Tag Archives: Information Technology

How to plan a successful enrollment fair for the adoption of a new technology solution

30 Mar

If you are just joining us, be sure to check out Part 1, “Why hosting an enrollment fair is crucial to the adoption of a new technology solution”.

What goes into planning, executing, and ensuring a successful enrollment fair? There are a few key resources and processes that we need for this.

  1. Location
  2. Equipment
  3. Volunteers
  4. Schedule and Communication
  5. Script, Elevator speech, and tracker

A location must be secured for the enrollment fair. Ideally this is a public area where you can interact freely with your end users. The tables and volunteers should be highly visible.

You’ll need some equipment to make this all work. Obviously, you need tables to work from. Chairs for the volunteers to rest. Banners and signs for way finding. Most importantly you’ll need the proper devices or technology to demonstrate the solution. If the solution requires users to input their data to be enrolled then ensure that the equipment has this capability otherwise you’ll have issues!

Volunteers have to drive this fair. Where do the volunteers come from? The organization itself! As this is a project, most likely, the project team members should volunteer and they should recruit others from their respective teams and departments to help. The executive sponsors of the project would be highly visible and should be encouraged to participate.

You need to develop a schedule for the enrollment fairs that coincides with your go live or deployment schedule. The enrollment fair comes first, then a deployment, then a fair, then another deployment… This plan needs to be communicated clearly and often!

Finally your volunteers need a process to follow. This process may be a simple script, an elevator speech for example. They will also need a way to track who comes to the enrollment fair. This is useful for gauging the impact of the fair and tracking how many people are educated about the technology solution.

If you’ve made it this far you probably have two opinions:

  • “This is a great idea and I agree that we should do this!”
  • “I don’t think this applies to me, this sounds like a lot of work, the end users will adapt anyways.”

If you have the first opinion then congratulations – you get it! You understand the important of connecting with your end users. You understand how critical it is to align with your business and partner for results. If you have the second opinion… I’m sorry but your project may be doomed for failure. However if you do have this second opinion and would like to discuss it more then give me a call – I would be happy to talk about the reasons why this applies to your specific situation and why you need to do this to be successful.


Sr. Enterprise Virtualization Consultant

Sr. Enterprise Virtualization Consultant

Richard Maloley is a Senior Consultant within the Enterprise Technology Services group at Open Systems Technologies. In this role Richard focuses on managing large scale transformational projects with a focus on end user computing technologies. Richard has been a consultant for 4 years at OST and worked in-industry prior. With a passion for people Richard approaches customers and projects with a people-first attitude in order to positively change and improve the relationships within an organization.


The Great Feeling of a ‘Click’

17 Feb

Do you remember the satisfaction as a child of finding the right Lego piece to make that perfect construction,? Or when the snap-together model finally snapped together?  Perhaps it was the satisfying interlocking of the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle with a bazillion pieces and the circumference is complete.

In each case, the right piece in the right place creates a sense of completion that is so tangible you can feel it.  You know it’s right.

Great systems architecture can be the same way. 

When you have been analyzing the market for months, and when a vendor finally offers up something that really begins to solve a problem in the industry and it has a capability to solve a thorny problem at scale, it clicks

When you have been wanting to create a strategy but you didn’t have the right combination of skills and capabilities, when the right people and insights come together around the white board, it clicks.

When you have a very complex combination of business issues, scaling and design and the architecture comes together in a profoundly simple and elegant way, it clicks.

Sometimes, when people share something with me and the discussion ensues that illuminates a problem space deeply, it clicks

Is it subjective?  Yes.  And because it is subjective, you have to test the assertions and hypotheses rigorously.  You cannot allow bias to creep in and promulgate a problem simply through your force of will where you desire something to be true.

Because the solutions, design or plans are simple; they can easily be undervalued.   I’m reminded of a quote attributed to Oliver Wendall Holmes Sr., “I do not give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”

The OST Cloud strategy is clicking with the integration of Managed Services for Cloud and hosted IaaS/PaaS for IoT and AppDev.  Microsoft’s Azure on-prem solution is beginning to click.  Helping clients with a roadmap to the cloud, I hear the faint sounds of clicking there.  And our largest data center clients are starting to ask for help in their realization of cloud benefits (click). 

