Saturday, May 14, 2016

Why IT today is like coffee

One of the common things I hear from many IT Professionals today is how ‘hard’ everything is when it comes to IT. “Why can’t it be easier?” they typically bemoan. “Why are they so many choices?”. Here’s my explanation starting with two analogies.

The first analogy is coffee. I’ll almost guarantee today that if you go to you local haunt and ask for just ‘coffee’ you won’t get anything. Why? Because simply asking for ‘coffee’ is not enough. You need to specific what size of coffee (small, regular or large). You’ll need to specify what type of coffee (long black, short back, cappuccino, latte, etc). You’ll also probably have to specify if you want milk and what type (full cream or reduced fat). There is also a good chance that you’ll also need to specify whether you want sugar and so on and so on. So even for something as ‘simple’ as buying a cup of coffee a fair amount of work needs to be done up front.

The benefit is that you, and every coffee customer, can now get EXACTLY the coffee they want. If there wasn’t that choice then everyone would be swilling Nescafe. It is also clear that the places that sell custom coffees far outweigh those places selling generic Nescafe right? Why? Because todays market is all about tailoring the product to the exact need of the customer not about giving them a generic product and hoping they’ll come back.

The second analogy is messaging. A few decades ago the only way that you could communicate with someone was either by talking with them face to face or by sending a letter (or perhaps a telegram). Then the telephone came along and you could call anyone (provided they were at home or in an office). Then mobile phones appeared and now you can call anyone anywhere. However, the mobile phone opened the door to the mobile Internet and social media. So today, just stop and think about how many ways you could communicate with someone? There’s email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Skype, Snapchat, Google Plus, and so on and so on.

As we all know with messaging, different channel work better for different people. Millennials typical never use email, they use Snapchat. Some prefer email, while others Facebook. Most people have many channel on which you can connect to them. Channels like Facebook allow you to share more than just words. You can share videos and images which makes them even more engaging. So now, even the ‘simple’ idea of communicating with someone requires a fair amount of work. if you want to chat with a heavy Facebook user, you are typically going to have to get on to Facebook.

Again, the benefit is that more choice allows people to select the options that suits them best. People who use social media typically rely more heavily on their phone, Heavy desktop PC users typically favour email. The reason why many now favour things like social media is that their inbox is overloaded because it has become the ‘generic’ way to communicate these days and doesn’t work for them. Again, todays market is all about allowing customers to select what works best for themselves.

If we now turn our attention to IT we see the same thing. In the ‘good old days’ you bought a bundled product like Small Business Server that contained your email, files and folders and intranet. However, because it was a bundle you had to have the intranet portion, even if you didn’t need it. That means additional unwanted components were chewing up resources that really weren’t necessary. It also meant maintaining something that again, you may not have been using.

Fast forward to today and IT is like the world or coffee and communications, consumers now have the ability to select exactly what they need and how much they need. We live in a customised on-demand world. The benefit of all this choice is an optimised and efficient solution, however the trade off is that determining and delivering that requires more work.

If you were selling coffee back in the day, you brewed one pot and dished that out to every customer. Today each coffee is a custom configuration, taking longer to deliver and requiring more skill to create. Same with IT. Solutions like Azure providing almost infinite depth in the options they offer and require more time and skill to craft but the end result is something that fits the customer like a glove glove rather than an oven mitt.

For those IT Professionals that bemoan the new world of ‘non-bundling’ can I say that you look around and smell the coffee so to speak. Are there less places offering ‘custom’ coffee these days? Nope, there is a coffee shop delivering every sort of imaginable coffee on every corner it seems. The market is growing in leaps and bounds. Why? Because this is what customers are demanding. Look further afield. Custom travel packages, dinning, kitchens and more is exploding. IT is no different. Customisation is king and those who can supply this win.

So what do IT Professionals need to do? Like coffee baristas, they need to understand all the options available to them and be able to craft a tailored solution to meet the customers needs. The only way that happens is to skill up on the technologies available as I have said before:

Skill up or fade away, it is that simple

There is no wizard that you can run that will do this for you. If you are an IT Pro you need to put in the hard yards to learn this stuff. The good news is that if you are prepared to do the hard yards you’ll stand out from the crowd, you’ll be able to charge more and you’ll have more business coming you way as customer continue to demand skilled operators.

We live in a world that is very different even from a few years ago. IT, like everything else, is customer driven and customers are demanding solutions tailored to their needs not generic bundles that include things they’ll never use. Luckily products like Azure and Office 365 allow such granularity of choice but like getting a good coffee it takes a skilled barista or IT professional to create and deliver this. Skill only comes from hard work, which luckily not everyone is prepared to do.

Pass the grande, mocha, frappaccino, with stevia and let’s get on with our day