Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Adventures of an IT Leader

In January of 2003, F. Warren McFarlan and Robert D. Austin of Harvard Business School wrote a great case study about the CareGroup Network Outage.

One of my blog readers, Brian Ahier, suggested that I read the new book by one of the same authors, Robert D. Austin, called "The Adventures of an IT Leader" .

From the HBS website:

"Becoming an effective IT manager presents a host of challenges–from anticipating emerging technology to managing relationships with vendors, employees, and other managers. A good IT manager must also be a strong business leader.

This book invites you to accompany new CIO Jim Barton to better understand the role of IT in your organization. You’ll see Jim struggle through a challenging first year, handling (and fumbling) situations that, although fictional, are based on true events.

You can read this book from beginning to end, or treat is as a series of cases. You can also skip around to address your most pressing needs. For example, need to learn about crisis management and security? Read chapters 10-12. You can formulate your own responses to a CIO’s obstacles by reading the authors’ regular 'reflection' questions.

You’ll turn to this book many times as you face IT-related issues in your own career."

Imagine my surprise when I turned to page 48, where the main character Jim Barton is listening to the radio and hears a mini-biography about "a critical care physician who still took his turn in the ER; PhD from MIT in bioinformatics; former entrepreneur who had started, grown, and sold a company while in medical school; and former student of a Nobel Prize winning economist. He was the author of four books on computer programming and had written the first version of many of the hospital's software applications. This CIO earned kudos for his transparency during a network crisis...."

Thanks to Robert Austin for my first appearance in a "novel"!

It's a great book with many practical suggestions about IT leadership, governance, and budget allocation.

In the spirit of the book's Chapter 4 on budgeting, I'm sharing the document I used last week to justify my FY10 capital budget. I always present a narrative written in non-technical terms which supplements my budget spreadsheets by highlighting quality, safety, return on investment and strategic alignment. I hope you'll find the format useful for defending your own capital budgets.

When presenting my operating budget, I use benchmarks from HIMSS, the American Hospital Association, and the Association of American Medical Colleges. I benchmark growth of the entire organization and the growth of IT. Currently the IT organization is 1.78% of the BIDMC operating budget. BIDMC has grown by 38% over the past 5 yeas, but IT staffing has stayed constant, supporting growth in demands and technological complexity by working harder and smarter. IT is lean and mean. In tough budget times, presenting data rather than emotion is the best way to objectively justify a budget.


Bernz said...

When we have a disaster in our IT, which is infrequent, I always refer my employees to the 2003 network outage you suffered. I give them a bunch of articles on it and say, "Hey folks, it stinks, but we had layers of contingency plans in place and while it made us all work extra hard, the business kept going." And they read about your "really bad week" and it always makes them feel better.

It's also one of the reasons I make sure that we have good, proactive diagnostic tools for our networks and servers and applications so we get a holistic view of "what's going on". We try to catch things ahead of time so as not to have a disaster.

Better to have a temperature sensor and get a few false positives than wait until the fire alarm goes off.

Your IT seems to be, as you say, "lean and mean". I think we'll continue to see that in many organizations with more automation and more intelligence in IT. More automated deployments. More monitoring/metrics to measure and watch what's going on so you can make decisions on real data. More automated "business logic" tools for workflow. I know I keep my IT "mean and lean" too by encouraging the use of Open Source when possible and by building internal knowledge and letting the IT staff talk to the business so they "get" that a server does something real. IT is a partner that wants the business to succeed, not just a bunch of cables.

I can go on and on, but, without trying to sound like I'm brown-nosing, I've long used your "bad week" as an example of dealing with a real disaster and its always been inspirational to my folks. So thanks for taking one for the team :)

Ahier said...

I was going to mention your character in the book on a future blog post! (you beat me to the punch :-)
I think this book is a very valuable resource and I highly recommend it. The story has interesting twists and makes for a good read, but there are also some real gems on IT business philosophy included.

Rennasauce said...

What is the secret - the "bottom line"? Standards? Our challenge is that we have so many diverse types of users - trying to satisfy them all is a challenge - and it's costly!

e-Older American said...

John, as Bernz indicated in his comment, articles on your experience with your 2002 network outage are truly inspirational. But above all, your willingness to share what you have learned (through out your life) as "a moral obligation" is the key ingredient that will allow health information technology (HIT) to "grab the brass ring" at this point in history - when everything is in alignment.

Stephen Buck said...

John, do you think your people really worked harder or that they simply were more productive? I have a theory that people really never work that much harder for sustained periods of time. I think that advances in IT plus process reengineering enables people to do things much faster. This gives off the impression that they raised their level of effort. For example if the factory could produce 100 widgets and then through improved use of technology, refined processes, and rationalization of tools could produce 125 widgets, did they work harder?

e-Older American said...

Do people really work harder?

Recently, in an antique mall outside of Chicago, I noticed a picture of a group of Western Electric Hawthorne employees. The picture appeared to have been taken around the time of the industrial research studies by Elton Mayo and others from Harvard.

I'm a social worker and looking at the picture I thought of the phenomenon called the "Hawthorne effect". The conditions for a scientific experiment, relating to the effect of illumination on productivity, had been set up.

Two rooms were utilized. In the first, a control room, lighting conditions were kept constant. In the second, the experimental room, changes were introduced one at a time.

In comments on the experiment, Mayo said, "And the results were perplexing ... lighting improved in the experimental room, production went up; but it rose also in the control room. The opposite of this: lighting diminished from 10 to 3 foot-candles in the experimental room and production again went up; simultaneously in the control room, with illumination constant, production also rose."

Mayo went on to say, "I have heard my colleague Roethlisberger declare that the major experimental change was introduced when those in charge sought to hold the situation humanly steady (in the interest of critical changes to be introduced) by getting the cooperation of the workers. What actually happened was that six individuals became a team and the team gave itself wholeheartedly and spontaneously to cooperation in the experiment.
...They were themselves astonished at the consequence, for they felt they were working under less pressure than ever before."

Judy F said...


Thanks for your ever useful posts. I am working on creating similar metrics. I've compared my organization to other plans, Gartner, etc. One of the questions I continue to have is what you consider inside IT. Organizations vary greatly with what is considered IT (PMO, web development, analytics, ?). Do you have a description of what you use?