your career.

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Conclusion: Channel strategy has become more complex with a range of options and better means of reaching various markets. The mobile phone is already a powerful tool and with the onset of more applications could emerge as the next, most discrete, channel in relationship management.

Changes will not occur overnight, but managers ought to look ahead to the next twelve months for options that are suitable to their organisation. This channel may be an effective one, replacing mail and leaflets, for both business and government, including local councils.

A plan to consider the mobile as a CRM tool should, at this stage, examine:

  • 1. Current channels and options and the cost of delivering them to see whether they can or ought to be changed.
  • 2. The aptness of emerging applications and how they might be adapted.

With the market reach of the mobile phone a strategy should be identified soon to take advantage of the channel.

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A monthly review of all of the sourcing activity

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Conclusion: The rise in number of niche vendors offering budgeting software (at detailed level) might lead the uninitiated to conclude that spread sheet software, such as MS Excel or Lotus123, which is typically used for budgeting and planning has passed its ‘use by date'. This conclusion is premature and ignores the widespread use of spreadsheets, which still have their place. Nevertheless, their use needs to be controlled to minimise business risks. Failure to do so could be career limiting.

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The management of software assets, particularly Microsoft software, has always been an issue for us, much in common with most organisations I suspect. While we have been nibbling away at the edges for sometime, the company structure and politics have consistently been a major stumbling block, and it has only been in the past twelve months that we have made any significant progress.

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Conclusion: IBRS strongly believes that Australian Mid Sized organisations must begin to actively manage their dealings with their business partners, suppliers and customers. At the same time, they must deal with staffing and budgets that are not keeping pace with the ever-growing requirements of their IT infrastructures. A top priority must be to find ways to decrease the total cost of ownership of IT infrastructures and to minimise staffing requirements. Being able to consistently select the right vendors and products will be essential to achieving this goal.

Many of our clients report that they are not satisfied with the relationships that they have with the IT vendors and consultants they have selected. Poor post-purchase relationship management seems to be as much to blame as actual selection and negotiation process.

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During 2002 it was becoming increasingly evident that our data integrity processes, in particular on our project sites, were inadequate and we were considerably exposed should the loss of a mission critical server occur.

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Conclusion: Very few organisations have effective ICT strategic planning processes resulting in a poor return of investment for ICT assets and missed business opportunities. 

Do not confuse ICT strategic plans with technical ICT plans.  ICT strategic plans are business oriented and focus on the future systems portfolio and its contribution to future business priorities.  Technical ICT plans simply focus on the technology investments an organisation needs to make over time.  A technology plan will be just one of many deliverables from an effective ICT strategic plan.

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Small and midsize companies have, so far, mostly postponed investment in CRM solutions because of their complexity, their cost and dubious return on investment. Now, with Microsoft in the fray alongside Salesforce.com and others like them with their online deployment models, SME''s have a better range from which to choose and should be planning how they can take advantage of more affordable solutions

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A monthly review of all of the sourcing activity

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Conclusion: Managers working in a steady state environment, with few major successes and unexceptionable performance metrics, generally struggle to engage their peers at monthly operating performance meetings.

The problem is compounded when peers, who operate in a high profile environment, are able to actively engage the audience at the monthly meeting using attractively presented performance metrics, accompanied by streaming video footage material.

What can managers, including CIOs, who struggle to engage their peers, do to turn the situation around and earn the commendation of the meeting?

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In April new Federal anti-spam legislation will ban local spammers from operating; otherwise they could face penalties of over a million Australian dollars a day. According to the Coalition Against Unsolicited Bulk E-mail, the purpose of putting this legislation in place is to stop spammers, and make Australia appear credible when looking to other countries to adopt the same type of law.

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Conclusion: Search engine marketing is increasingly the critical edge of online marketing. With the predominance of Google as the preferred search engine around the world - some estimates assert that up to 80% of all searches are via Google - the power of that single engine to determine the marketing position of a company is influenced by this conduit. Obtaining the top results in a search has inspired strong competition from Web marketers. As Google is a fixture for online marketing, avoiding or ignoring it altogether, is unrealistic

What makes the problem of Google's ‘gateway' for Web searches perplexing for managers responsible for the content on the company's website, is how Google affects the potential value of other marketing and promotional activities.

Managers can instigate minor but effective modifications to their websites and tactical promotions in the following two ways:

1. Change the site so that it is receptive to Google's criteria
2. Re-examine, and if necessary change the links and connections with other sites so that it boosts the popularity of your own site.

These small changes may help improve website rankings and produce a marginal improvement in overall return from online marketing activity by attracting greater numbers to your site.

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Conclusion: This paper argues that managing staff with outdated skills and removing poor performers are the real resourcing problems facing many IT managers.   

