||An Interview with
I. T. Wars:
I. T. Wars: Managing the Business-Technology Weave in the New Millenium
The Business Forum Online® What inspired you to write this book?
David Scott: I saw organizations of all kinds struggling with the proper alignment of technology to business needs. Not only were projects poorly conceived, managed, and executed — but oftentimes expensive false “solutions” were being implemented. This results in a business struggle to remain vigorous with sub optimal office tools and systems. In the extreme, projects and deliveries are torn apart for a complete new stab at success.
Even upon proper delivery of systems, there is a question of appropriate use — something I surveyed business and technology people about, and something that came through to me loud and clear. People must get the best bang out of systems, as there is considerable buck in mounting them. Also during use, there’s enormous challenge in the protection of data and mitigation of business exposures and liabilities.
Finally — nothing remains the same. Change is accelerating, and choices are exploding. People don’t know where to turn for best information.
The Business Forum Online® What is your book’s main argument?
David Scott: That it is critically important to bring a new mindset, a new culture, to the management of business within today’s technical change and choices. Increasingly sophisticated technology is a foundational underpinning to all business — and change and choice are accelerating and expanding, respectively. Management, on the other hand, is not establishing and evolving the new concepts, capabilities and best practices in matching this acceleration — either in an academic sense, or “locally,” within most specific organizations. Bad decisions are more heavily weighted now, and can crash or even destroy business. Frequently missing is leadership, in establishing the expectations and practices for best use of systems. Absent new awareness and allied process, we see that risk and bad outcomes arrive very quickly.
The Business Forum Online® Who is your target audience with this book?
David Scott: It’s written for business professionals as well as technology professionals — I not only mean private business, such as manufactureres, retailers, services, etc., but also eductational institutions, government agencies, utilities, healthcare organizations, associations, and so on. This sounds like a wide cast, but frankly, that is the point: Anyone who uses technology, including a sole-propietor, struggles with technical fit to the business at-hand, including the progression and protection of that.
For organizations, benficiaries include top management on down, from CEO, President, CFO, senior managers and staff. Educators and students benefit in a major way, as they are at the very crux of change. Technology professionals of every stripe will benefit: CTO, CIO, programmers, network administrators, HelpDesk staff, business analysts, project managers — all of these people are enmeshed in various cultures at their places of work. Further, the book establishes the balance of vision’s care for tomorrow, and pragmaticism’s protection of today; therefore, it serves people who labor in those capacities.
The Business Forum Online® What is unique and original about your book?
David Scott: The book instinctively and manifestly acknowledges people as the greatest challenge in any endeavor. The true challenge is in bringing diverse groups of people together from the business and technical realms, in defining needs and in making delivery of true solutions. Because the challenge is cultural, it was necessary to define a new cultural standard: The Business-Technology Weave. The Weave is a holistic approach that turns everyone and everything into a responsible forward edge. It includes considerations of those people, their knowledge, how they communicate, their attitudes and their relationships. The book then treats impacts to such things as content (information), infrastructure, applications, needs, and expectations. Finally, the Weave builds missions with specific beliefs, values, and standards in service to security and growth. It clears political impairments, helps to dismantle protectionism and jealousy, breaks down departmental “silos,” and ultimately opens the best way forward.
By doing this, the book makes a much larger connection between any business and its comprehensive support technology: what you “do” and “how.” It defines modern business as being virtually at one with technology: kick out that foundational underpinning, and you might sustain 5% productivity — if you’re lucky. It doesn’t matter if you’re making widgets, serving customers, or protecting the nation. In meshing the two, The Business-Technology Weave acknowledges that technology has crept into every corner of business operations. It is the first definition and documentation of eCulture — and is advancement to last century’s entrenched and outdated corporate culture. Typical business culture is largely born of that century’s business lessons and experiences. In the face of newsworthy data thefts and disastrous business outcomes, we’re overdue for a change in this regard.
