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21st Century IT

The Right Partner is Better than a Crystal Ball (7 of 7)

Mistakes can create amazing learning opportunities and have even led to some of the most beneficial discoveries in human history, but they can also have far-reaching, time-consuming, and costly implications.

Luckily, someone else has probably already made the mistakes you’re bound to make, so why not reap the benefits of their errors and subsequent experience?

Know Your Strengths and Limitations

One of my passions in life is building things. Working with my hands to create something new and unique fills me with a sense of accomplishment beyond description. Over the years, I’ve taken on a variety of projects to scratch this itch; from baking, to renovating my kitchen (I’m really quite proud of the custom-built cabinets I made from scratch), to customizing various vehicles I’ve owned over the years. Along the way, I’ve built several Jeeps into serious off-road machines.

In the years before YouTube, when I was first developing the skills required to lift and modify a Jeep, I often encountered situations where I wasn’t confident in my knowledge or abilities. I knew that the vehicle I was working on would need to be just as safe and reliable on the freeway as it would be out in the middle of nowhere – places where the results of my efforts would be stress tested and the results of poor workmanship could be catastrophic. Each time I encountered an area where I had limited knowledge or experience, I would do all the research I could, then find someone with the right experience who could coach me through the process (and critique my work along the way).

Fortunately, I had a ready supply of trusted friends to advise me. In my time spent driving these heavily modified vehicles, I did encounter the occasional failure, but thanks to the skills I developed under the direction of these watchful eyes, none of them ever put me at significant risk.

“The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”

Otto von Bismarck

As enterprises modernize their infrastructure, they should look at IT as a contributor to business innovation rather than a means to an end. Alongside this shift in view, the expertise required to define strategy, architect solutions, and deliver successful outcomes is increasingly difficult to acquire. In this dearth of available talent, many of the enterprises I’ve been dealing with are struggling with the decision between:

  1. Delaying modernization efforts
  2. Plowing ahead and relying on internal resources to get trained up and tackle the challenges
  3. Bringing in a third party to perform the work of modernization.

Unfortunately, none of these options is ideal.

Choosing the Best Path

The first option, delaying modernization, limits the enterprise’s ability to deliver products and services to their stakeholders and clients in innovative ways – opening the door for disruptive competitors to supplant them. For dramatic evidence of this, look at the contrasting stories of Sears, the first company to offer ‘shop at home’ functionality, and Amazon.com, the disruptor who has supplanted them as the go-to home shopping solution. The option of delaying presents significant risk, but the risk of assigning internal resources to address issues they’re not fully prepared to handle should not be underestimated.

Plowing ahead with a team that’s facing unique challenges for the first time means you’ll be lacking the benefits of experience and hindsight. In my previous posts I’ve discussed some of the hidden traps encountered along the modernization journey, many of which can only be seen in hindsight. These traps can only be avoided once you’ve had the inevitable misfortune and experience of having fallen into them before. “Fool me once…”

It’s similar to the Isla de Muerta from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies; “…an island that cannot be found – except by those who already know where it is.” Unlike the movie, there’s nothing magical about the pitfalls that litter the path to modernization. Many of the concepts that we have accepted as IT facts for decades are invalidated by modern approaches. So, the logical decision seems simple: outsource the effort to someone who has been there before.

Finding the Right Experience and Approach

Bringing in a partner that is experienced in the many areas of IT modernization is the safest of the three options, but your mode of engagement with this third party directly relates to the benefits your enterprise will enjoy. The best advice I can offer is to look for a provider who views modernization from a business perspective, not merely as a technical effort. Most providers will tout their technical expertise (we at effectual do too), but the reality is that nearly all competent providers have people with the same certifications. Technical certifications are no longer the differentiator they used to be. When you are interviewing these teams, ask how they plan to interact across your various enterprise teams outside of IT. If they look puzzled, or don’t have an answer, you know that they are not a business solution provider.

Once you have an idea around who is able to help with your modernization efforts, you need to make a decision regarding the methodology that will best suit your enterprise. One possible route is to completely turn the effort over to the outsourced team. While this is a fairly risk-free approach that leaves you with transformed IT when the project is over, you don’t gain any of the expertise required to manage your environment moving forward. I’ve found that the greatest benefits are realized when an enterprise and their provider partner together on the solution.

In this scenario, the partner team takes the lead on the migration project under the executive direction of the enterprise, just like my friends who would help with my vehicle builds. Partner resources collaborate with enterprise resources to deliver solutions, while also providing training, insight, oversight, and guidance. At the end of the day the enterprise enjoys a better purpose-built solution and develops the expertise to enhance it as additional business requirements are identified, or existing requirements evolve.

Providers as Partners

Partner resources collaborate with enterprise resources to deliver solutions, while also providing training, insight, oversight, and guidance.

What the Future Holds

As modernization efforts start to take hold and your teams gain confidence, you should not consider the journey complete. This is the point in the revolution where a modernized organization can truly view IT and engineering as the linchpin of your competitive advantage, whether it be through cloud adoption, big data, artificial intelligence, mobility, or other current technologies. Historically, the interaction between business and IT has been a two-step process. The business conceptualizes features that would benefit some constituency, whether it be internal or external, then directs IT to build it.

In the new world, where technological capabilities are rapidly evolving and growing, the competitive advantage comes primarily from changing that two-step process. The business first asks IT “What is possible?” and then business teams collaborate with IT to deliver forward‑thinking solutions. This is the behavior that enables innovation and disruption within industries. We’ll explore this topic in depth in a future post.

Learning from the Experts

What has made me a successful builder over the years has been my good fortune to have skilled artisans available to guide and coach me through the work as I was learning how to do it. As I learn tips and tricks from experts, I begin to behave like an expert and deliver high quality work. As you look to your modernization efforts your enterprise can Cloud ConfidentlyTM and see similar growth by bringing in the right partners to help lever your team’s skills and understanding.

 

Andrew Pope is a Co-Founder of effectual, Inc.