IT managers must take personal responsibility for staffing and skills management. All of the valuable staff in the IT area are relying on YOU the IT manager to deal with poor performers and unaligned skills. Working with poor performers frustrates good staff and drives them out of your organisation. You’re their only hope! Don’t let them down or they will leave.

IT managers need to look at four key techniques for developing the right skills mix in their organisations. These are the new team strategy, re-skill staff to leave, re-skill staff to stay, and termination.

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Conclusion: When making the decision to invest in wireless, managers are presented with economic arguments from suppliers. Examining the variety of case studies* reveals that not all the arguments are valid, and this fact should not be significant, because not all decisions, should be, or are based on economic grounds.

Indeed, the case for a wireless solution in enterprises may be impelled by the same tacit logic of fashion. In other words, as more companies adopt it, perhaps even for purely financial and logical reasons, the spread of the technology becomes more compelling. If that line of argument appears fanciful, it is the same reason why the DVD is so popular, and in fact, one of the background causes as to how the PC took hold in companies, twenty years ago.

To assess whether to join the wireless movement or not, managers can simply do two things.

  1. Survey similar sized companies and organisations that have adopted it.

  2. Discount the putative efficiency benefit from any calculation of ROI in a short-term period, say the first year.

Widespread adoption of technology arises from network effects; in essence, because your competitors are doing it, there is a justifiable reason to do likewise.

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Conclusion: In an ideal world the business case report recommending the organisation invest in a business solution (systems, business processes and workplace change) should act as the cornerstone on which the ensuing project(s) proceeds. If the report is coherent, well researched and presents a credible picture of the future, all stakeholders can use it to guide their actions.

While many organisations have templates of the typical business case report, compliance is no guarantee of quality.

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The importance of aligning IT outsourcing decisions with business strategies rather than cost alone is recognised. However, companies may still fall short of achieving expected benefits if the definition of current and future goals is too narrow. Adopting a value-driven approach to outsourcing requires an understanding of both business goals and how a supplier can help to meet an organisation’s strategic objectives – the IT’s value to the organisation.

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The basic concepts underlying on demand outsourcing, or purchasing IT services on a consumption-based pricing model, make it an attractive option for buyers. On demand outsourcing is a growing trend that is touted as a simple, more cost effective and strategically oriented sourcing solution. However, technical immaturity and lack of clarity regarding the precise nature of this sourcing option increases the potential complexities and risks associated with adopting it. A consumption-based pricing model is focused on activities, rather than technologies. Organisations incorporating such a model into its sourcing strategy must therefore make an assessment of potential benefits and hidden barriers to success that clearly defines the buyer’s goals and correlates these goals to services offered by vendors.

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Conclusion: Understanding the future would obviously give everyone a real competitive edge, or at the very least reduce wastage and efforts in the wrong direction. Forecasting is intended to reduce risk but the quality of forecasts is the key to getting something useful from them. That statement may seem simplistic but many forecasts do not use standard methodologies, or even methodologies that are clear to an outside observer. For anyone using forecasts to build plans and investments, the forecast should meet two conditions:

  1. Use a clear and transparent methodology with data that is verifiable and from known sources, and:

  2. A forecast model that contains more than one outcome, because a range of possible outcomes within the confines of the forecast, may be more realistic given the variable forces operating in a market.

Unless a forecast meets the two conditions outlined above, what ought to be a powerful instrument with which to organise strategy, is just a scrap of paper.

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Changing business processes and systems to comply with legislative requirements is a major hidden cost in the public and private sector. Ironically, it is also one of the least referenced in the research literature.

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Conclusion: Without a proven framework that reflects the true value of each system in their portfolio IT managers and business unit managers run the risk of incorrectly prioritising new ICT investments and inappropriately identifying the risks associated with these investments.

To gain a clearer picture of the value and risk associated with each new ICT investment IT managers should map their proposed and existing systems portfolio on frameworks such as the Strategic Grid. This allows investments to be analysed and the results shared with a business audience.

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The worldwide recession in IT spending is, by most accounts, about to end. However, our discussions with technology buyers show that the demands to ‘squeeze more out of less’ are still common. With most IT budgets forecast to show percentage growth only in the single digit range, demonstrable ROI from new IT initiatives is essential.

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For a long time now we have run a national private computer network, based predominantly on Optus Frame Relay and ATM with some Telstra On Ramp, mainly for redundancy. The network topology has been based on a “hub and spoke” model where Head Office, which hosts the data centre and provides our only gateway into the Internet, is the central hub, the branch offices are secondary hubs and the projects are on the perimeter, coming and going as the business dictates. Naturally as reliance on the network grows, and network traffic increases, the communication links in this network have expanded to meet the need.

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Conclusion: The surge in use of electronic mail in many organisations is an ongoing management concern. Managers consistently tell me they receive well in excess of 100 emails a day, all of which have to be read, contents absorbed and in some cases a response developed. The problem is compounded in organisations that handle business transactions and correspondence by email as the audit trail can become evidentiary material.

