Core vs. Context – Analyzing Your Services


OK, let’s get this over with.  Like quickly pulling off a bandaid.

I do not like Core vs. Context Analysis!
Why?  Because it’s hard!
And every time I do it my chasm mentor finds a weakness.  Boo!


Let me explain. Geoffrey Moore, in his excellent book “Dealing with Darwin“, outlined a market framework that identified process which differentiate your offerings from your competition.  These differentiations set your strategy and focus on what’s important for your customers.


I’ve conveniently hijacked this concept for IT, because it applies.  If you break down every one of your offerings into ‘services’, you can now categorize them into Core, Context, Mission-Critical and Non-Mission-Critical services.


I always seem to make the mistake of putting too many services into the Mission-Critical / Core quadrant.  Networks?  Sure, can’t run the company without them.  E-mail? Ditto.  Applications?  All of them!  Too many CIO’s think that everything they do is MC-Core.


They may be mission-critical to the business.  You do need to produce product, invoice your customers, collect money, pay employees/vendors, etc., but these things are still contextual to you.  What that means is that though they are in your delivery charter, they are still services that you could outsource or offload to someone else.  The key word here is DIFFERENTIATION!  What do you do, as a service organization, that is different from what everyone else can do.  It may be dealing with trade-secrets, intellectual-property or data that is key to the value of the company.  These are areas in which you must invest IT assets for the benefit of your company.  Everything else must face scrutiny in how you prioritize your focus, effort and budget.   Once you have identified your services, you then must act on that analysis.  And that’s coming later.


This is an exercise where you really need to be BULLISH!!  If you get this right, then you are doing a valuable job for your company.  

If not, then you yourself have become NON-MISSION-CRITICAL and CONTEXTUAL.

And that’s not BULLISH!


Transmogrifying the World




OK, I’m supposed to be talking about ‘Core vs. Context’.  Mea Culpa.

Only I would dare to mix technology and religion!
Disclosure:  I worship and am a music-minister at a St. Patrick’s of White Lake.

So what does this have to do with IT?  A lot!  If you pay attention to what’s been happening, you probably have noticed that Pope Francis has publicly spoken about transforming the Catholic Church.  He wants a ‘poor church for the poor’.  While that has dramatic implications on the ‘way things are currently being done’, it should also remind you that transformation of anything, including something as big as the Catholic church, has commonalities to IT Transformation projects, such as:

  1. Change is necessary
  2. Change has to start ‘at the top’
  3. Technology is a key component to change

The last one excites me the most.  As I ponder changes in IT, technology is a major driver in transformation, after people.  There’s a lot to do and no time to waste.


So let’s think about the ‘church transformation’ and how technology plays an important role.  If the church becomes ‘poor’ by divesting it’s riches and investing in technology, it becomes much more influential and relevant by leveraging social-media, collaboration and logistics to meet it’s mission.  I don’t need to spell it out but, “imagine” no religion, but a community of ‘believers’ who spread their message, very economically, through current and future technologies, helping the needy through the technologies of logistical delivery.

That’s pretty powerful, practical and mission-fulfilling. This is what I believe as a technologist and a human.  (I won’t bore you with my personal philosophies).


OK, Back to BullishIT.  As leader of an IT organization, maybe we could take an early lesson from leaders such as Pope Francis:

  1. BE URGENT!  The world isn’t waiting and neither is technology
  2. BE HUMBLE!  The only thing that matters is getting it done
  3. BE POOR!  Stop complaining about your budget.  If you’re smart and creative you’ll figure out how to do amazing things cost-effectively.
  4. BE TRANSPARENT!  Well, this is very  important and we’ll see how this works out.
  5. BE COLLABORATIVE!  Reach out to other smart people who can help you.

Maybe I’m being a little bit naive and simplistic, but above all I have hope in technology people and faith in technology’s ability to do enormous good.  The lesson here is that we don’t have a lot of time, so get going!


Venturing Alone



What’s it like to start a business on your own?  I mean just you, no one else.  Is it possible?  When I started my company in 1985, I had a partner but I was the first to jump off the cliff into the venture.  It was scary and I was very busy.  My partner joined after a couple months, which made things easier.But, what if you’re doing it TOTALLY on your own, and although consulting gigs are still putting food on the table, I’d like to focus on software product startups.

I think that it’s fair to compare software startups similarly to writing a book, or creating a piece of art that you sell.  A lot of work being done by yourself that requires discipline, creativity, and alone-time to create a product that you are going to sell, support and market.


The nine-point checklist I’ve written about in the past also applies to one-person enterprises.  The good news is that you will own the checklist with no misunderstanding.  Also, you will have no one else to blame.  You own the business strategy and execution.

  • Target Customer – Remember, that this is ONLY you, so you need to be precise in who you’re selling to.
  • Compelling reason to buy – This also needs to be extremely clear and goes hand-in-hand with your target.
  • Whole product – This requires a LOT of work on your side, also a lot of diverse skills, which means you need to depend on…
  • Partners & Allies – You better find people, especially other entrepreneurs, that you can depend.
  • Distribution model – It better be SaaS or download.
  • Competition  – This is one area where you don’t want to worry too much.  Run fast and out-sell them all!
  • Positioning – Again, an area to be precise and focused.
  • Pricing – If you’re going it alone you should be able to have a decnt cost/value ratio, but don’t undersell yourself   I’ve seen this happen too many times and you end up working WAY TOO HARD.
  • Next Target – I wouldn’t worry about this right now.  Focus on succeeding with your current customer base.  Build loyalty and they’ll help you find your adjacency.


