Read Martin’s story through the years in tech that led him to his role at Netpremacy
Hello, if you are reading this it is either because cloud technology is an interest to you, or you have taken the plunge and are deploying SaaS, PaaS or IaaS technologies.
I wanted to write this as a thought provoker, but also to tell my own story in the hope that it helps others. How I went about taking a “Spark” otherwise known as a “problem” and turned it into a “Vision” and mission for technology.
Nice to meet you…
I am Director of Customer Success at Netpremacy and for the past 20 years I have worked in Enterprise IT across FinTech, Manufacturing, Retail and Consumer Products. In my last two roles I was the Director of Technology for JUST EAT and Metapack. This is where I developed my vision for Cloud.
I did not wake up one morning with this mission, it took time and the guidance of others, be that mentoring or coaching (even if those people did not realise they were coaching/mentoring me). I listen and watch very well so I have learned a lot through my experiences, I have been lucky enough to work with amazing CTOs and CIOs over the years that have given me freedom, trust and known how to get the best from me.
It is important to be in a role where you are trusted, often I think people focus too much on the hierarchy. Whilst a sponsor such as a CEO or CTO is key for budget approval and some direction, I would highly recommend working towards being that trusted person. It is so much easier to talk at a strategic and vision level if you have trust; and this is gained through good, constant delivery. Wherever you are in your career today if you are struggling to get traction, think about how you can deliver on lots of small wins, how can you build that momentum and trust so that when it comes to the more strategic vision/mission thinking it will be so much easier with trust in place.
Why did I want a Vision in the first place?
I wanted to demonstrate to myself that I could think way beyond what was in front of me and show that the decisions I was making were leading to a better future for the business and my teams. I see many IT Management or Leadership teams making great choices but often they are not linked through and it can be seen as a scattergun approach or constant firefighting. In this blog, I will talk about my own experiences and then how you might gain insight from it or adopt the approach.
First and foremost, be ok with not knowing fully why you do the things you do, often it is just the desire to do the right thing. You know something is not at its best, you know it could be better. Is this the thing you want to tackle because you believe you can make a good job, lead well, or leave your mark on a business that can be looked back at in many years to come and make you proud of what you did whilst you were there?
What is a spark?
So let’s break this down, what is a spark… for me, a spark is simply a problem. A failing system, poor usability, an undesirable solution with negative end-user feedback, high-cost low-value tools. Ultimately something that distracts from the focus of the business.
For me back in 2011 that initial spark (there were many but this hurt the most at the time) was a failing Exchange server. This hurt the most because email was at the time the number one method of communication within the business and that business was 24/7/365 so every issue was felt by everyone. My day was often spent recovering space from disks, restarting services, patching, the list of care goes on and on. Now I knew with money, time and effort this was ultimately solvable but would be a cycle, I could within months get stable but I would be repeating this every 2-3 years and given the hyper-growth of the company probably 12-18 months… there had to be a better way so there, you now I had my Spark!
Identify your spark; what issues are impacting your business the most or have the widest impact. Sometimes whilst the issue is not the greatest your business is facing it is the one that causes the most pain day today. It could even be the Achilles heel of the department/function that everyone knows will “never change” and devalues everything else. Find it, own it, understand it.
What does good look like?
How does it feel?
What has it changed?
How will you know?
What are you measuring?
What behaviours are you wanting to see?
What is the vision?
So now for the Vision, again this started small. I took this Spark to Netpremacy & Google G Suite event in London but funny enough not because I wanted them to solve my Spark but almost definitely. Remember this had been my career, I knew infrastructure, I could build and operate systems, I didn’t need someone else to do this for me, I even turned up to the event in my Microsoft Certified T-shirt. But I sat there and watched how even back in 2011 G Suite was so much bigger than email in the cloud, it was a full collaboration suite; the penny started to drop and vision started to form. This was not just about technology, this was about changing business behaviour and culture… today it is email back and forth, its attachments, its slow, without context and understanding, but what if tomorrow it could be instant through messaging, personal through Hangouts and collaborative through Drive.
The lesson here is being self-aware, know what you are good at. Be ok with knowing that you are good at something and understanding if it brings real value to the role/business you are in. Could your or the team’s time and effort be better used focused elsewhere, is this value creation or a distraction. Then seek help to fill those gaps, either by bringing them in-house because it does add real value or pushing it out to the Service/Technology provider who is the best in class for this identified gap.
I left that session still with my Spark but a great solution to it and now an understanding of what these types of SaaS-based solutions can do. I would ultimately get everything I wanted to solve my Spark but not only that, I would move the needle significantly forward to a better way of working with almost zero effort of maintaining what would become the commonly used 3 S’s (Stability, Security, Scalability).
I still at this point didn’t have the Vision but it had certainly begun to formulate, if I could do this with email why wouldn’t I do this with other systems.
I have often said this at presentations on the Cloud: your business was founded to create a widget, that widget could be a physical product or a service but it certainly was not founded to operate a bunch of services to keep the lights on for a set of tools that run the day-to-day. Every minute spent on these is a minute not spent on creating a better widget. Tech giants such as Google have their widget and they spend billions to make it the best in the industry, so why fight that, instead take advantage of it and spend your businesses time on the value of improving that widget you’re in business for.
I can’t stress this enough, it has become more and more clear to me as time goes on, be about what moves your business forward, not about bogging down in systems and services that are purely there to keep the lights on. An example of this is if you are a software engineering company building a mobile app, you wouldn’t install and operate the air conditioning in your office, would you? Now, could you do this? Yes, you could hire engineers and equipment, get the required qualifications, but why on earth would you when it adds no value to your business, which is developing this mobile app. So my question is why do this with payroll systems, email, storage, video conferencing, the list goes on and on. We want to consume these services to aid our business but we do not want to be spending any time or effort on operating them.
This is ultimately what led me to my Vision for technology, it is a statement of how I wanted what my teams and I do to impact both the business and its customers, be focused on core products and leveraging the best technology whilst working and listening to each other and so this vision was created…
“To create environments in which we and our customers can be successful, delivering value through secure lean automated operations whilst looking for opportunities for innovation. Continuously improving through open, honest feedback and collaboration.”
I did not want my legacy at these businesses to be the person that left (we all do leave at some point) with huge amounts of technical debt, or legacy systems that took away from value or poor ways of working. I wanted to put in people, processes and technologies that long after I had gone would be looked on positively, hence the creation of the mission.
Do give real time and effort to creating a Vision or Mission statement, it will probably live on with you, your team and business for some time so respect that and give it real energy.
Communicate it, and keep doing so. Put in at the beginning of slide decks let people know that this subject is related to and empowering that vision.
Keep checking back, is it delivering on the promise you set out, has it or is it achieving the outcomes desired.
Use it to guide your teams during hiring and developing
Don’t be afraid to change it, but be open about it. What has changed and is it the vision or just the approach, often the vision is still the right one just the way you might achieve it has changed.
So my Spark had led me to my Vision but only because I had remained open-minded about the solution, had given it the proper respect and thought to go beyond the problem in front of me and wider than the technology, what were going to be the behavioural and cultural impacts positive or negative.
There is much more to this story and many other lessons learnt along the way, and I will be sharing those in the future.
To learn more around how Martin helps our customers to accept and manage change in digital transformation, download our latest whitepaper “The importance of change management”.
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