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Infinite Business and Winter sports

In the middle of a summer heat wave, I had an interesting conversation with a CIO about a shared passion: winter sports.  While the last winters had plenty of snow, some winters before were a bit more challenging.  We both remembered very well the situation of Christmas 2015: it had not been snowing up until Christmas day!  In some ski resorts the situation was nothing less than a disaster.  Others like Kitzbuhel were very proud to be able to offer ski slopes all the way to the valley.  It did look a bit strange: a white line in between green fields.  But they were open for business.  This situation has nothing to do with good or bad luck.  This was the result of long-term planning and execution.

In order to have snow all the way to the valley, you need to build lakes at the top of the mountain, invest in kilometres of waterpipes and an interesting amount of hardware and software to get the snow produced in the right place at the right time.  It’s not an option to just say: let’s quickly buy some snow cannons.  No matter how much money you would be able to spend, it would not work.  Even after that “disaster winter”, it was not simple for the snowless ski resorts to turn the situation around.  They missed a lot of revenue, so a big investment was not so easy to do.  And even with the money, they soon discovered this is not a 6 months “quick fix”.  They discovered they didn’t have the knowledge to understand where they had to start.  Let alone the knowledge of how they would need to operate such a high-tech snow producing infrastructure.

All of that sounds very familiar to the story of Infinite Business.

“Infinite Business is the result of transforming organisations through continuous agile improvements, innovation and business excellence, supported by digitization”

Since I was talking with a CIO, the conversation turned to his IT challenges.  The key to infinite business is unfortunately not as simple as: “let’s move everything to the cloud”, or something along those lines.  Let’s look at it from 3 angles:

  • Knowledge
  • Organisation
  • Agility

Knowledge

Most ski resorts without snow making or snow farming capabilities don’t have the knowledge of any of these.  None of their current employees is skilled to do this. Which triggered the question: do you have a skills map of your current IT staff?  As in, who can drive a massive change like this?  Very unlikely those people are readily available.  So, you must look for help outside.  What are you looking for?  We often get a resource request along the lines of:

  • We need a consultant who can align with our business users
  • Be able to document their business needs
  • Translate those into a high-level architecture
  • Turn that high-level architecture into a technical architecture
  • Setup a proof of concept
  • And bring it back to the users for their acceptance

All of this in one person?  I usually compare this to a black sheep, with white legs, a green tail and red ears …  So, this approach doesn’t really work.

Another approach we see is to hire a “Chief Innovation Officer” or a “Chief Digital Officer”.  Bottom line hire somebody to own the transformation.  Often these people leave frustrated after a period.  A journey to Infinite Business is not a sideshow.  It’s probably confusing for IT followers to refer to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer as “visionary”.  But check out what he said in March 2010 (!) : “For the cloud, we’re all in.  Literally, I will tell you we are betting our company on it.”  As soon as 2010 Microsoft started the journey and betted the future of the company on it.  They didn’t hire a “Cloud VP”.  And they didn’t have the knowledge.  Simply because at that time, this knowledge didn’t exist.  But the made sure the cloud got a place in every aspect of their business.  Steve Ballmer often referred to this approach internally as the only way to turn around an oil tanker.

There’s no one size fits all approach on how to get the knowledge you need.  But don’t make the mistake to underestimate the magnitude of the changes needed to get to infinite business.  Several ski resorts are going out of business, year after year … For not making the right choices.

Organisation

The conversation went on: “What about the current IT organisation structure?”  Without having to ask how it looks like, most likely it will have to change.  Again, that means making choices …  A lot of IT departments are still organised in development, infrastructure and operations.  Or a variation to this theme …  This silo approach is not going work.

Back to winter sports.  Ski resorts used to work with mostly seasonal labour forces.  A lot of people in the winter (for obvious reasons), very few employees in the summer.  They had to learn that “saving the winter” is done in the summer. And had to change their thinking and their organisation completely.  The same is true for traditional IT organisations.  The logic that worked for decades needs a big refresh.

Agility

Aligning with the business is one thing.  Aligning with a business that is changing at the speed of light is a whole different story.  Consider the business side of the house as the customer of the IT department.  A real-world customer has options.  A real-life customer can stop being a customer.  Ski resorts that failed to provided snow are losing their customers.  And will most likely never see them again.  IT department that failed to serve their business departments with the agility that is expected will lose their customers as well.  Business departments can go shopping.  Shadow IT has always been a challenge.  But in the current state of the technology revolution, it doesn’t even have to be real “shadow” IT.  Business department can go shopping for a SAAS solution which suits their needs.  And they no longer must do it in a “hidden” way.

On a hot summer evening, sitting more than 1.5 meters from each other, our conversation went from the winter sports industry to the challenges of a CIO.  And much to our surprise we found a lot of similarities …

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