Qui Suis-je ?

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Lyon, France
47, married, 3 marvellous kids. IT Director for the last 15 years for a large multinational company. I believe in coaching, in professional life as well as in private and sports.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Why B.Y.O.T. requires Agility, or how to close the gap between IT and Business

Bring Your Own Technology is starting to make a big buzz these days. Should a company allow its employees to work with their own PC ? Or use a company SIM card into one's private iPhone ? I can hear thousands of employes and even Business leaders roar so loud I have to hide my ears : its a big YES and they just wonder why it has taken so long for so brilliant IT brains to recognize this...

Now seen from behind the IT world glasses it's a completely diffierent story: NO we can't do that and it would be for sure the end of the world... for so many good reasons (support, security, performance issues, costs), you name it, because IT is so much conscious of the danger, and Business is not.

So we can measure the gap has turned in an abyss, and IT managers or CIO should really step back from the daily pressure and seriously focus on getting closer to their customer expectations. How can they possibly do this ?

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Business Technologies

BT is again another acronym that is now making a quite significant buzz on the Internet. While companies are diving into ITIL or Business Service Management, they tend to come across a number of concepts with strange names, all including "service" in their title, which makes it a little bit difficult to find your way towards excellence in IT service management.

I'll be back to ITIL and Service Management in a future post, but for today I wanted to share with you the concept of Business Technology. Is it really new or is it just another trendy buzz?

What Is B.T.?

The fact is that still in many companies, even more when they are of Anglo-Saxons culture, the BT acronym does not immediately raise a comfortable feeling of known-and-seen-it before. The more common answer to what is BT is still "British Telecom" ;-)

With all the respect we owe to this venerable communication provider, BT is now something else in the IT management world, but still not very precise in anybody's mind, and difficult to define accurately. If I were to attempt to define it in one line, I would probably propose something like: "BT is about turning internal IT orgs technical information processing into Information Services geared towards Business Development".

Mmm…, right, so what does this shift from Information Technology to Business Technology is telling us?

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

10 Things You Should Be Doing In 2010

I know it's a classic at this time of the year, but think about it... doesn't it make real sense ? Call it coaching, personnal development, strategy, whatever you name it : we would al  be better off if really applying some of this...
Motivation is like creating a positive energy engine : it starts with small objectives. If you meet those, you fill energy in your engine, which enables you to consider and achieve higher objectives, and if you meet those...etc. the ball is rolling. So let's consider those nice new year resolutions like individual objectives, and see how much energy this will bring into our life !
As far as I'm concerned, I'm convinced for a long time already, so I'm pleased to share with you what are my personnal 10 objectives for this new year. I encourage you to think of your own, and if you can't find 10, maybe you can adapt some of these by simply replacing "me" with "you" !
  1. Listen more than Talk : This is typically me : I'm so convinced, and I want to convince the others...loosing lots of opportunities to be enriched by them. I'm under pressure, need to go fast, directly to the point, and looses again opportunity to have another way... I can't promise I will listen more than talk, but my objective is to go for a fair balance.
  2. Establish A Budget : I am changing role. In my previous role I used to manage a clear cut budget, knowing exactly what's been agreed in it with my Management. It was such a strength ! Giving me the weapon to say "No" to silly requests. I want to be back in that comfortable position, so I will put things on the table until the budget of the new team is agreed transparently.
  3. Make a mid-year review of objectives with my new team : Well... a prerequisite is to have established objectives, which is still on my to-do list. But what's the point of establishing objectives if you do not follow them ? Reviewing at the end of the year does not help much either, as it is too late to correct anyway. Building a new team is just the right time for team objectives, so appointment is taken in June !
  4. Balance my life : I know, easy to say and more easy to forget. I spend as much time as I can with my relatives, but do not tell them enough I love them. They are the earth that enable me to grow and be powerful, and they deserve more. Also, live a little bit more healthy, practice sport again. I did very well last year and it was such a good thing, bringing me the body capacity to sustain the pressure until I got injured. Sure this is something I want to start again this year. Also take care of the working pressure, which drives us into doing the same thing all the time, just working, thus preventing us to develop other horizons. How can I be inventive and think out of the box then ?
  5. Develop a passion : Have you ever tried to interrogate a colleague about his passion, and see how much energy that simple conversation was providing to him ? Try it if you didn't yet. A passion is an amazing energy source. We all have at least one, and do not dedicate enough time to it. You could think it's not worth the time and does not bring much to you professional efficiency. That's so wrong ! Look at it this way : you are a sawer trying to saw a tree. You put all your energy in it until you are tired and the saw is loosing its sharpness, so the work is less efficient, and you have to put more energy in it... bad loop. Developping a passion is simply like sharpening the saw !
  6. Meet key actors and influencers outside of my immediate working sphere: This is were your customers are, the people that judge our results ultimately. I need to meet more of these in my new role, get to know what their real business expectations are. How can I be sure to meet expectations if I do not make the effort of getting them expressed directly to me ?
  7. Organize my digital life : I'm on twitter, I received hundreds of e-mail per day on several e-mail accounts both professional and private, my Blackberry is badly synched with my Ipod, my PC desktop environment is a mess, and my project folder resemble a Carnaval day in Rio... We all know this and its counterpart: loosing so much time in retrieving information when needed. I'm a digital and organized person, so no reason why I should not sort this out decently to get a good fresh start in my new role. After all, these tools are supposed to help us being more efficient, not loosing more time!
  8. Choose to be positive : I think I am generally, but recently I found out that the pressure was making me more aggressive, or at least taking less time to think about things before shouting. I tried several times, when I felt the steam of an anger growing, to step back asking myself a simple question : "why is he (she) doing that like that". just asking the question forces me to think about his drivers, constraints, to consider his filters, his interests. In one word : understanding. This solved a number of issues even before they became issues, and I want this to become a positive habit.
  9. Learn Something and
  10. Teach something: Learning make you wealthier in many manner, and this opens your mind and extand your ability to think out of the box, understand other point of view, identify filters, get smarter. I do a lot of reading, but mainly professional reading. I love French History, and want to learn more about this. it's good to learn about past errors and experiences. Teaching is also very rewarding. When teaching to somebody, more than one person is learning something...I come to the fifties now, and I feel like I have something to tell to the youger generation. It's not only about experience sharing, it's also about win-win : it's another source of personal energy !

