What The Spice Girls can teach IT

Thought that may get your attention! – don’t worry this is not about how to sing, dance or write catchy pop tunes (fill in your own Spice Girls related joke)

As much fun as I’m sure that would be, that’s sadly not the point of this post.

This was triggered by more mundane business matters, so how on earth are the Spice Girls and IT related, let me explain;

Recently I met with a local manufacturing business, big organisation, part of a just in time production environment, supplying component parts to an extremely successful company, great meeting I hear you say…and indeed it was, apart from it reminded me of something else;

I’m sure we’ve all heard that story about asking for directions – which ends up something along the lines of the answer been

Well if I was you, I wouldn’t start from here!

Why? well during our meeting the IT chaps discussed their requirements and how the production process is run by a single application that is delivered via their enterprise system architecture. Sounds great doesn’t it, what could possible go wrong?

The enterprise system as you can imagine was critical to their everyday business, in fact so critical, if they had a failure then every minute they would be liable to a penalty.

Understandably the point of our meeting was how as a business do they protect themselves from that risk, their idea was support contracts and stringent maintenance with robust service level agreements.

That was of course where the problem starts, and this is where the Spice Girls help!.

Everything that we’d discussed about what they did and what they NEEDED as a business, painted a picture in my mind of the kind of infrastructure I’d expect to see, I’d expect resilience, no single points of failure, robust high availability.

However we were then introduced to the setup that their parent companies technical folk had deployed for them and although the infrastructure was not poor or shabby in any way, it of course lacked all of the components I’d expect to see to meet the needs of the business. In fact in the event of a major component or environment failure, they would be hitting penalty clause after penalty clause, because there would be no quick recovery from failures of certain parts of the infrastructure and that’s why the sage like advice of Scary, Ginger, Baby, Sporty and Posh is important to us… what advice is that I hear you shout?

If we think back to the poetic majesty of the Spice Girls first hit “Wannabee”, remember that deep meaningful chorus?

I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want

Within that chorus lies the secret to a good IT solution, the disconnect in our example was the business knew exactly what it wanted, what it really really wanted, it needed resilience, high availability, quick recovery, however either the technical architects didn’t listen, or they didn’t shout loud enough, because what they got, was not anywhere near what they needed.

I share this story, because it is an issue that IT has suffered from for a very long time, technical solutions dictating business process and strategy. For me one of the most obvious examples of this is data backup, for year’s business strategy around data protection and backup has been nightly backups to offsite media (tape, external drives) which meant that the recovery plan for a business was not set by the needs and goals of that organisation but by the technology, either the technology available or that understood by the architect.

It was never driven by how it should be, which is a discussion around business need, How quickly do we need our systems back? how much data are we prepared to lose? commonly known as recovery time and recovery point objectives. Which has led to many an implemented solution not meeting the goals of the business.

The reality for the business in the earlier example was that the current architecture, dictated for them, was not capable of meeting fundamental requirements.

How does this happen?

One of the big challenges people from a technical background have and I definitely include myself in this, is we love to talk about technology, tell everyone how clever it is and the wonderful things it does and normally we’re not bothered whether you’re technical or not…we want to share that enthusiasm and that’s where the problem starts.

So let’s set ourselves a challenge, a challenge for both technical and non technical people, to ensure that whether we are consuming IT to solve a problem, or we are architecting a solution for someone, that we make sure we are getting the solution right for everyone;

Understand the big picture

If you’re technical, that challenge is to listen, make sure you know not only the potentially narrow problem you are presented with, but take time to understand more about the business you are trying to help, because sometimes understanding the big picture means you can solve more than just one problem.

channel The Spice Girls

If you’re not technical then your challenge is different, when you are considering technology in your business, firstly, take it seriously, understand technology can provide massive benefit to your organisation and it’s not just an unnecessary cost. Be prepared to share what you are trying to achieve as a business, if a technical architect is asking you those questions, please don’t see them as an intrusion, see them as an opportunity for you to get the very best solution for your business and lastly remember to channel the Spice Girls, don’t be afraid to tell them what you want, what you really really want…to achieve from your technology investment.

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