Failures or semi-formed solutions are necessary as we iterate in complex problem spaces because the process of hearing from customers, testing our ideas, investigating the market will allow us to sift the good from the bad and our messages will become more mature and fully formed.   Some offerings will disappear under the weight of low customer adoption, and we will say, “it was good we didn’t invest too much there…” but they will be a rung on the ladder to the place where we will be ultimately successful, if we keep learning and are willing to move quickly, and when it all comes together, well, it will click.

The same processes have worked in the past, I have a long list that I quickly made that reflected on many of our long-term relationships and most valuable customer engagements.

It takes work.  It takes listening.  It takes knowing enough about the goals and long-range objectives so that you know how the pieces should fit together even through the state of the industry or the maturity of OST isn’t where you want it to be.  Great artists do it.  Great architects do it.  Great designers do it.  Great technologists do it.


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Jim VanderMey, Chief Innovation Officer, OST

Jim VanderMey, Chief Innovation Officer, OST

Jim VanderMey has served as VP of Technical Operations, CTO and now Chief Innovation Officer for OST. Jim has provided the technical leadership and product strategic planning for the organization since the very beginning. Jim is a technology visionary who sets the long and short-term direction for OST. He specializes in seeing the “big picture” of technology, industry trends and the business objectives supported by IT. As OST has gained an international reputation, Jim has taught and spoken at conferences in Europe, Japan, and throughout the US. Lastly, we must confess that some of OST’s peculiar culture is a direct derivation of Jim’s unorthodox style.


Start Somewhere

11 Feb


Snow Business

Winter is here, at last, and as the primary snow shoveler in my family, let me say I’m none too happy about it. The past week brought me a foot of snow, and it’s not gonna shovel itself.

Staring out my kitchen window at twelve heavy inches of snow burying my driveway, it was daunting to imagine how I’d get the driveway clear, and just thinking about the work involved seemed more than I thought I could take. I’m not as young as I once was, and it sure seems like they’re making heavier snow than they used to. Plus – when did my back start to hurt all the time?

I didn’t do it. I didn’t shovel. I put it off for nearly a week, thinking it wasn’t really winter yet, thinking it would melt on its own, thinking the snow fairy would grant my wish for a clear driveway, thinking – somehow – that, if I just came up with the right plan, I’d be able to eliminate the snow without sloughing through it, one shovelful at a time.

Time to get to shoveling.

No matter what end result you seek, there’s only one way to get there. You’ve got to start. It may sound silly, may sound obvious, may seem like advice not worth giving … but we’re an easily overwhelmed species. Nothing ever got finished that didn’t first get started.

Come to think of it, that’s a foundational step in every project we work on at OST. We help our clients get things started. Our clients aren’t in the IT business – they’re looking to us to HELP them make smart IT decisions. That’s not easy – for them or for us. When you’re working with complex corporate systems, trying to determine where (and how) to begin can be overwhelming, even paralyzing. It can seem impossible to know where to begin, and sometimes it’s easier to maintain the status quo out of fear that anything else seems overwhelming.

My simple advice? Start. Start somewhere. Just start. You don’t have to know where you’re going to end before you start, and accepting that you DON’T know is powerful – it opens you up to opportunities for discovery that’d you’d be blind to if you thought you had to figure out where to end before you started. Start somewhere. Just start.

That driveway’s not going to get clear without a first shovelful. Dig in. Get that shovel down to the pavement and give it a good toss. Put your fear and loathing aside, toss away your anxiety and paralysis, and I bet you’ll discover the same thing I did:

It feels good to get started.

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Andrew Powell edited photo

Andrew J. Powell

Andrew Powell serves the Application Development practice at OST , providing guidance, strategic support, and candy to more than fifty developers and consultants. Andrew has been a technology consultant for more than twenty years. In addition to consulting, Andrew is a frequent public speaker in technology circles, and loves to talk about the coming Robot Apocalypse and how application developers are positioned to defend the world against our future robot overlords. When not cowering in fear, Andrew makes his home in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

IT as a Competitive Advantage – The Real Imperative for Managed Services

3 Feb

A number of years ago I was interviewing for the Information Technology Manager position at a commercial furniture company in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. From an initial perspective, the role looked like a great fit for me, a solid company which wanted to grow and do great things in a niche market and an immature information technology strategy.