Further, the book looks at change much more comprehensively, and distributes the burden for planning and effecting change by involving those who actually do the doing. Change is never an interruption to business – although most often viewed that way by the bulk of an organization – rather change is a part of business. Management may have a range of understanding, from grudging to excitement — but regardless, there is the challenge of manifesting the appropriate change and excitement throughout the staff — that bulk — in the best possible way. And of course change is inevitable; it must serve products, process, clients, customers, allied agencies and the organization itself — as but a partial list — it touches everything.
Ultimately, the book returns a common voice to the venerable “management guide,” and that voice is something I propose as part of an eCulture. I set about writing the book that I would like to read, that I would understand, and that would serve me well. I offer a proven, time-tested foundation of such things as discipline, accountability, common sense and solid techniques — deliver those with plain speaking — and bring prudent and comprehensive forward thinking to all areas of the acceleration of business’ challenges.
The Business Forum Online® How does your book help in instituting an eCulture?
David Scott: The book’s Business-Technology Weave marks a virtual template for ensconcement of an organization within eCulture: a sale to power on the concept, thereby granting sanction and sponsorship from the very top. Establishment of a business implementation team, not only comprised of qualified business and technical participants, but with distinct expectations for behaviors and engagements. A flexing schedule for that team according to change, projects and need. A virtual “infrastructure” of plans and plan relationships: the 5-year and 1-year plans — each for the organization whole and departments — and the Individual Action plan. Definition of the “I.T. Enlightened Organization.” The book brings eCulture to existing best practices, and proposes new practices. In all cases, the how, the why, and the return-on-investment are well exposed, helping to make the sale.
These are but the tip of the iceberg. As the eCulture develops awareness for the weave of business and technology, we find that people become much more considerate of security, data integrity, appropriate use, change, etc. The whole of the organization begins to actualize in a fresh way, and contributes to a business-technology environment that is reliable; that increases in effectiveness as time moves forward; and that doesn't allow harm to those relying on it, or bring harm to those managing it. There is a tipping point, and entry to an accrual of reinforcing returns.
We can make the point: Progression of business and technology is tricky enough on its face. The right culture sustains people’s best-faith activities and qualified engagements, particularly during the stress of change and through the course of time. We can benefit from cultural expectations and optimal engagements of people in making these progressions, and I think the book effectively makes that sale too.
The Business Forum Online® How would an eCulture, and in your case The Business-Technology Weave, apply itself to specific areas? Can you discuss its influence on the obvious — an IT department? What does it mean to “Business”? Would it influence, say, an HR department?
David Scott: In the case of an HR department, we can see that HR must have a sympathetic understanding of IT’s special disciplines and accountabilities — crash any technical system and whatever it supports in the business realm crashes too. This awareness is critical if IT discovers what it considers firing offenses, deficiencies in aptitude, or even a former “good fit” person who becomes a bad fit — say, someone who refuses to grow with a position in the course of change. Therefore, given best awareness, we find that HR can help to tune the IT department more rapidly, through appropriate dismissal, or appropriate reinforcement for training, in the face of larger perils — as opposed to a trend in recent years to work around, or attempt resuscitating, even the most hapless people, while they continue their critical occupancies at the expense of risk and sometimes catastrophe to the organization.
But not to sound too Draconian: eCulture well articulates that jobholders should help to evolve their own jobs in the face of change — they are charged to bring suggestions and options to the table, and take ownership for that. It’s a sense that you must be involved in the progression of your job — you should know your job best, likely even better than your supervisor — progress it! — of course, within the limits of your authority and in accordance with your supervision. But it doesn't matter if you work in Finance, Sales, Engineering, HR, Customer Service, IT… progress the job in benefit to your supervisor, in benefit to your organization, and in benefit to yourself. In this way, everyone becomes a part of the organization’s collective forward edge. When this starts happening, we find that certain burdens can be redistributed.
