Change Don’t Come Easy

I’ve been brushing up on my William Deming recently so I’ve been thinking a lot about change and how change does not always come easily. Markets keep changing and companies as well as people need to learn to adapt.

Learning from others’ mistakes

We can probably all recall brands that were dominant once, but now have faded. Some of the famous brands of my parent’s generation like Jaguar cars, and British Seagull faded quickly in the face of German and Japanese innovation and quality.

One of the most shocking examples is Eastman Kodak. Founded in 1888, they held around 90% of the film market in the United States during the 1970s and went on to invent much of the technology used in digital cameras. But essentially they were a film company and when their own invention overtook them they were not prepared. Kodak eventually emerged from Chapter 11 in 2013 with a very different and much smaller business. Do we say that this was a complete failure of Kodak’s management in the 1970s, or do we say that it was almost inevitable given the size of Kodak and the complete and rapid technological change that occurred?

Turning a Big Ship

Even very large, well established companies can cope with rapid technological change if they react appropriately. It is possible to turn a big ship. Two examples from the Information Technology industry, Hewlett Packard (est. 1939) and IBM (est. 1911) have, so far, managed to adapt as their markets undergo huge change. The future is always uncertain and both have suffered major setbacks at times, but both continue to be top tier players in their target markets.

Attachment leads to Suffering

Of those who failed to adapt, another famous example is Firestone. Founded in 1900 they followed Ford into the automobile era, but failed to keep up with the market move to radial tyres in the late 1960s. They then then ran into several years of serious manufacturing quality problems which greatly reduced their brand value. In 1988 they were purchased by Bridgestone of Japan. One interesting thing about Firestone was that they had an unusually homogeneous management team, most of whom lived in Akron Ohio and many of them were born there. In management studies this homogeneity has come under some suspicion as a contributing factor to their reluctance and then inability to innovate. It might be significant if we compare that with the strife that IBM got into in the early 1990s and the board’s decision to appoint the first outsider CEO who subsequently turned the company around at that time, a feat that was at least in part attributed to his lack of emotional attachment to past decisions.

These are big bold examples and we can no doubt find other examples closer to home.

Innovation in I.T. Infrastructure

With brands and whole companies, failures to innovate will eventually become obvious, but with projects and IT departments, the consequences of failure to innovate can be less obvious for a time.

So why would anyone choose to avoid innovation and change? I can think of four reasons straight off.

  1. Change sometimes carries short term cost and more visible cost.
  2. Innovation carries more short term risk and more visible risk.
  3. If you confuse strategy with technology (which I think we are all guilty of from time to time) then you might worry that innovation conflicts with best practice (whereas the two really operate at different layers of the decision-making stack).
  4. Concern that what appears to be innovative change may turn out to be simply chasing fashion, with no lasting benefit.

These are all examples of what Edward De Bono would call Black Hat thinking, which is very common in the world of I.T. Black Hat thinking is of course valid as part of a broader consideration, but it is not a substitute for broader consideration.

I.T. Infrastructure Commoditization

Perhaps the biggest thematic change in I.T. Infrastructure over the years has been commoditization. My background is largely in storage systems and I see commoditization as having a huge impact. In the past storage vendors have made use of commodity hardware, but integrated it into their products so that the products themselves were not commoditized.

It is no secret among I.T. vendors that manufacturer margins are dramatically higher on storage systems than on servers so new storage solutions based on truly commoditized servers can be expected to have a significant impact.

Not only does hardware commoditization underpin most cloud services like Azure, AWS and vCloud Air, but hardware commoditization is also a driver behind on-premises hyper-converged storage systems like VMware Virtual SAN. With hardware commoditization, the value piece of the pie becomes much more focused on the software function.

But hardware commoditization is only one example of change in our industry. The real issue is one of being willing to take advantage of change.

The Role of the I.T. Consultant

I started off this post with a reference to William Deming. 70 years ago he put forward his ideas on continuous improvement and those ideas are currently enjoying a new lease of life expressed through ITIL.

Three of the questions Deming said we need to ask ourselves are:

  1. Where are we now?
  2. Where do we want to be?
  3. How are we going to get there?

Together the answers to these questions help us to form a strategy.

