Returning IT to its' roots of creativity and invention [guest post written by Simon Barrow]

Version 2

    Happy Wednesday all!


    I'm publishing this from a beautiful small English town called Lewes where I am attending a training course this week. I've just been for a run across the South Downs so am feeling very virtuous(!) I'm also feeling lucky to be able to spend a few days away, focusing on developing some new skills. I'm very grateful to my manager Simon for encouraging me to spend time on personal development, and now I get the chance to introduce him to you because he is this weeks guest writer.







    Hi readers, my name is Simon and I am the Director of Customer Success within the Google for Work team. Kim has asked me to share my thoughts on a topic close to my heart - bringing creativity and innovation back to the IT departments of our customers, to enhance the organisation's competitive advantage. There are two key components to achieve this goal: shift your workloads to the cloud, and use good leadership and organisational change management to refocus your team.


    According to a research report we commissioned recently, IT was named as the department most critical to innovating in order to drive organisational competitive advantage (see figure 6). Yet most CIO’s feel that the majority of their time is spent executing ‘keeping the lights on’ type activities. As the public cloud is increasingly seen as the most secure, reliable and cost-effective option to harness computing power, shifting workload to the cloud gives IT leaders the opportunity to re-focus resources on the roots of IT: creativity, invention, and solving business problems to increase competitive advantage.


    What is fuelling this shift to the cloud?


    At its’ most fundamental level, the public cloud is a more scalable, more secure, and more reliable option than on-premise architecture. This is now widely accepted, and is the reason so many businesses are migrating to the cloud. This pace of migration will continue to increase for an additional reason- there is an expectation from end users and businesses that computing power will continue to improve over time.


    In 1965, Gordon Moore (later one of the founders of Intel) noted that the number of components that could be crammed into an integrated circuit was roughly doubling every two years- an observation which has now held true for almost 50 years. People have also been predicting the demise of Moore’s law for almost as long. However simple physics is now finally bringing the law to an end; the latest transistors are now reaching atomic proportions, meaning microprocessors in their current sense physically can’t get any smaller.


    The expectation that technology constantly gets better, combined with the slowdown in improvements at the hardware level, means that organisations now need to look for alternatives to traditional, local computing power. The public cloud has the scale to leverage alternative mechanisms to consistently increase computing power, such as neural networks, interconnectedness, and dedicated chips and architectures for specific jobs that can only be leveraged in the cloud.


    This is good for industry. The significant resources that were previously dedicated to designing, architecting, building, testing, tuning, administering, and managing infrastructure and software can now be freed up, and dedicated to tasks that help your company become more competitive. What follows is my simple step by step plan to lead your organisation through this change.


    Step 1: Shift your workloads to the cloud.

    ‘Best of breed’ software as a service is a great place to start. Shifting core enterprise processes to lightweight, nimble, born in the cloud SAAS providers such as Salesforce, Workday and Google is the first step. Based on my experience having helped thousands of organisations move to Google Apps - I can confidently say that these projects are 70-80% shorter and simpler than traditional enterprise migrations. The majority of migrations to Google’s collaboration suite typically happen in around 90 days, even for large organisations with tens of thousands of employees.


    Migrating your data warehouse/ BI/ analytics to the cloud comes next. Cloud Dataflow and BigQuery are great solutions that facilitate immediate engagement with the services layer, and therefore allow you to bypass all the work that your teams previously did in building and running the infrastructure; Ocado, for example, took half a day to rewrite a real-time data processing system in Cloud Dataflow and Pub/Sub that had previously taken them over six months to build in Spark & Hadoop - you can read more about that here.


    Once you’ve shifted as much to ‘best of breed’ cloud vendors as possible, and freed up some capacity from your data warehousing and analytics teams, you can turn your mind to creating ‘net new’ functionality that will help your business become more competitive.


    Step 2: Get the right tools.