A good example is that IT frequently gets stuck writing a communications guide as part of an Acceptable Use policy — merely because IT manages the technical components of the email system, including language filters, etc. But isn't it really HR that manages and guides appropriate communications and relationships between employees, to include providing guidance to other managers? HR can write that policy, and free IT to concentrate on other business-technology horizons. A nice example from the book is that you wouldn't ask a supply clerk to file your papers just because he delivered a filing cabinet. IT delivers many systems to business, and is often bled across a line of diminishing return. The book addresses many points like these, in a much more comprehensive fashion.
The Business Forum Online® Speaking of IT…?
David Scott: For IT personnel, the new culture demands that they lose junk terms, arcane language, slang, acronyms that don't apply to a business audience, and the occasional attitude that “I know something you don't, therefore you need me.” Let’s be clear: Business owns IT. I also place a responsibility on IT to know the organization’s business to an appropriate depth. IT isn't a swappable appendage between organizations — it is tuned and sized very specifically to your business. To IT I say: Know the business! IT then becomes a fully qualified partner in progressing that business in view of the best technical supports.
The Business Forum Online® And what about the average “business person”?
David Scott: For business, it means losing the ignorance about the technology that you own, that you pay for, and that you use for survival and thriving. This doesn't mean that every business manager is an IT guru, but you must begin to help IT better match technology to your business needs — and you must lead your staff to better use of it. There is a qualification for doing that, and it is easily reachable and sustainable by business personnel. Among many other things, business now has to contend with the ready dispersion of information through the Internet, email, IMs, blogs, social networking sites such as FaceBook and MySpace, coupled with data’s portability in the form of flash drives, memory sticks, laptops, etc. There is enormous exposure and liability in this: This means that employees must be security-conscious at all times, and through every action. Protection against abuse of systems is frequently absent, or poorly mounted. Business, sooner or later, will make everyone in the organization a mini security officer. Do it now.
The Business Forum Online® What are the perils to Business in the current climate?
David Scott: To expose the vacuum regarding this need for an eCulture, ask yourself: How is it that in a world of email, e-tailing, e-zines, eCommerce, etc. — there is no eCulture? Why no culture to counter the dismaying newsworthy events we keep hearing about — 26 million veterans’ records stolen; the removal of Los Alamos’ confidential national security data; the Transportation Security Administration’s loss of employee data, the IRS losing 500 laptops and other taxpayer data. How about Kaiser-Permanente’s problems, recently exploded all over The Wall Street Journal ’s front page, and its HealthConnect software problems? An inside employee emailed 120,000 people to state that the system’s failures and overruns were beginning to affect patient care — and he blamed everyone from the CEO on down. There was no controlling culture to dissuade him from doing that — no effective guidance to channel his concerns. His supervisor, with a preview hardcopy of the email in hand , didn't even direct him to halt the email. These high-profile mishaps are matched by events in all manner of organizations as they struggle their way forward.
We can even consider national security implications. The FBI had to jettison its Virtual Case File system (VCF) after 4 years of stumbling. This is a post-9/11 attempt to overhaul a case file system that in some instances comprised paper records. It is essential that these case files are electronic, and shareable, between agents who might be working on overlapping or allied cases involving terror. Many elements of the project were done out of sequence, and key parts of the system involving mutual reinforcements were not specified correctly. The FBI’s failures were largely due to lack of survey, faulty communications, and overall misunderstanding of basic project management — all faults that were augmented by a cultural disconnect. The FBI’s new project, Sentinel, is having its own problems, largely because some of the lessons from the VCF failure have been discounted.
There are many lessons in these cases that can be applied to any organization. Through I.T. Wars, we can learn from other’s mistakes, and avoid them.
The Business Forum Online® This is an interesting tie between large events, and lessons to typical organizations. What are some other perils, outcomes and lessons?
David Scott: Blown budgets; overdue or abandoned projects; systems that are painful to use; loss of good business faith; loss of customers; inability to comply with outside regulatory authority; lost, stolen and conflicting data; bad morale; staff turnover — loss of the business itself.