As I was interviewing with the President of the company, he and I were sitting in his office discussing the role and our respective approaches to technology and leadership. They were a year or so into (and digging out from) the implementation of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system which had not gone well at all. They were struggling with communication to their market and independent rep sales force and they were experiencing consistent outages and failures of technology and systems. They really needed help from someone who could come in and get their arms around the situation and have fast, meaningful and positive impact.

We were having a great discussion until I asked him to whom the IT Manager would report, and his answer was the Controller.

At this news I told him that with all due respect in this case I did not feel like this would be a good position for me, and I did not want to waste any more of his time or that of the organization.

As you might guess, this declaration took him by surprise. To his credit (and my relief), he was intrigued and asked me to explain my position.

I told him that the only reason to implement information technology within an organization was to drive competitive advantage. The investment and mindshare demanded by a mature information technology strategy could only be justified if it drove and realized an improvement in competitive advantage for the organization. Some examples;

  • The ability to make “widgets” faster in order to get them to market sooner
  • The ability to make “widgets” at a higher quality in order to increase customer satisfaction and drive market sales.
  • The ability to make “widgets” cheaper and therefore drive higher margins which left more capital to invest in the organization.
  • The ability to deliver accurate invoices quickly in order to realize improved cash flow and lower accounts receivables this yielding the opportunity for better financing and faster response to markets.
  • The ability to drive external branding driving more clients to the door improving sales and results.
  • The ability to manage order to cash – allowing for efficiencies and higher profits allowing for further investment in the organization.
  • The ability to communicate quickly, efficiently and accurately with all links along the supply chain from supplier through customer.

I went on to explain that the person who was tasked with leading a part of the organization which was charged with driving competitive advantage needed to clearly understand the strategies and goals of the organization at the highest level. That person needed to be a part of the leadership team of the organization, reporting to the person tasked with developing and driving the strategy, having visibility to the goals, and strategies That person needed to be focused on and integrated with the entire organization and should be viewed as a part of the strategic leadership of the company.

Having the IT Manager report to the Controller was a sure way to stifle the creative leveraging of information technology for competitive advantage. The viewpoint of the Controller’s team is centered around cost efficiency, low risk projects, back office operations and financial pressures. Investment designed to drive competitive advantage could be stymied as being too expensive or risky before it ever reached the eyes of the staff or president. A focus on cost reduction would run counter to enhancing strategic direction.

We spent some time exploring this idea, and he promised to give it some thought. In the end, he offered me the position, reporting to him. I accepted and spent twelve great years providing leadership in various roles from IT Manager through Vice President of Technology and Customer Satisfaction.

Why do I tell this story? Because it sets the basis for a further discussion around focus within an IT organization and how that focus can be enhanced.

If we accept the premise that the purpose of information technology within an organization is to drive competitive advantage, how does that stance influence the structure and direction of the information technology team? My contention is that it should influence the team to focus on those things which provide the greatest competitive advantage and value to the business, and should offload those things which do not.

Consider the following graphic as an illustration of my point:

vancil - 1

Plotting IT initiatives (projects or services) into the different quadrants based upon the amount of domain business knowledge (vertical axis) required to successfully complete or implement the initiative and the amount of competitive advantage (horizontal axis) that the initiative will drive yield a very clear indication of those upon on which the information technology team should be focused.

  1. Lower Left Quadrant – Requires a low level of knowledge of the business and does not drive competitive advantage.
  2. Upper Left Quadrant – Requires a high level of knowledge of the business and does not drive competitive advantage.
  3. Lower Right Quadrant – Does not require a high level of knowledge of the business and does drive competitive advantage.
  4. Upper Right Quadrant – Requires a high level of knowledge of the business and drives a great deal of competitive advantage.

Clearly the information technology team should be focusing on those initiatives which fall into the upper right quadrant. The amount of domain business knowledge required indicates that we need people who are already within and understand the business, and the high level of competitive advantage yielded shows the importance of the effort. Outside influencers to initiatives within this quadrant should be selected to fill gaps in the existing team and bring specialized knowledge and capabilities.

