If you were ‘doing’ IT in the 1990s you will remember the sudden obsession with quality standards in business. We all had projects, check lists, audits and at the end of it the badge confirmed, “ours is a business that takes quality seriously”.
Funny thing is I don’t remember a radical transformation of software quality, that perhaps had much more to do with advances in software engineering techniques and platforms, from intermediate languages like Java to of course the infrastructure as code revolution.
Aside from the warm cozy feelings nostalgia evokes, this is a story that is perhaps of our time more than it seems. Except quality is not the issue du jour, today it’s availability.
For years we have been talking about digital transformation. We have had cloud indexes, the digital ‘sorpasso’ with a shocking 43% of Americans shopping online from bed, and of course the trillion dollar company club with 4 of the top 5 being tech giants. But perhaps all of this only truly came home to us during COVID. In those few short weeks, most of us went from the daily grind being the grind of a commute away to being just a coffee grind away. The shift to online working meant that not only is nearly a third of all retail dollars are spent online, an astounding 42% of GDP is generated by workers at home.
I was brought up in the Staffordshire potteries where a nation of cottage industries were transformed by the industrial revolution into a factory and then office workers over 12 decades. In a shuddering 12 days, the US and most major economies went in the opposite direction!
So what does all this mean for executives and business leaders? May I suggest the following 5 things to mark the embrace of availability for execs:
1. Availability is Job #1, make it a core KPI metric
It really is that simple. If your workplace is virtual, your customer online and your market is defined by bit fall, not foot fall, it is all to naught if the digital wheels are not turning. This is a culture and leadership issue and involves treating your digital experience stats like your monthly sales figures. You should report, publish and incentivize your entire company on availability in the same way you do profit or sales.
It is often said compensation drives behavior, so make it so. If every employee understands that the slightest slip up; tolerating rogue IT; failure to observe security policies; sloppy software quality assurance; failing to embrace virtual collaboration tools; all of these can cause the kind of outages that directly impact your bottom line.
If you are looking for a way to remind people to observe all of this and much more, make digital availability a compensation affecting objective. At Moogsoft we have an executive at the top tier who owns the availability metrics and we review them weekly as a team with the same rigor as our sales numbers!
2. Back office no more, Ops is front and center
A friend of mine used to lament that IT in large banks was always in the basement, whereas the executive offices were many floors up with breathtaking views. And that’s how we thought of the business when the most often heard saying in the executive suite about the IT folk was “They don’t get out much”. That’s right, keep them away from sight and importantly away from customers!
This is of course nonsense now. In the age of “every business is a software company” a well functioning IT department is a thing of beauty you should show off to your customers. Embracing more modern operational paradigms such as SRE and DevOps, building for the cloud, and an agile CI/CD application development pipeline is a sign you care about your employees and customers. Talk about it, show it off, be proud you are trailblazing the digital world. When we showcase our company today we start with our SRE team. It’s no longer as simple as we have the best engineers, we show how we task our best engineers with customer experience and availability.
3. Innovation should be the normal course of business
What is the price of failure? If you know the answer to that question you are doing it wrong! Failure is part of how you build a great business, particularly one that is digital first. Experiment, fail, learn, repeat until succeeding, that is how innovation goes and in a world where innovation cycle times shrink with every generation and then some. If you cannot keep reinventing your business you will fail.
Think about how we all thought of Apple in the Jobs years, with product innovation after innovation we were agog at the breakneck pace of change there. That is why Apple went from ICO to $1 trillion dollars in a dozen or so years. Unleash your inner Apple and innovate.
4. Invest now or perish
This of course means you need to invest. Invest in people, invest in training, invest time in innovation. In my industry, Moogsoft took an approach invented in the 1990s and replaced it with technology often less than 2 years from academic breakthrough.
In the case of your digital platform, how fast can you move to a modern SaaS platform and implement the operational approaches of this decade? I am of course going to say AIOps, that’s what we sell, but it’s more than that.
Have you built an SRE team? Have you embraced remote working for all your knowledge employees? Have you invested in skills and training for all your staff on virtual software tools for every part of your business?
If you assume every $$ spent and earned is going to be online that’s a safe assumption and you should ensure that the infrastructure to support that is world beating.
5. Consider your senior team
Does anyone on your team code? Has anyone on your team coded? For so many businesses the answer is no. Even your “CTO” these days may be more of a systems expert than a practitioner. And yet I’ll bet that if I asked you if your senior team had an individual with a CPA, bar qualification, or an MBA the answer would be yes. There’s nothing wrong with those qualifications of course, but in light of all of the above surely there should be representation from the engineering or technology team at the most senior level. In the top ten US CEOs only 2 have a degree remotely close to a computer science background. I will even let on that I once spoke to the CEO of a multi billion dollar revenue software company that had no one on their senior team who had ever touched code or typed ‘make’.
You should consider appointing a Chief Digital Officer reporting directly to the board and the CEO. At Moogsoft we live this with no less than 30% of my senior reports having run engineering disciplines at my company or in their prior lives. Your CDO need not necessarily be an engineer but they should have that in their background. Not only will you get better visibility of the company’s journey to the new digital economy, the message that it passes internally and externally is powerful!
Want to know more about embracing availability in the next year? Read more on how Gartner’s 2022 strategic trend of Total Experience (TX) impacts availability here.