I have met a lot of folks who ‘go it alone’.  They all are wonderful, inspired people.  I don’t want to name names here because some folks don’t want the world to know that their app depends on them alone.I think one of the biggest challenges that lone-startups have is, basically, loneliness.  It’s tough when you’re not feeling well, or are a little down, or just want to have someone to share your daily successes and challenges.  My advice there is to network as much as possible with many people, even if it just means meeting for lunch or coffee.  Blog, post, stay on top of social-media, because relationships are still the most important component of any business and it is even more valuable when you’re building a business on your own.

So, go it alone?  Sure, just go with your eyes open.  Everything is on you so pick the right startup, work hard and have fun!



The IT ‘Empty Nest’ – Letting Go



IT Transmogrification continues…

Previously, I talked about some GUIDING PRINCIPLES in approaching IT Transformation.  The first is:

Define each IT service you provide along with costs

The reason you do this is so that you can have a BUSINESS CONVERSATION with your customer about the service you provide and how much you are charging for that service.  You need to do this for EVERY service you provide, defining the WHOLE SERVICE, too.  Headcount, contracts, SLA’s, hardware, software, anything that’s involved in providing the services must be detailed and costed.
How many times have you heard from your customer “Just give it to us, we could do it better and cheaper”.  Well, my response is “Be careful what you ask for”.


Here’s the trick.  You have to illustrate the service in a way to your customer ‘as if’ you are delegating the service to their authority and responsibility.  The reason you must go through this exercise is because your customer must be in a position to ‘opt out’ of that service.  In opting out, they must also define how they will fulfill that service in a cost-effective manner that meets their needs and also be accountable for that service. Most services, even if they are insourced or outsourced, must be governed by a corporate entity, and that oversite remains with IT.

This is a necessary discussion because it makes them understand the service better and it makes IT more competitive.  By looking at SaaS offerings, doing it themselves or, perhaps, realizing that they don’t need the service, we all become better corporate citizens and the relationship to your customer is now beyond service-provider.  These discussions allow you to become the ‘trusted adviser’ of IT services.

Our team went through this exercise and every conversation we had with our customers was very cooperative and productive.  They were appreciative of the transparency we provided and became constructive discussions on what they really needed and how much autonomy they wanted.


  “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free”

More times than not, you’ll find that your customer really doesn’t want to manage the service themselves.  They want a say in understanding the ROI on the service and you must treat them as a paying customer who can take their money somewhere else.   Authority and Responsibility begats Accountability and something-else-that-begins-with-the-letter-R. (I forget).

The lesson-learned here is complete transparency on the service you provide to your customer so that you will continue to provide that service.  On the other hand, if they take it and regret it, you could end up with ‘Boomerang IT’, and nobody wants that!

This is the NEW NORMAL.  This is BULLISH!

Next time I’ll talk a bit on “CORE VS. CONTEXT” analysis. BIG FUN!

Transmogrifying IT



OK, I hate it, not IT The it I hate is reading about every CIO who is ‘Transforming IT’.  Everybody’s doing it!  Who says IT suddenly needs to be transformed?


OK, I hate the term but, yes, IT groups need continuous change to adapt to the changing business requirements, reduce cost and increase technical value to the corporation.  So…


…you may remember the comic “Calvin and Hobbes”.

Calvin built a Transmogrifier  

Learn Something: Definition of TRANSMOGRIFY
transitive verb:  to change or alter greatly and often with grotesque or humorous effect
intransitive verb: to become transmogrified
Origin of TRANSMOGRIFY unknown
First Known Use: 1656


So, one of the projects I’m working on is the ‘Trans______’ of  IT.  The challenge is that most IT shops have many years of apps & infrastructure which have become an anchor.  This anchor is not only a drag on systems and applications, but also on careers and morale.  You just cannot move forward, so you need to cut the anchor.  This is nothing new.  Choose or build your new architecture and applications, migrate your systems and data to the new platform, abandon modifying the old system, but keep it around for historical and data warehousing.  We did this twenty years ago with an old VAX system and are overdue to do it on the current architecture.


In the coming blogs, I’ll discuss strategy and how to approach IT Transmogrification, but let’s start with some GUIDING PRINCIPLES:

  1. Define each IT service you provide along with costs.
  2. Identify Core vs. Context functions.
  3. Optimize Non-Core Services through reduction and/or outsourcing.
  4. Align Business Processes, standardize to avoid custom solutions.
  5. Assign service directly to a department, where possible.
  6. Invest in an Enterprise Data Architecture to provide information-sharing, governance and systems integration.
  7. Be transparent!   The best way to be successful is to be inclusive with your staff.

Let’s do ‘Lean Transmogrification’, so that we can quicly pivot if we accidently transmogrify into something that’s grotesque.  Humorous is OK.  This is tough work, BE BULLISH!