Friday, February 01, 2013

Something Shocking

This morning I was reading Glyn Moody's piece on the potentially huge FCO contract for Oracle.

I was pretty stunned by this, having as with many others seen the recent praise of Government IT by the NAO (National Audit Office), the praise of UK Gov IT by Tim O'Reilly and the reforms being undertaken. This felt like a huge step backwards though there maybe more to the story.

Just reading the story as is (and hence with none of the background) you could be forgiven in thinking the FCO has just stuck up two fingers to Francis Maude, The Cabinet Office, Government IT Strategy, The Austerity Agenda, George Osborne and the Treasury. Pretty shocking.

However, it wasn't the most shocking thing I heard this week.

During a session at Cloud Expo Europe (which was an excellent conference, outstanding as always and not to be confused with SYS-Con's vendor fest), another tale of IT horror in procurement appeared. This one floored me, so to speak.

The accusation was that a particular large company had transferred a highly expensive system (think lots and lots of millions) from one vendor to another not because of some real strategic reasoning but instead for the reason of CV boosting i.e. the CIO was leaving and wanted the vendor's name on his CV.

My initial reaction was this is just a joke, So, I tweeted this and received a flood of messaging from various sources all giving similar stories - "I saw a CIO force a massive contract and implementation entirely for such personal-reputation reasons".

You are kidding?

So I thought I'd put together a very quick survey which I'd run this evening and see what happened. The results will be published here.

RESULTS

First of all, a huge thank you for all those replying. I had 41 responses this evening and whilst this is an extremely small sample which may well be a biased, it does make interesting reading.

The graphs are as follows:-

Survey 1 - The question of Why in IT Strategy

This question asked whether you agreed that most IT strategy contains much about what, when and how but the why of action (the "real" strategy part) often appears vague and depends upon notions such as others are doing it or the business wants it. 85% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement provided.


Survey 2 - The question of CV boosting

This question examined whether the reason "Why" some purchasing decisions were made had nothing to do with strategy but instead were due to personal self interest such as boosting a CV with new skills. A quite shocking 73% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement. If this was actually representative of the industry, it would imply that an awful lot of technology investment is suspect.



Survey 3 - The question of influence.

The question examined how much "the business wants it", "other companies are doing it" or "CV boosting" impacts  IT purchasing decisions. Respondents indicated whether each of these factors impacted 0% of IT purchasing decisions or one of several bands (1-25%, 26-50% etc).

Interestingly over 60% of respondents indicated that "Other companies are doing it" impacted 50% or more of all IT purchasing decisions. Which implies that case studies must have quite a significant impact on choice and there's a strong "follow everyone else" mentality.

40% of the respondents view that "the business wants it" impacts 26% to 50% of IT purchasing decisions whilst 45% view it as impacting 50% or more of IT purchasing decisions. Hence implying the  business has a strong influence in what IT buys.

As for CV boosting, 44% of respondents indicated it impacted somewhere between 1% to 25% of all IT purchasing decisions whilst over 48% indicated it impacted 25% or more of all IT purchasing decisions. This would imply (if the sample is representative) that the practice is far more widespread than I had originally thought. Perhaps, I was very naive to be shocked by a CIO spending millions of a company's financial capital in order to make their CV look good.


Now, as I've said, this was an extremely small sample, it may well be affected by sample bias and the survey was very rough and ready. However, it does seem to warrant further investigation.

The reason for further investigation is the survey implies (if it is representative, which it may well not be) that much of IT strategy is anything but strategy and that purchasing decisions are being influenced by the business, what others are doing and self interest.

This is a far cry from the use of IT as a competitive and strategic weapon which is exhibited in some companies.

4 comments:

phil jones said...

It *is* shocking. But if you heard that a coder working in a startup had decided to try doing a small project with, say, Meteor because they wanted "to try it out" / "learn it", you wouldn't be very surprised.

In fact, isn't it necessary for everyone, at whatever level of experience, to keep learning new things? How exactly is a CIO to keep his or her knowledge and skills up to date without being allowed use part of his / her work as a learning exercise?

I'm not saying this is justification, but the survey does raise that interesting question. If your role includes implementing multi-million pound projects, and you can't learn it except on the job, then isn't it necessary that some millions get spent on personal development? And if not, how are you expected to develop?

Simon Wardley said...

That's an excellent argument for having large and generous training courses along with hack days and experimentations / pilots.

That's not an argument for spending many millions on replacing / implementing a large system which has no strategic benefit.

Paul said...

I lump this into the amorphous group called 'the human factor'...

Its why I always have some caveats about the adoption curve, or when you see something so logical (ie cloud computing) not being adopted when there are obvious benefits.... then the human factor kicks in...
The sales guys dont get paid as much - yet its the right thing to do for the client
The CIO loosing people and actively fights it.... etc etc

Simon Wardley said...

Hi Paul,

There are many causes of inertia to change, I list some of them here
http://blog.gardeviance.org/2013/01/intertia.html

I tend not to focus on adoption curves (i.e. adoption vs time). Certainly adoption curves are not uniform over time.

My main focus is on evolution (i.e. ubiquity vs certainty) which is not a time based sequence.
http://blog.gardeviance.org/2013/01/evolution.html