Friday, 4 December 2009

What is an Expert? Or how I make my life easier...

In our IT world, we often face very good technical people. Amongst the variety of highly skilled technicians, some will bring a lot to the company, some others will bring a lot to themselves... As IT Manager, you would like to know how to recognize the best value adders technicians. Here are some tricks I use to attempt to detect the ones that will really help my life :
  • Beware of Experts: an expert is somebody that knows more and more about less and less... until he knows everything about nothing! Which means he's so focused on some very high specificities that he becomes useless to the company most of the time and works for his own researchs. Might be fine in a research laboratory, but hardly employabe in any other kind of company. Sky rocketting technical skills are not always a guarantee of benefits for the company.
  • Seek for the Customer approach: A good technician would love to see his solutions effectiveley used by the end-users. What's the point of inventing the wheel in your garage and nobody knows about it ? A good technician will not only invent the wheel and make it known by the public, but will also spend time explaining how it works so that the public makes the best use of it. Avoid technicians that are good inventers, but then use the "throw over the fence" method to transmit their invention into operations group.
  • Escape from "Technology for Technology": I have seen so many cases where a Rolls-Royce solution had been put together just because it was using state-of-the-art technology. The technicians that invented it where so proud about it - with good reasons when you look at it from a technical perspective. But the end result was higher costs for the company, to use unrequired functions, expensive technology, and high maintenance budgets.
  • Look for documentation and sharing skills: if you were to find the criteria that makes the difference between two equally technically skilled guys, you would want to consider their sharing and documenting ability. As previously explained in this blog, documentation is what make the difference between a good technician and a professional one. You need to consider that the solutions to technical issues are not supposed to rest only in his brain (what happens when he is in holidays?)
  • Avoid geeks and garagists: It's fun to think IT is a country of freedom, where you can dress whatever you like, wear improbable tee-shirts and display striking logos for unaproved company standards (preferably open source software ones ;-) ), but in the real world, your IT department is perceived as it looks like. And if your technicians are used to leave dead body machines disembowelled all over the place, then it's likely your IT department will have the influence of garagists, not the one of real value-adders to the business.
With all this in mind, I have always been able to select high value-adders technicians which are really making the difference, or incentive my team mates to improve in the area they were lacking. It's a win-win situation when they really get to it, and that's one of the things that makes my life easier !

Monday, 23 November 2009

SQL Server virtualization : is it a good idea ?