External IT consultants can be useful in all three of these steps in helping to frame the challenges against a background of cross-pollinated ideas and capabilities from around the market. Consultants can also help you to consider the realistic bite sizes for innovation and the associated risks. But ultimately change and innovation is something that we all have to take responsibility for. And like they sing in Memphis Change Don’t Come Easy.

[a version of this post was originally released at http://www.vifx.co.nz/blog/embracing-cloud-innovation]

Out of Space?

My wife has been complaining that we don’t have enough cupboard space, both in the kitchen, and also for linen. On the weekend we bought a dining room cabinet, and that allowed my wife to reorganize the kitchen cupboards and pantry.

What came to light was that the pantry in particular was so overloaded that it was very difficult to tell what was in there, and as a result we discovered that there were six bottles of cooking oil (three of rice bran oil, three of olive oil), three containers with standard flour, two with high grade flour, two with rice, two with brown sugar, two with white sugar, two with opened packets of malt biscuits, two with opened packets of crackers etc.

More capacity is always nice. My wife’s solution involved spending money on buying additional capacity, and also effort to select and install the cabinet, and hours to sort through the existing cupboards and drawers and pantry to work out what was there and decide where best to put things.

I have however always maintained that the real problem is that we own too much stuff. If the cupboards had been better organised in the first place, we would have owned fewer duplicates, and the odds are we would not have needed the new cabinet. But new capacity is always nice.

I am sure you have realised by now that the parallel with the world of IT Storage did not escape me. If I had to pay for ongoing support on the new cabinet and I knew it was only going to last 5 years, I would have been less keen on the acquisition and would have pushed back harder with the “we own too much stuff” line.

It seems that it’s easier to add more capacity than to ask the hard questions, but that’s not always a wise use of money.

To read more about right-sizing check out http://www.vifx.co.nz/iaas-not-as-is/

Letter from America

I’m currently in Los Gatos, California for a month learning all about the inner workings of SAN Volume Controller and Storwize V7000 copy services. I have my next storage post planned for June 4th or 5th, and once the new SVC and Storwize V7000 Copy Services Redbook is published I might also post some personal highlights from that as well.

Meanwhile I’m adjusting to life in Silicon Valley – lots of sun, lots of (polite) people, lots of cars, lots of dogs, not many adverbs (adjectives are preferred).

This morning I took a walk up to St Joseph’s Hill above Los Gatos.

And this afternoon I visited Hakone Japanese garden in Saratoga.

Hot tip for any New Zealanders or Australians travelling to the Bay area: Cost Plus World Market sells Vegemite.

The Anatomy of a Purchase

Working in a sales-oriented part of IBM, it’s interesting for me to be occasionally on the buying side of the equation and note my own reactions to different criteria, brands and situations.

Recently I bought a second-hand X-Type Jaguar 2.1L SE (Singapore import), after considering a BMW 320i 2.2L E46 and a Nissan Skyline V35 2.5L (that’s Infiniti G35 for our American friends). My criteria setting out was for a compact 2005+ 6-cylinder vehicle with low mileage. I do about 26,000 Kms a year and want to keep the car for 3-5 years and my experience suggests a 6-cyl is good for 200,000 Kms.

I can imagine an IT buyer setting out to buy a storage solution with criteria that might parallel this.

Fuel consumption (think elements of TCO) on the Jag and the beamer were similar, with the Skyline being a bit better even though it is a larger vehicle with a larger engine. Also there are a lot of V35 Skylines around, quite a lot of BMW 320i’s around, and not quite so many X-type Jags around.

How much weight do you give to leadership in your market? How much weight do you give to TCO over purchase price? Both of these turned out to be considerations for me, but not big enough to swing the final decision.

I did my homework on the technology, and the reputation, and the prices and availability of each. I looked briefly also at Nissan Maxima/Teana, and Holden/Chevrolet Epica (Daewoo Tosca) but they were both a bit bland for my taste [in the words of the Suburban Reptiles “Told what to do by the Megaton, so we may as well die while we’re having fun”].

So I’m relating this to how an IT buyer might go about drawing up a shortlist of vendors. A lot of buyers want a bit of sizzle with their sausage.