What of the other quadrants?

At the upper left we have initiatives which require a great deal of business domain knowledge yet yield little competitive advantage. These initiatives should be examined and questioned. Why are we doing this? Is there a different way that we should do this? If it is determined that an initiative should be pursued in spite of the low competitive advantage yield, then how can we do it without impacting our team of highly business knowledgeable people? In other words, with whom can we partner to make these projects happen?

At the lower right we have projects which require little in the way of domain business knowledge yet yield great competitive advantage. We will absolutely pursue these projects, so how can we do so without impacting our team of highly business knowledgeable people? These initiatives are ripe for being handed off completely to a trusted partner with only minimal involvement by existing IT staff, so who can we employ to make sure these initiatives get done right and in a timely manner?

And that brings us to the lower left quadrant. initiatives which require very little domain business knowledge and bring little competitive advantage. When we have initiatives which fall into this quadrant yet we know they must be done, it only makes sense to pass them off completely to someone else to take care of. Why would we ever impact the time and efforts of our business knowledgeable people when we can just pay someone else to take care of things? This quadrant is the one which lends itself very clearly to the idea of outsourcing projects or services.

Gartner has consistently used the terms “Run”, “Grow” and “Transform” in recent years to try to help IT leaders to focus on what is important to their organization and teams. If we layer those terms over the graphic above, we get a representation of how those terms map very nicely onto our initiatives.

vancil - 2

Outsourcing? We don’t need no stinkin’ outsourcing!”

Okay… so let’s address the elephant in the room, “outsourcing.” The term outsourcing brings a bad connotation to many people. They associate it with layoffs and people losing their jobs. They associate it with loss of control and endless fighting with suppliers to get things done. It is too bad that the term carries this impression, but it does – and rather than fight that uphill battle we will instead refer to the activities we ask a partner to perform and lead as Managed Services.

Managed Services can take many forms – but in the end it all comes down to paying another organization to take care of tasks which fall into an area where we deem that we have insufficient capabilities or insufficient time to focus upon them. In other words, we are going to pay someone else to take on services which free our skilled, knowledgeable people up to focus on things which bring competitive advantage. One of the advantages of using someone else to perform the services which do not require a great deal of domain business knowledge is that the focus they are afforded to pay attention to the details often yields a capability to perform the services more efficiently and with higher quality than we can ourselves. This means that they will actually do a better job and in the long run it will cost us less to accomplish the initiatives.

There are other advantages to using Managed Services. Some are financial, having to do with certain organizations being better served to spend money on operational expenses (OPEX) rather than capital expenses (CAPEX). Some are technical, having to do with the fact that a team which manages many different clients sees many different situations and learns how to handle and prevent them more efficiently. In other words, the partner that is providing the services gets to learn on other client’s and bring the advantages to us. From a management perspective, it is fairly easy as well to set clear, documented and specific goals for a managed service provider, then let them go away and do the work and meet those goals while IT leadership focuses on the initiatives in the upper right quadrant.

Here is the call to action for today’s IT Leadership: Focus your teams of talented, business knowledgeable technologists on initiatives which bring great competitive advantage and requires their skills and capabilities. Identify those initiatives which do not require your talented and business knowledgeable technologists and give them off in whole to someone else. Your organization, your team and you will all be the better for it!

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John Vancil

John Vancil

John Vancil is a twenty-eight year veteran of the Information Technology field, currently holding the position of Director of Professional Services for Open Systems Technologies (OST) in Grand Rapids Michigan. During his career, John has held numerous development, support, management and staff level positions with companies ranging from enterprise (Electronic Data Systems, Baan) to the SMB space (Nucraft Furniture, OST). Today John is responsible for a $29 million dollar services operation which encompasses Data Center Solutions, Application Development, Data Analytics, Design, ERP and Advisory Services, Security, and Managed Services. John shares his life with wife Amy, daughter Catherine and Lambeau the world’s most exuberant Golden Retriever. When he is not serving the OST team, John likes to golf, fly-fish, compose and perform music and hang out with the family