Whilst tools exist to minimise impact of unsolicited email and detect viruses contained in Emails, few facilities are available to reduce the workload of the conscientious business professional receiving legitimate and non personal emails.

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nformation security refers to the protection of sensitive company data and vital systems from external attacks, such as theft or destruction. Part one of this series explored how organisations can determine whether outsourcing information security to a Managed Security Service Provider (“MSSP”) would be the best way to identify, prevent and recover from information security breaches.

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A few weeks ago an organisation, with whom we have had previous dealings, contacted us about a technology that they had developed for use on hand held computing devices. While the use of hand held devices on construction projects is not new, this technology is somewhat unique in that it consists of a number of associated products which facilitate the building of formalised software applications on devices that use the Microsoft Pocket PC operating system. These applications can be developed, documented, deployed and supported efficiently across the organisation in the same way as other, more complex enterprise computer applications. In the past such systems have generally been built in a somewhat ad hoc fashion.

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Conclusion: Until recently, relatively unknown presidential candidate, Howard Dean is creating a stir in the U.S. as the leading Democratic candidate for the presidency, which is attributable to his innovative and successful Internet strategy. From the obscurity of just 4 percent of Democratic primary voters, Dean has moved to 15 percent of likely voters, according to a poll taken in November. Dean also took a record US$7.4 million in online donations during the third quarter of 2003, almost half his total for the same period.

Deans and his campaign managers have not re-invented Internet communication strategies, what they have accomplished is better than their rivals. They have demonstrated what is possible once the planning is right to start with. The two elements they have done very well are:

  1. Utilised the Internet is a facilitating channel: connections go from one to one to one and thus join people together.

  2. Encouraged engagement through other techniques like weblogs and meetings.

By connecting with supporters and managing the means to stay in touch, Dean has made the Internet a critical component of his success.

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SPAM is a terrible problem, from cutting productivity, threatening security, offending the morals of millions, planting doubt in the most macho man, and just irritating anyone with email. 2003 has seen many headlines about SPAM and how companies and governments are going to tackle it head on.

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Conclusion: When IT industry futurists speculate on the next wave of technology, they often ignore two important elements in the equation, ie ‘what problem will the solution address' and ‘will the buyers' pay for it'? Until the futurist has answered these questions, their predictions lack integrity.

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Conclusion: In 2004 many new IT initiatives (especially e-business and business intelligence initiatives) are likely to expose organisations to new technologies and business processes. These new technologies and business processes will require organisations to embark on new experience curves. Organisations that assume their existing track record will be sufficient to take on these new experience curves will find that seemingly low risk projects begin to fail.

Business and IT executives need to recognise that endeavours involving new experience curves must be managed as high risk ventures and where possible organisations should look to minimise the rate at which they expose their business and industry to new experience curves.

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A monthly review of all of the sourcing activity, upcoming tenders and news items.

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Usage patterns will be different in every organisation, but the number and size of messages will continue to increase. It is important to watch for shifts in the technology that will help an organisation absorb more data with greater ease. Most of all, it is critical to understand how changes in the business, the technical capabilities of users or their correspondents, marketing plans or external events might create growth spurts or spikes in message size or volume.

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Conclusion: Linux has its place(s) in the SME organisation now, and clear evidence for reduced cost can be demonstrated. However, in more complex environments, the costs of commodity hardware and operating systems are small compared to the costs of ISV software and support and the use of Linux will be harder to warrant before 2005. Linux and other open source software offerings need to be evaluated rigorously before committing your organisations directions this way, as the vendor hype does not yet match reality for the SME.

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Software licence compliance is something that many will have to achieve during 2004. The risk of a licence audit by any of your software vendors has increased greatly during the last 6 months; many audits have been done and a high proportion of those auditees have found themselves to be in violation of their agreements. It’s time to consider your position and plan a course of action.

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In the August publication I discussed a planned review of our service delivery model and the introduction of ITIL methodologies to correct any areas where there are found to be shortcomings. Our first step on this path has been to employ an external organisation, with ITIL skills, to review and comment on our existing service processes (ITIL Maturity Assessment).

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Like any other sourcing transaction, relationships with Managed Security Service Providers (‘MSSPs’) that provide information security must be rationalised and planned by customers. Information security is an area of growing concern, but must be fully understood before a decision can be made regarding the approach an organisation will take to protect valuable information. Part One of this two part series explores the rationalisation of relationships with MSSPs, Part Two focuses on obtaining and managing these services.

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Conclusion: There is no time like the present to get Executive buy-in to invest in a Records and Document Management (RDM) framework and technical solution. Pending legislation in USA (Sarbanes-Oxley and Bio-Terrorism) and CLERP9 in Australia, a synopsis of which appears in Note 1 below, is likely to put RDM on the radar screen of many CIOs and IT managers.

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