    The next step is to equip your teams with an enterprise toolset that enables creativity straight away, without needing to build an architecture or platform first. I regularly see customers developing applications using products such as Google App Engine.  It might be the next billion dollar product, such as Snapchat, or much smaller, rapidly developed applications that deliver point solutions to their businesses. We’ve had customers build simple applications that manage room bookings in their corporate calendar, provide a sitemap for employees, or provide a visual employee directory to find the right people.  All built within a couple of weeks. Small tools like these will save individuals maybe five minutes a day- but imagine the total savings that could provide across the whole organisation!


    Your team will need to get familiar with the new tools at their disposal. There are many freely available resources online that allow your team to skill up in a way that suits them- see our cloud platform resources here, and our android developer training here as great examples.


    Once you’ve got the capacity, the skills and the toolset, it is now time for the crucial component of organisational change- good executive leadership and change management. You can find great tips to managing through change elsewhere on this blog, however some key components of achieving change specifically within the IT team are as follows:


    Step 3: Provide direction and executive sponsorship.

    Consistently, we see that the most successful digital transformation strategies are fuelled by a strong leader, who empowers agile teams with the mandate to change. Think about the things you want to achieve as a business, and communicate this as a destination to your teams. Every business is different, but the consistent themes I see stated as strategic goals are: 1. Increasing collaboration, 2. Increasing efficiency, and 3. Increasing the pace of innovation within the business. Ensure you’re leading by example, be active and visible through the change, solicit feedback (and act upon it) and reward and recognise those that demonstrate the right behaviours- more on that below!


    Step 4: Create a culture of experimentation.

    There are some very impactful tactical things that you can do to light the fires of creativity within your team. Often, very small teams with a clear mandate and the autonomy to take risks can yield the biggest results. Think about creating ‘SWAT’ teams of a business analyst, project manager, and application developer to go around the business and deliver solutions within a 3 week time-frame: Week 1: Solicit requirements and design solution, Week 2: Build and test, Week 3: Deploy and iterate.


    Having the teams work on a mixture of significant long term projects, and much smaller short term implementations can often keep teams motivated and keep the business happy from a delivery standpoint. One of my customers shared with me that he set a mandate for his team of one release per week, every week- whether large or small. Thus creating momentum, a positive buzz within the business, and a sense of pride and satisfaction within the team.


    Finally, think about creating flexible project spaces where teams can huddle and immerse themselves in the task at hand, free from the distractions of everyday office life. Chromecast, and Chromebox for meetings are simple, cost effective ways of equipping these spaces with the tools for fast, efficient collaboration. Make these spaces light, fun, and comfortable- a few coloured bean bags can go a long way!


    Step 5: Encourage ‘bottom up’ transformation.

    Google’s Transformation Lab methodology is an example of a “bottom-up” approach to transformation. It is based on “agile” methodology principles which encourage collaboration, adaptability and continuous improvement. A ‘top-down’ approach to transformation typically comes from a CxO, whereas a ‘bottom up’ approach provides the opportunity for everyone within an organisation to create ideas for change. The most successful organisations will embrace and encourage both approaches simultaneously. ‘Bottom up’ ideas don’t have to be big or expensive, and many of them will be fairly simple to execute but will be highly impactful. The important difference is that everyone becomes responsible for improvement, and this leads to transformation.


    Step 6: Reward successes (and failures).

    Here at Google, we encourage a culture of failing fast. This does two things for our business: 1. We get rid of the bad ideas very quickly, and 2. We provide a culture where people feel safe to take risks- and it’s only by taking these risks that we solve the biggest problems. A culture that sees failure as a bad thing kills innovation. Encourage washup/ lessons learned sessions where you can reinforce the message that failure is a positive learning experience.


    My final tip is to ensure that you and your team are having fun! There’s nothing more exciting than solving complex problems to help your business move faster, so keep the energy high, and enjoy the process. We’re always learning at Google, so I’d love to hear from you about your stories of digital transformation or about your experience with any of the above steps.