My personal preference was for the Skyline, but the Jag I finally test drove was very tidy, and my wife loved the leather seats, and maybe I was influenced by memories of riding in my uncle’s XJ6 as a child. Also the Skyline I wanted was going to take another week to arrive, and I’m not really a patient guy. I had sold my 2005 Suzuki Swift Sport within two days of deciding to sell it and I was ready to buy again. Also worth noting is that the Skyline was my wife’s third choice of the three, partly because it was the biggest of the three. The Skyline’s Nissan 350z technology and it’s name link to the GTR Skylines that cleaned out the big V8’s back in ’91 & ’92 at Bathurst also make it more of a boys’ car I suppose.

So more parallels with my mythical IT buyer taking the opinions of other influencers and circumstances into account, and do you take into account what’s around the corner, or just what’s immediately on the table?

The BMW was there mainly out of curiosity – I have always associated BMW’s with people who wanted to impress others with their success : ) e.g. Real Estate Agents. Now I know that isn’t fair on either BMW or Real Estate Agents, which is why I wanted to include the beamer in my eval, but the prejudice is still embedded somewhere deep in my mind.

I know that some IT buyers carry unfair prejudices about storage companies also, and sometimes include vendors or products on their shortlist more out of curiosity than out of any real intention of buying.

One friend warned me about Jaguar unreliability, but I did my homework. X-type (with it’s Ford Mondeo heritage) seemed a pretty safe choice. I wanted to get an AA check done, but I realised that would be a hassle and would add days to the purchase, so instead I negotiated 3 years mechanical insurance into the purchase. So either I get points for being flexible about the best way to manage risk, or I lose points for quickly abandoning my original plan when it started to look inconvenient.

As it turned out the Skyline and the Jag were the same price, and the beamer was about 15% more, which made it easy to eliminate the beamer, seeing as I’d never really wanted it in the first place. Its one nice feature was that it was the smallest of the 3 vehicles, so technically it was the best fit for my core criteria. Also the Jag I wanted was pulled from sale, and I had to go to a 2004 model, which was older than my starting criterion, but it was the best example of an X-type I could find so I made an exception for it.

I am sure IT buyers sometimes re-define their business requirements to accommodate their desires or the convenience of the moment.

All in all I’m happy with my X-type Jag. Slightly concerned about fuel consumption, but surprised how many X-types I have seen in the last two days. I’ve also been surprised that most people over-estimate the value of the car. It probably only cost me 15% more up-front than buying a much lower spec 4 cylinder Toyota Corolla for example, which in my book is definitely a sausage without any sizzle.

My concrete contractor brother did call me a wanker when he saw the Jag (again probably based on an instant over-estimation of what I’d paid) but I didn’t feel like a wanker. Strangely I knew I would have felt like a wanker if I’d gone with the beamer though (no slur intended on other beamer owners) and I probably would have felt cooler if I’d gone with the Skyline, but the X-type Jag won the day.

So the winner was not the cheapest, or the coolest, or the best technical fit, but on balance the most convenient, the easiest to buy, and the best overall fit.

Is that how people buy IT storage solutions?

xkcd: Password Strength

I just thought this one was worth highlighting…

You can’t always get what you want

There have been a raft of new storage efficiency elements brought to market in the last few years, but what has become obvious is that you can’t yet get it all in one product. Continue reading

Exploiting the Intelligence of Inventors

In Tracey Kidder’s book “Soul of a New Machine” I recall Data General’s Tom West as saying that the design that the team at Data General came up with for the MV/8000 minicomputer was so complex that he was worried. He had a friend who had just purchased a first run Digital Equipment Corp VAX, and Tom went to visit him and picked through the VAX main boards counting and recording the IDs of all of the components used. He then realised that his design wasn’t so complex after all, compared to the VAX and so Tom proceeded to build the MV/8000 with confidence.

In this example, deconstruction of one product helped Tom to understand another product, and sanity check that he wasn’t making things too complicated. It didn’t tell him if MV/8000 would be better than VAX however.

I have many times seen buyers approach a storage solution evaluation using a deconstructionist approach. Once a solution is broken down into its isolated elements, it can be compared at a component level to another very different solution. It’s a pointless exercise in most cases. Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: