Help Wanted: Cultural Change

Help Wanted: Cultural Change

Change Bad

Help Wanted: Cultural Change: This post is low on the nerdalert meter and more of the arts, rather than the science. Earlier this year, Level3 blogged about their new initiative of training ~%20 of their 11,000 person staff to be “change agents” in order to cross-pollinate their peers, the notion that change is healthy for the company (speculating).

Change is hard. Literally at a cellular level, we humans are hard-wired to protect the status quo. Biologists call it homeostasis – the tendency of a system or organism to maintain internal stability. I call it the Great Innovation Killer, in my most melodramatic moments. If the new Level 3 is going to deliver the next venti coffee of telecom, we need all 11,000 humans in the company – well, most of them, anyway – to be masters at leading, managing and reacting to change.

To back up a bit, I am fascinated with understanding how IT vendor and service delivery shops work organizationally. One reason is, I can be fairly risk adverse and I like to convince myself that I take a paycut to stay in research and education (R&E) because the grass is always browner. The other and relevant reason, is trying to crystal ball the return from investment in a company.

I stay away from the word partner unless there is shared risk associated. Vendors love to use it but its baloney in customer/vendor relationships and even in the channels in my opinion. Customers invest in companies by purchasing goods and services feel less greasy.
On to my rant. Too often do we let 12-18 month concerns get in the way of 3-5+ year needs. In enterprise, this is typically, operations vs. architecture, in corporate America this is the CTO’s office vs. the product development group. Both are similar, short term, keep the lights on, pay the shareholders quarterly vs. long term big picture. Risk management is tricky here and can be hard to sell to the risk adverse.

What that leads me to, is my problem. The current networking and ecosystem technological constructs we live in today. I have no idea how we continue to scale, maintain service delivery and avoid a linear curve straight up in operational and capital cost operating under current architectures. That model is unsustainable. Growth should reduce per widget expense, in networks it doesn’t. My cost never trends downward but resources and budgets do.

I feel like less of a failure in stating this, since Google, Verizon and everyone else is essentially saying the same thing. For my little piece of the world, this involves operations, architecture, administration and management of 70,000 ports, Healthcare, research, academic, statewide SP delivery and a few data centers. We talk about commoditization and all of the great business cases, but at the end of the day, who can actually afford to OAM the white box or widget approach to networks without a small army of DevOps behind the scene? (see Google OF deployment)

The most successful people are those who are good at plan B. 
– James Yorke

If this is the best I can do today I might as well fill up the kitty pool with KoolAid, invite a single vendor over and have a red moustache party, in order to deal with these problems (insert Cius tablet joke here). All of these needs can be filled and still protect business with the right mix of vision and plan B’s. As much as I personally proselytize architectural change, can I afford to take the risks with the few options we have today with our stakeholders as the guinea pig? Fortunately my answer is yes, but in small pockets to prove scale that will ideally permeate out over the next 5-10 years. I think the answer is not only yes in the research and education space, but companies like Google, Verizon and many other massive shops are proving that it needs to occur in all verticals.

They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself. 
– Andy Warhol

I need vendors that are not being driven from product development, focusing only on short-term revenue, but strong CTO architectural driven companies. Call these groups whatever you want but decoupling groups to focus on near term and long term is vital and even more importantly having a strong working relationship not dominated by either party will bring the develop this ‘ecosystem’ we refer to all too often these days with little substance. It is not just the science of ecosystem but also the arts. This ecosystem can bring about improved b2b relationships but healthy vendor, customer ‘partnerships’. That will require new open frameworks of interoperability and common languages for everyone to melt into dare I use the word innovation.

It will be imperative for vendors to either reposition legacy architects that are not willing to embrace the ‘change agent’ philosophy and bring those who embrace change not just for changes sake, but coherent plans with articulated problems to be solved. I believe we are nearing the end of the articulation and business case development phase both as consumers and providers.

All that said I am more optimistic than ever because of consumer championed ‘do it yourself’ (DIY) plays that are sending clear messages that we expect change from the perennials or we find alternatives. It will be a fun ride for personal and professional growth for everyone. Either that or I will be working at Radio Shack slinging iPhones in 5 years which is probably just as likely. Now thats a Plan B.