In the extreme business case — complete loss — Enron is a prime example, and one that grants important lessons. What were Enron’s accountabilities and safeguards? Did their missions subscribe to a true system of ethical values, standards, and beliefs? That is, a system that lived within the law, that supported business survival, and prudent progression and growth? No. Clearly, these things were absent or compromised in a fatal way. Ask yourself: What was the culture? Was it an eCulture, with the values and standards of The Business-Technology Weave ? No. The book explains these lessons for what I call the “local” organization — that is, yours. Learn from other’s mistakes.
Consider New Orleans. How is it that a country with the best technology, the best civil engineering in the world — the best “know how” — failed the business-end of securing a major American city? It was surely the culture of the process and planners that was found lacking. In other words, the correct expectations were never set, and therefore never fulfilled. Given the outcome, there can be no argument, but — where is the next New Orleans hiding? The next Minnesota bridge collapse? Are these things preventable? I think, yes. In the context of the next potential disaster, if we “know how,” we should “do.” I.T. Wars is an effort to support that simple concept.
Being that there were warning signs in advance of these events, we can examine what happened, and size that as a convenient lesson for any organization — every organization has its own warning signs.
The Business Forum Online® You have a concluding chapter called What’s At Stake , where you discuss perils to national infrastructure, with yields on the scale of 9/11 and Katrina. Can you kindly expand on what you call the extreme cases — and the impacts to the local organization?
David Scott: How many typical businesses in New Orleans had locks on their doors, performed nightly data and systems backups, had policies and plans in place for disaster recovery — only to have it all wash away in the comprehensibility of a flood? So - what to do?
Before we answer, let’s project a little: What can the local organization do regarding economic vulnerabilities in the age of terror? What are the new scales of disaster planning, preparedness, prevention and recovery? Ask yourself, if a suicide bomber hit a downtown subway near your town, who would go to work the next day? Who would stay home with their kids? How would you conduct business in a climate of fear?
Further, at a national level, crucial support systems involving utilities, commerce, communications, transportation, health care, policing, national security, and more are totally dependent on technology. These must be actively surveyed for risk, and those in attendance must perform, cooperate, and deliver with an immediacy that wasn't necessary in former years. To close the circle, the local organization must have a role in contributing to the larger, surrounding, public safety — in securing its own. For without that public infrastructure, there certainly can be no business. The organization is a stakeholder in this; it cannot sit idle./
eCulture not only manifests the awareness for large-scale vulnerabilities and dependencies, it proposes solutions that can actively engage local business. It is quite possible for a given locale to establish business security teams — BizSec — comprised of participating organizations and individuals that have a stake in public security. Government has already asked for everyone’s help in maintaining security, and here perhaps is a great roundtable exchange for ideas and activities.
But in the end, ask yourself: If my geographic business location was ordered to be evacuated tomorrow — even as a temporary, safety precaution — do we have a plan to reconstitute business elsewhere? Fortunately, the book has a solid template for activity and considerations in mounting an effective disaster preparedness plan, scalable to any organization, and scaled from server crashes to natural and man-made disasters. The first step is awareness.
The Business Forum Online® Crystallize for us, if you would, a nice summary…
David Scott: In the realm of risk, unmanaged possibilities become probabilities. Any business and its survival is dependent on one thing: a managed progression through a world of accelerative change. In this climate, as any other, people’s behaviors are largely influenced by culture — whether structured, or loosely evolved. Today’s business challenges are too steep to exist in anything that’s loosely evolved. We should readily see the value in a comprehensive eCulture, with its developing recognitions, protections, and empowerments.
The Business-Technology Weave answers today’s challenge, bringing diverse groups of people together from the business and technical realms, with precise expectations for engagement, in answer to the quickening business-technical environment. Every business — whether large or small, public or private, government agency or volunteer group — must quickly build the attitudes and processes for ongoing delivery of a future that the organization defines, in preventing the alternative: future’s imposition on the organization.
See: Professional Profile of David Scott
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Revised: October 9, 2007 TAF
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