Thursday, April 28, 2011

Only you can prevent forest fires!

Most of us have heard or seen the campaign with Smokey Bear saying "Only you can prevent forest fires!"

How does that apply to technology teams?  It is not about animatronics or other techno trickery required to make the bear talk.  It is about a philosophy and organizational maturity.  As IT organizations transform from supporting a small number of users with simple systems to serving a diverse enterprise with complex systems, the team mentality has to change as well.  For many small companies or startups, having a few IT people who can be the jack of all trades is just fine.  They typically are very good at trouble shooting problems (ie putting out fires) and are always looked at as the technology heroes.  These fire fighters don't realize it, but many of them are technology arsonists as well.  Are their intentions malicious? No. They have simply been caught in a perpetual support mode which lacks strategic value for an organization. These fire fighters need to develop new skills to provide more robust and scalable solutions. Solutions that eliminate the fires.  Solutions that can grow and scale with the needs of the organization.  Solutions that add long term value to the enterprise.

As our organization continues to grow and mature, we want to eliminate fires; requiring fewer fire fighters in our organization.  We are transforming our former fire fighters to become Smokey Bears - preventing the fires from ever happening.  To make this transformation we are providing training, putting new processes in place, and upgrading systems to be much more resilient.

Remember, whether in the forest, in the home, or in the office - Only you can prevent forest fires! 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Associate Engagement. What is it all about?

With the results of the associate engagement survey recently published, many questions come up.  Questions like "why should I care?" and "it doesn't matter what I say, nobody really reads this stuff, do they?". 

Well, we do care about the engagement survey and the feedback that the associates provide.  We care because we want to make this the best place to work.  We care because a highly engaged associate is a highly productive associate.  Did you know that a disengaged associate is only 50% to 75% productive and a fully engaged associate is between 100% and 122% productive?  Changing our level of engagement by just a few percentage points can result in a million dollars in increased productivity.

So, what are we doing with the results?  Spiking the water cooler with energy drinks is not the answer to improve engagement and productivity.  We have been surveying all associates for three years now and have very good trend information.  The divisions and support departments have been reviewing their results and will be working to not only address some of the areas of weakness but also try to not lose ground on the things that are going well.  Too often we just focus on the negative and end up losing what is going well.

Last year, the IT group put together a team of volunteers to make recommendations on two areas of strength and two areas of weakness.  They reached out to their fellow department team members to understand just what was behind the results.  They then made recommendations to the management team on what was working, what wasn't, along with ideas to make them all better.  The result?  A significant improvement in all four focus areas and an overall productivity increase of nearly 10 percentage points!

So, why should you care?  Because your inputs help to fuel change.  That change will result in a more productive work environment. 

Associate engagement is not just a management issue to solve.  All associates play a role in improving our overall engagement and productivity. Working together, we can truly make this the best place to work.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Where is my MacBook?

MacBook Pro

On occassion I am asked why people can't get a Mac or other non-windows computer at work.  Does the IT department have an axe to grind with the folks at Apple?  Are we just too nerdy to understand the hip design and slick features of this forbidden device?

The original Macintosh computer

Of course not!  I personally own two MacBooks along with a drawer full of nearly every iPod ever produced, and of course the beloved iPad.  I think the MacBook is a terrific device and Apple has done a wonderful job over the years evolving their platform.  In fact, back in the day I owned an original Macintosh computer, complete with the 9" monitor built in.   

The real reason comes down to cost.  Not the cost of the device itself, but the cost to support the device.  Having a standard platform makes it easier and more efficient to support the user community.  With each new type of desktop computer we have to support, our costs can increase by 25% to 50% or more to maintain service levels.  Many of the applications that are on the Mac have an equivalent that can be run on a PC as well.  The PC may require an upgrade to fully function but this cost is much lower than the added cost to support a unique device.

Does that mean that we will never see a MacBook in our business?  Well, never is an awful long time.  What it does mean is that we have to consider the implications, making sure that it is about function, not fashion.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Welcome to my blog!

I will be posting my thoughts, observations, and other musings regarding technology and other topics related to happenings inside and outside the company.  Some of them may be timely, others somewhat random in nature.

For the record (and legal folks) the views expressed will be my own and will not necessarily reflect those of the company.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you.  If you have any questions or comments, please contact me.