You can read all kinds of articles on the Net whether it's good or not to virtualize an SQL server. In this jungle, it proves quite challenging to find a pragmatic way of making a concious decision. After spending some time on this subject, I can now propose a kind of decison tree to drive you to an opinion with little chance of getting wrong. Before jumping to the conclusion, please note that this is working only assuming the following :
  • You know what you're about to do : Do not get too much influenced about what you find on net forums and check the obsolescence of the articles : many of them are dated before Microsoft actually supported SQL on any virtual platform. Bear in mind also that latest versions of virtualization solutions have improved significantly over the past few months.
  • Your virtualization platform is mature and well supported by skilled administrators
  • Your SQL version is supported on virtual environment by Microsoft : see MS KB article http://support.microsoft.com/kb/956893 to know which virtual environment are supported.
  • Your SQL application is clean and supported by skilled DBAs
If any of the above bullets are not checked positively, please forget about virtualizing your SQL server and do the right things first and in the right order.

Now next questions to ask yourself are :
  • Is my current SQL (physical server) providing the right level of performance, and do I risk to degrade this performance ?
  • Is my current SQL (physical server) providing the right level of reliability, and do I risk to degrade this reliability.
Please note these two questions should be answered from an end-user or business perspective. If you get two 'YES' to these questions, then the only reason why you would still want to virtualize is if it would bring a significant operational benefit (cost savings or operational tasks savings), such as these benefits would override the risk. This is a business decision, not a technical one.

After this step, if you still think it's a good idea (which might very well be !) , please consider the following :
  • Do you have a REAL good idea of the performance of your existing platform ? You need to know the number of IOs, disk throughput during stress periods, real CPU usage. This parameters are easy to assess now on a physical environment, and will be more cumbersome afer virtualization as CPU, Disks, HBAs, might be shared with other virtual machines. See VMWare white paper regading their view about performance : http://www.vmware.com/files/pdf/perf_vsphere_sql_scalability.pdf.
  • Have you already optimized your SQL instance ? By puttings logs on a different disk that the database itself for example. Ok it's a basic, but this basic will also apply on your virtual LUNs.
  • Is your existing physical platform already making extensive use of a SAN and load balancing HBAs ? If yes, it's unlikely that you will obtain a higher performance after virtualizing.
So the conclusion is that the decision is obviously case dependant. There is no black and white in this matter, and the more you know about your existing virtual platform, the easiest the decision is.

This quick guide was inspired by both my own experience and a very good article with pro's and con's from Brent Ozar, which you can read at http://www.brentozar.com/archive/2009/03/why-would-you-virtualize-sql-server/

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Vicious circle or negative spiral

... also called "law of bad series" or how to deal with an error made by a team member ?

You need to understand that at a given time, a team member has a finite capacity of doing things. It can be assimilated to an energy level. Let's say the guy starts with an energy level of 100 to do 10 tasks he has to achieve. Let's say he takes 10 of this energy to do task A, and does it wrong (he makes an error).  Then his boss comes and hammers strongly on his head because of this error. This hard time results in a significant loss of energy, at least -20. Now he has 100 - 10 (energy taken to do the A task) - 20 (energy lost due to his boss angryness) = 70 to do the rest of the tasks, where normally he would need 90. But on the top of that, because he was hardly criticised on the first task he did wrong, he will focus more energy on it to get it right and correct it, using 20 of energy where normally only 10 is required. So he is left with 70 -20 (energy consumed to redo the A task correctly and over killing it) = 50 to do the rest of the tasks, that normally require 90...
Guess what happens next: he makes rapidly another error on one of the remaining tasks, because he has a great deficit of energy to do these, and then his boss comes back even more angry about him ! and the ball is rolling towards total failure...

Morale of this story: if you're the boss and one of your guys makes an error, be comprehensive as long as it was not a fault, and balance the lost energy from your guy with your own in order to avoid falling in that negative spiral.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Network Management or network management ?

Don't be confused, I'm not talking technology here, so forget about LANs, switches and protocols. The network we are talking about here is a network of internal and external business relationships, which enable a new way of managing teams within the company.
In the past, management used to be hierarchical, which had the advantage of a crystal clear distribution of power. Efficiency was obtained by a combination of power and energy multiplied by time spent. This made the golden age of productivism.
When the limit was reached, collaborative and participative management arose. Middle management and team members were more involved in decision making. Higher efficiency was gained by more enthousiasm of all the actors who felt they were more considered and made responsible. This type of management is still around and has not reached its limits by the fact that still many companies are not yet there. But the world is going fast and more was required.
A big disruption in the power distribution was introduced by the multiplication of Project teams and delegation of a lot of means to the project managers. This in combination with participative management is currently one of the most advanced ways of managing. Especially true in the IT world where projects are raging due to the high pace of the technology, we encounter more and more of these project driven organizations.
Now what's next ? It's called Network Management, from the idea that these multiple and so efficient teams are linking together in a network of relationships where "the boss" concept is virtual and distributed. A leader in a team can be a simple actor in another team. Teams are extremely efficient by the instant share of information using latest technology. No information is hardly considered confidential and all information is available at the speed of light. This kind of management can only function in very mature organization where the human factor is extremely rich and managers are ready to play this new game. If not, the risk of a fuzzy organization with unclear frontier between roles is high, and then the organization will fall in the hole of non mature managers trying to protect their castle.
Isn't that a little hope in our mad world : human factor is back in management !

