Opportunity, Risk, and the Technology Gap

 

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You know them well – ready-to-go-technologies to leverage and disrupt.

Let’s just call them big-data, cloud, web-services and mobile-OS, although each term has been hijacked, scrubbed and polished to sell you something much less than the technologies really have to offer.  You have to be savvy enough to see far beyond the hype.

BUT…

…The technologies themselves don’t really matter, because there will always be something new.  Who cares?  Just pick up the next innovation as it comes.  It’s about continuous disruptive evolution.  Give me a problem to solve and I’ll solve it fast, today.  I have a full technology toolbox and I’m looking for business problems to solve, and if your business model is fat, dumb and happy, I’m going to disrupt you and take away your customers.  Go ahead, start a project; I’m leaner, I have smarter developers and I want to put you out of business.

Welcome to the New Normal.


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Opportunity and risk are the result of the technology gap and closing that gap should be your number-one priority.

–  Risk is doing nothing.
– Opportunity is exploiting everything
You think you know your competition?  Think about this: your competition is two students coding fast and furious on laptops out of their dorm room.   They’re just looking for that lucrative business model that everyone may think has already been solved, but they’ve figured out a way to do it better, faster, cheaper.  And that business model may be YOURS.

What to do? Act. Now. You can and should close as much of the gap as possible by leveraging service-based solutions that don’t provide any differentiated value.  This is commodity work; let someone else do it.  Delegate it, give it to someone who is really good at executing a project plan.  But get it out of sight so that you can use your brain and your talented staff to implement the differentiated technologies that will move your company forward and disrupt your competition before they disrupt you.

Example:  TV remote-control units have been mostly infrared units, requiring line-of-site to your video/audio system.  iRule, a Detroit-based startup (disclosure-we are an investor), saw the opportunity to create a remote-control app that leverages equipment you already own (smartphone, tablet, wifi) that not only creates a better user-experience (you can now put all your equipment out-of-sight) but also a cheaper alternative to the really expensive, proprietary systems.  They saw the technology gap in the older business models and had the brains, brawn and well, intestinal-fortitude to take on the risk for the sake of the opportunity.  They’re succeeding by not only continuously exploiting the technology gap but disrupting the competition’s business model.

I could go on and on, but so can you.  First, take a look at the technologies available.  Research them, then learn them, then, take a look at your own business.  Are you exploiting these technologies?  If not, take a REALLY close look at your competitors and ESPECIALLY start-ups.  If you see the disruptive threats, and chances are you will, get moving.   If you don’t see them, still get moving and disrupt yourself!  The Old Normal was about complacency – the New Normal is about cadence, continuous change at a continuous pace.

But, most importantly, make sure you have the technical talent on your team who deliver disruption to the marketplace.  I’ll talk more about this talent and what they’re looking for as we further explore the New Normal.

P-Cz

About Paul Czarnik
Paul is the CTO of Compuware where he provides technology strategy and investment leadership. A venture-technologist and programmer at heart, his hands-on experience and technical diligence model help with M&A activities and incubator/startups. Contact him at @PaulCzrnk to chat about IT Transformation (even though he hates that word), agile delivery, lean startup methodologies or music.

Paul serves on the boards of, iRule, the Motown Museum and the Admission/Retention Committee for Wayne State University.

“Everybody Codes!”

paul czarnik warcryThat was my battle-cry when I ran all the development labs which ran hundreds of product development projects a year with 1,500 technical folks.  Now, I did have specialists who did not code, but when I was hiring new talent, programming ability was high on my list of requirements.  When it comes to these non-coding functions, I was looking for a basic understanding on how code and data work.

Here’s why.

Programmers are problem-solvers and approach problems in a very unique way.  That is why there is only a small percentage of the population whose brains are wired this way and the solutions we build incorporate both engineering and creative disciplines.  Now that may seem counter-intuitive to the ‘build to the requirements’ approach, but most differentiated solutions that I’ve seen are based on technology exploits that most users are not even aware of, much less design for.  When you have an organization that’s steeped in code, everybody understands each other much better.  It’s easier for technical writers, QA specialists and Project Managers to do their job when they understand the thought-process that their development team is using.  As a technologist and business-leader, my coding background help me to communicate, motivate and reward programming excellence.  We even came up with a term, “Eagles” for the most proficient and prolific developers.  These folks were amazing and a convocation of Eagles could outperform departments of regular programmers.  Plus they were smart, and funny, and a joy to work with.

“I believe in Salespeople and Programmers”.

I’ve said this a million times and I’ll say this until I’m done.  This approach is perfect for the “New Normal“.  If you remember, the New Normal is the reality that technology has become so pervasive that it is becoming a company’s primary way to engage with their customers.  And in order to support this, every company must think of themselves as a technology company first, their main product or service is secondary.

BUT

If you want to consider yourself a player in the New Normal, you must truly invest in technology talent.  It’s amazing to me when I run into companies that claim to be technology companies when they do not have hard-core coders on staff.  They either outsource them or they believe in using “off the shelf” solutions.

