Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Ions ate us for lunch

CIO Insight posted an interview of Bob Otto , the retiring CIO/CTO of the US Postal Service. I found the interview from a linked posted by Bob Gourley in How is the USPS like your IT enterprise?.

Bob Gourley quotes a segment that identifies Bob Otto's three guiding principles, summarized below in bullet form.

  • Standardize everything
    If you find a process you like, standardize it
  • Centralize everything you can
    If you have services in five different places and you can centralize them, you will have reliability, predictability
  • Simplify
    The computer has taken over your life, so I want it to be intuitive [for people to operate and manage]. I also test my own dog food.
Distilled further, we have standardization, centralization, and simplification.


These seem quite reasonable on the surface, but let's think about them for a moment or two.

Standardizing on a process you like? This presupposes that what you like is actually the best fit for the organization. I suppose one could assume that "like" includes this as an assumption. Hmm...

Centralize everything you can? This presupposes that all services are best delivered centrally. I agree that increased predictability is likely, but I question reliability and a small list of other potentially important attributes. Hmm...

Simplify? Yes - we have one point of agreement. Generally...


Still convinced these three principles are sounds? Perhaps they are true for some environments. A slow growth company in a mature market primarily requiring maintenance activities might benefit from these principles. Very few business, however, can assume these conditions.

Still convinced? Let's combine these principles and see where it might lead us.

We are newly appointed as CIO of

We discover a variety of seemingly duplicated services spread across the landscape. Hungry to show value to the business, we centralize them to achieve reliability and predictability. We even gain some economies of scale, so we get some cost savings to boot.

As part of the centralization, we decide one of the service implementations has the most efficient and effective processes. This becomes the standard process for all of the newly centralized services.

As we centralize, we notice several portions where some simplification can occur, so we do some process trimming. We've also eliminated some of the tasks performed by the once disparate services, so we're starting to see some dramatic moves towards simpler processes and systems. So far, so good.

We expect dramatic improvements. We might even expect some appreciation for our efforts.

For a time, we might actually receive the kudos for our accomplishments.

Then we notice a curious phenomena. The grumbling continues. Needs are not met. Changes are still required. Costs are still steep.

We investigate the situation.

We are shocked at what we find.

It turns out that our centralization bulldozing exercise cause some key functionality to get pitched overboard. The functionality confused the centralization task force, so they accidentally left it off the analysis spreadsheets.

We discover that our choice for most likable process as in fact the result of decisions made during a golf game. (the golf game immediately following one particularly frustrating day of difficult process discovery discussions).

Alas, the process simplification activities further exacerbated the problem. As it turns out, the process simplification team couldn't fit certain features into their model of a perfect world. (more 'inadvertant' deletions).

We also notice that our competitors have been watching our strategic moves, countering them with a strategy based on more balanced principles. We watch as our competitor eats us for lunch.

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