Thursday 31 January 2008

Are your IT staff adequately trained?

An interesting finding emerged from one of our recent studies into IT Service Management (ITSM). It concerns a cause and effect that is pretty obvious once it is highlighted. Put simply, IT departments operate much more smoothly and efficiently if IT staff are adequately trained.

The data, which is derived from over 1,100 responses to an online survey, is difficult to argue with. There is a clear relationship between the attention paid to IT staff training and the perceived level of burden experienced by IT. To put it another way, properly trained staff find it easier to cope with the demands placed on them in areas such as infrastructure optimisation and management to keep service levels up and costs down, effective maintenance of desktops to manage user satisfaction and keep security risks under control, and provision of helpdesk services to meet user expectations with regard to support.

What’s more, the relationship between training and operational efficiency and effectiveness is a linear one. What does that mean? Well, it doesn’t really matter whether training requirements have been neglected, if the organisation already has its act together, or if it’s somewhere in between, indications are that that incremental training will always have a positive impact. To put this into perspective, another finding from the same report was that investment in other areas, such as systems management automation and integration, does not deliver benefits in the same linear fashion. Essentially, you need to get past a threshold of capability before significant improvements are generated.

There are some interesting lessons in here for all organisations, but particularly those that have a tendency to skimp on investment in skills development. If this study is anything to go by, such an approach is clearly false economy. In fact, if you have anything to do with running an IT department that is underperforming on IT service delivery and operational efficiency, then the first port of call when looking for improvements should probably be staff development. While upgrading your systems management tools and technology may also be a necessity, investment in this way will take time to pay back. Meanwhile, a bit of additional training at a fraction of the cost is likely to have a much more immediate impact.

Oh yeah, and study also quite clearly shows that training end users can have a similar impact, reducing the burden placed on IT in areas such as desktop management and help desk delivery. The basic principle here is that adequately trained users encounter (and create) fewer problems, and when problems do occur, users are much better placed to sort themselves out.
There’s a lot more to this research than the stuff we have been talking about above, so if you’d like to learn more, you can download a full copy of the findings from here. And if you’re interested in a companion report looking at the future of IT Service Management (ITSM) in general, you can download that from here.

Friday 25 January 2008

The customer view of BEA’s acquisition by Oracle

When the BEA Oracle deal was finally announced last week, my first instinct, like many analysts and journalists I would guess, was to rush to the keyboard and bash something out. But what was there to be said that hadn’t already been covered? After re-reading my previous post on the topic, I didn’t have a great deal more to say at that point.

So, instead of writing a blog post, I composed a little questionnaire and reached out to Oracle and BEA customers through an online survey to capture opinion where the rubber meets the road. In a very short space of time, I gathered nearly 300 responses, including a lot of freeform feedback. I then spent an interesting few hours reading through and categorising people’s views, which is the part of this job I really enjoy. Gathering statistics through tick and bash surveys is one thing, but reading a few hundred comments in which a bunch of smart people tell you what they think in a totally unconstrained manner is a great way to get under the skin of a topic.

In this case, I quickly uncovered a bunch of angles on the BEA acquisition that I hadn’t previously considered. Here is quick summary the themes, both positive and negative, that I managed to pull out (ranked in order of frequency of mention):

Reasons given for why the acquisition is bad news
1. Reduced choice and competition in the market
2. Uncertainties for customers with existing product investments
3. Loss of innovation, Oracle will smother the goodness of BEA
4. Concerns about Oracle as a supplier (style and nature)
5. Increased cost for BEA users (particularly maintenance)
6. Fear of lock-in as Oracle optimises between stack components

Reasons given for why the acquisition is good news
1. A stronger and more mature solution will emerge (eventually)
2. Rescue of good technology from a company that had lost its way
3. Creation of stronger and more credible competition for IBM
4. Better synergy between BEA technology and Oracle RDBMS, tools, etc
5. Reinforcement of distinction between commercial offerings and OSS
6. More integrated approach to customers and account management

Even though a lot of these are pretty obvious, I’m sure most people looking at this list will spot a couple of angles that they hadn’t previously thought of, and if you are a customer trying work out the impact of the acquisition, then this probably isn’t a bad starting point for assessing the balance between risk and opportunity in what is actually quite a complex situation.

Of course we also gathered some stats, and I’ll throw in this chart in here that illustrates the sentiment overall.

Oracle and BEA survey

So, the initial reaction to the acquisition, while mixed, is definitely net negative.

Anyway, if you’re are interested in a drill down on the above chart broken down by customer type (BEA versus Oracle versus joint customers), along with and fuller discussion of the findings, you can check out the more complete analysis I put together here or here.