Well, it used to be amazing, but now it’s just annoying.

As a person who has been fortunate to be surrounded by scary-talented programmers, I am going to start to take a hard-line towards these companies, because it’s just a waste of time and talent to acknowledge companies who produce no true, differentiated value with their technology.  I’m talking to 99% of the startups I run across and many good-size corporations.  They’re technical poseurs and they seem to get all the press these days.  It’s gotten to the point where I’d rather code than blog or attend industry events.  (Maybe I’ll start blogging in code)

I’m going to continue writing about this, because the New-Normal is real and I want to help companies understand the value of programmers, how to hire them, how to retain them, and how to leverage their skills to help your company compete and win!

OK, to sum it up, my favorite phrases:

  1. “Everybody Codes”
  2. “I believe in Salespeople and Programmers”, and…
  3. …oh yes, “Shut Up and Code”

P-Cz

About Paul Czarnik
Paul the former CTO of Compuware, a venture-technologist and programmer. His hands-on experience and technical diligence model help with M&A activities and incubator/startups. Contact him at @PaulCzrnk to chat about IT Transformation (even though he hates that word), agile delivery, lean startup methodologies or music.

Paul serves on the boards of, iRule, the Motown Museum and the Admission/Retention Committee for Wayne State University.

Transforming IT (and me) into the ‘New Normal’

pervasive-technologyTalking about the ‘New Normal’ is fun, until your CEO asks “what’s your plan?”

We, like most companies, are going through change which requires dramatic transformation in the way we do things.  Extreme application agility and operational leanness are mandated to service the way the business needs to run.

Welcome me to the New Normal.

As I’ve written about in the past, the New Normal is the reality that technology has become so pervasive that it is becoming a company’s primary way to engage with their customers.  And in order to support this, every company must think of themselves as a technology company first, their main product or service is secondary.

Working for a technology company with the main product being technology products and services means that EVERYBODY thinks they can do IT’s job better, faster and cheaper.  In many ways this is because EVERYBODY hasn’t considered the things that IT does very well, like securing business information, maintaining audit standards, ensuring export compliance, IP protection, disaster-recovery, business-continuity, keeping the networks operating, the data-center certified, should I continue?  IT all looks easy until you’re sitting across the table from an auditor explaining process-control and systems-of-record. #shoemakerschildren

Doing important work, however, doesn’t absolve us from transforming IT, because the business needs technology services that brings us closer to our customers.  Transformation requires a good hard look at some of the heavyweight systems and processes we’ve accumulated and quickly abandoning them while maintaining high service-levels and best practices.

ITIL, CMDB, CMMi?  We have to lean this out.  We need problem-solving and critical-thinking and most of all, quick delivery.  This requires staff that are adept to change and finding technical solutions to difficult problems.  That means taking the concepts and best-practices of, well, best-practices and incorporating them into the IT processes and services without the costs and burdens of implementation and certification.  Sacrilege, I know, but internal customers are asking for agility and value more than certificates.  Perhaps a lean MOU (memorandum of understanding) with customers and a simple RACI(responsibility assignment) matrix will serve as a guideline.

So, where to start?  We start by taking a good long look at budgets and staffing.  Hardware and software maintenance?  Are we getting value for that maintenance contract?  This is going to sound a little strange coming from a technology executive, but we should be getting discernible value for our IT spend.  Looking at budget also requires a good long look at contracts.  Many of these can be rewritten to our benefit if we work closely with vendors who are considered REAL partners.  Partners negotiate because good contracts bring more business.

What we don’t want to do is indiscriminately reduce headcount.  The New Normal requires new skills and people that have deep technology expertise are easily re-purposed.  Sometimes leaders have to encourage and mentor change, but it is quite easy if we are direct and transparent with staff.

OK, that’s all nut-and-bolts savings and we’re in the middle of executing projects based on these opportunities.

But the New Normal requires that we invest in areas that provide differentiated value to the top-line as well as the bottom-line.

So, how do I do that?  As a technologist I need to focus on ‘gap technologies’ that will elevate our business value to our customers.  If I write about it here, I’m giving away the differentiated value that we’ll provide to our customers.

How about you?  How can I help?  Let’s talk.  Give me a call, send me an e-mail, meet me at the Detroit Hard Rock, let me buy you lunch in our cafeteria.  Because differentiated value starts with a real conversation and, as much as I love to talk, I love to listen even more.  Hopefully we both gain from each others experience.

P-Cz

Filed Under: Tech Talk
About Paul Czarnik
Paul the former CTO of Compuware, a venture-technologist and programmer. His hands-on experience and technical diligence model help with M&A activities and incubator/startups. Contact him at @PaulCzrnk to chat about IT Transformation (even though he hates that word), agile delivery, lean startup methodologies or music.

Paul serves on the boards of, iRule, the Motown Museum and the Admission/Retention Committee for Wayne State University.