For those who want to know more about it : Le Manager Intuitif - Myriem le Saget

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Communicating : another thing you need 2 persons to do

Everything and its contrary has already been said about communication, so why add more ink on this subject ? Maybe you will be interested by a simple conclusion that might avoid you tons of reading : Communication is something you have to do with 2 persons at minimum.
It sounds obvious, but in daily life, who really is focused on getting the other part's view rather than imposing it's own ?
I have a motto when any one comes by to me complaining about bad communication from the management (in many employee's mind, Management and Communication seem to be two incompatible words that exclude each other somehow...) or from any other source : I tell them when communication fails, it's never the fault of one end only. I try to open their minds by asking honestly which effort they have made personnaly in order to obtain information from the source, to understand their point of view, which sometimes when you're lucky leads to also understand part of their constraints.
We recently had a good example within my company, when we decided to implement some nice LCD screens all over the building linked to a Dynamic Display server solution. The project was decided after an all-employee survey which revealed the employees where not satisfied with transversal communication between departments. In one word they were complaining that they did not know what the neighbour mate in his office next to him was f... doing all day long ? Dynamic Display could be a good answer to this, but only under the condition that all departments would pay a regular effort to put some stories of their working life, objectives or results on it. On this basis the project started. The solution was technically interesting and the working group enthusiast, until we started to actually deploy the screens in coffee-machines areas and open spaces. At this stage, employees came back complaining this is another way for the Management to impose its top-down communication... By the time we developped the solution (6 months), they had just forgotten their part of the deal...
Now for those interested in starting an internal communication strategy, and getting it right from all what is possible in the jungle, here is an interesting starting point : concise, complete, short and practicle : http://www.civicus.org/new/media/CIVICUSInternalCommunicationToolkit.doc

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Being Professional about Documentation

Whether you like it or not, the quality of your IT documentation is what really makes the difference between geeks and IT professionals. As an IT manager, one the daily difficulties is to convince the IT troops not only to build documentation, but to build the RIGHT documentation.

One way to convince them is to ask them to take over the support of somebody else application or responsibility, or a different site, without any documentation, let them feel the heat, and then tell them that time lost there is directly considered in their productivity...

If you're good enough after a while they will all start producing documents. At this stage you'd better be prepared as these might grow rapidly to a point where it's hard to manage. So think in advance while they are suffering with their word editor how you will :
  • structure
  • store
  • retreive and index
  • keep updated
There are tons of good vendors ready to sell you a "Document Management System" : don't be fooled : if you can't organize it on your side, no system will handle the situation for you, so I advise you to really give it enough thoughts beforehand.

Then you will have to face the technical content : sometimes hard to understand for anybody else than the writer, so why then put it down into a document ? There are some solutions to improve technical writing. I was amazed by the approach of "Information Mapping" from FsPro. See http://www.infomap.ca/IM/Resources/Software/FSPro/

Now look at your IT department : would users survive if your troops catch H1N1 flue and you get some temps replacing them ?

3 Keys for success

High level overview : please consider these 3 areas as your main possibilities to be successfull as an IT Manager :
  1. People
  2. Processes
  3. Technology
1. Your people are the IT team members. Obviously nothing is possible without them, but very little will be achieved with them if they are not performing to the best of their ability. Your first consideration should be to bring them up in environment where they really feel they are part of the game and real actors of the added value to the business.
2. Processes are at the center of a service orientated organization, preferrably based on ITIL. Nothing should be done which does not bring a real added value to the business, so that requires real alignment of IT processes to serve business. Do you have a clear and always up-to-date map of all your IT processes ?
3. Technology : this is where most of IT teams feel better, but technology for technology is what kills IT credibility. Consider technology is here to bring a business solution to life, but it's not THE solution in itself. Ask yourself : why are we doing this ? what is the driver ? If it's not business, then it's likely it's wasted money and no value added to the business... but if it's for the business, then the technology must be ad-hoc, i.e, efficient, proven, deployable and operatable in the most efficient manner.