Plan Faster

imageThat’s the Jack Rabbit pictured at the right. It’s a roller coaster in Kennywood Park outside of Pittsburgh and it’s been rolling since 1920. It has changed over time, but it still offers the basic promise of a thrilling ride. It’s still a very important part of the overall joy of spending a day at Kennywood. I’m sorry, this isn’t my vacation blog, and I do have a point. The world of information management is changing very fast, but we can still keep the whole package viable, if we manage change correctly.

About a year ago, we made the decision to use Citrix ShareFile. I started to explain that a while back, and I promised a more detailed explanation, but I’m not going to provide that today. One reason is that the ShareFile we decided to use has changed. It’s changed quite a bit, as has every other file-sharing service. If I explained the features we liked about ShareFile this time last year, you might say: “you can get 10x that amount of file space today for free!” You would be wrong. You can get closer to 50x today for free if you look in the right places.

That isn’t the point, that can’t be the point.

That could never be the point. You could never make business decisions based solely on price, but you clearly can’t do that today when it comes to file sharing and online storage.

The point, my dilemma, the next IT problem, is that the pace of change is exceeding our ability to plan like we used to. Remember Roadmaps? Remember when the industry leading vendors would tell you what they were planning to do over the course of the next 3-5 years? I do. I remember being able to take those roadmaps, with a few grains of salt, and build our 1-3 year plans from them.

Forget that.

You can’t do that anymore.

We selected a product/service (ShareFile) in October 2013. By the time we explained our plans to use that service to a committee representing our customers in April 2014, it had changed significantly. Now, as we are getting ready to roll out the solution, it has changed even more. It’s OK. It still does what we want it to do. And, the changes are mostly good, or the kind that might be good someday. I don’t have this stuff all figured out, but here are a few things I think we have to keep in mind as we try to hang onto this ride:

Maintain control – You can’t run your business if you cede control to vendors who are fighting for their own survival. You might not be able to specify the details of your plan as it extends very far into the future, but you still have to have a plan.

Maintain focus – If you’re saying “how can I plan when technology is changing so fast?” you might be focused on the wrong thing. You might be focused on the tools. My plan is to support the business needs of our company. ShareFile is a tool that I am using to meet those needs.

Be the buffer – If you think your head is swimming in a sea of technological change, think about your non-technical coworkers. You might be able to (I’m dropping the metaphor before I have to talk about someone drowning) deal with the pace of change, but they can’t. They shouldn’t have to. Remember, they have a day job. Even if you are using a cloud-based solution, you can control the pace of change through the solutions you build.

Avoid kit solutions – I buy a lot of tools, but the ones I won’t buy are the 18-piece battery powered every-tool-you-ever-need kits. I don’t buy them because when the batteries die and the new-fangled batteries aren’t being made to fit that kit, I’ve lost 18 tools. SharePoint might be a kit. I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy it, but we have narrowed our plans to use SharePoint to stay closer to what we think are its core capabilities. ShareFile basically does one thing. It’s a thing we need, so we’re good.

Avoid capital expenditures – One side-effect of cloud-based solutions is a move to subscription fees vs. capital expenditures. That’s a good thing. Large capital expenditures have to work over a long enough time to provide the return on the investment that you made to acquire them. The return on investment ends when those 18 inoperable tools have to be carted to the curb.

Communicate – Even though you can’t introduce change to your coworkers as fast as it’s being introduced to you, you have to change things faster than they want you to. Let people know what you’re thinking and where you are heading. Let people know when your plans start to change. Let them know that you’re managing rapid and uncontrollable change on their behalf.

Buckle-up, keeps your hands in the car at all times and enjoy the ride.

Remember the Enterprise

clip_image002What are the chances that anyone is going to read this blog post? As I upload this entry, over 7,000 people are returning from the SharePoint Conference in Anaheim, CA. Add to that the fact that there’s a new iPhone, and sadly, Steve Jobs died. I’m guessing that half of my potential audience is writing a blog and the other half has already read as many as they possibly can, especially those in New England where the weather is amazing. As for me, I was in New York, attending InterOp while all of that headline generating stuff was happening.

I was surprised to see that AIIM had a booth at InterOp. While visiting the booth, I ran into Atle Skjekkeland, and he asked “…as a SharePoint guy, why aren’t you in Anaheim?” My answer was simple: “there’s more to life than SharePoint!” I spared him the details, but as much as I normally write about SharePoint the platform on which all things are built, SharePoint is built upon a lot of other stuff. For every question you can ask about SharePoint, “is it secure?” “does it scale?” “is it reliable?” “is it mobile?” there are infrastructure questions that also have to be asked. Many of you probably spend your days griping about the recalcitrant IT Guy; well in real life, I am the IT Guy, and I have to worry about all those other things. If we continue adding content to SharePoint at our present rate, will I need more storage, will I need more bandwidth, I may need faster switches, and more reliable access points. Actually, the more reliable access points were ordered before InterOp.

I snapped today’s picture during one of the keynote addresses at InterOp, and the message accompanying that slide resonated deeply with me. I do remember when Enterprise IT was exciting; in fact, it still is exciting. For the benefit of those of you who don’t know me, most people wouldn’t consider our small environment an enterprise. My boss, on the other hand, expects enterprise quality results, so I do. As we come to the end of our fiscal year, we have successfully built out a SharePoint and SQL Server environment that supports what might be considered the minimal failover options recommended by Microsoft. It took us three fiscal years to assemble the requisite hardware and software to do that. Next year, we hope to extend this trend to provide an ability to bring SharePoint (along with the rest of our enterprise) quickly back to life at an off-site location, in the event of a disaster. We have always had backup, now we want recovery.

What are you going to do if SharePoint growth exceeds your expectations? What are you going to do if the next version of SharePoint requires a version of SQL Server you’re not ready to install? What are you going to do if the server running SharePoint fails? What about the server running SQL Server? I could go on, but the point is clear, you can’t ignore the no-longer-sexy enterprise issues if you hope to guarantee SharePoint reliability. If you’re thinking “I can stick SharePoint in the cloud”, well, technically, you’re making my point – that’s an enterprise issue too.

I didn’t skip the SharePoint conference because I wanted to attend InterOp. I skipped it because I had just returned from nine days on the road the previous Wednesday. That may sound wimpish by SharePoint community travel standards, but I returned to a huge pile of stuff, including my 2012 budget preparation worksheet. Preparing that budget requires thinking about the foundation on which SharePoint is built.