Change of Focus

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I’ve spent my entire working life supporting Information Technology.

And if you slow way down, back up and re-read that sentence, and then genuinely and deeply think about it, it only takes a second or two to realize just how utterly wrong and totally backwards that idea really is.

And that fundamental inversion of purpose and perspective is at the root of what is the next revolution in how we look at Information Technology and its support for businesses.

The reality is that I haven’t been supporting technology – I’ve been supporting people that make use of technology.

But the fixation on the technology itself – rather than the technology’s underlying purpose – is such an ingrained notion in the Technology and Technology Support businesses that it goes unquestioned, with virtually no one realizing that they’ve been focusing on the wrong things.

Look at any Company’s Request for Proposal document, and one sees lists of equipment – PCs, Laptops, Routers, Switches, Servers, and Security Appliances. What seems to get lost in these sales, service and outsourcing engagements are the poor humans and the work that they need to accomplish.

And that’s why this entire industry needs to completely change their focus. We’ve been focusing on the Personal Computer as the atomic unit of support.  We may occasionally shift focus to some of the back-end Infrastructure required to support those PCs, but it’s really been all about the PCs.

Organizations that want to lead in the Technology Services business need to embrace something that focuses on the human beings and the work they needs to get done. The work that people need to accomplish, after all, is what pays everyone’s bills, and locating oneself in relation to the money has never been a bad business practice. Buzzwords have never been my thing, but let’s think of it as User Centered Computing.

What are the characteristics of User Centered Computing?

Changes in the technology landscape are what enable this radical change of focus. Computing power, the solving of problems and the completion of work have moved away from the Intel processors and Windows Operating Systems that drove the personal computing revolution.  Networks have gone from drinking straw width piddlely little pipes to ubiquitous massive bandwidth – heck, 3G Wireless, which is trailing edge technology, has more speed than some of the Enterprise and Public Sector site networks I implemented early in my career.

The PC, which was formally the only place where work got done, has just become one of a number of ways that one can access the power of cloud-based, distributed computing, and viewed as a percentage of total work, is a declining portion of that access.

The work, in the simplest terms, has migrated to the network and to the cloud, and the PC has become just another screen, with tablets, smart phones and other emerging and hybrid devices all able to provide access to infrastructure based analytics and remote processing power. User Centered applications run in datacenters which have nearly infinite amounts of bandwidth with which to communicate to the user, who is now free to be almost anywhere.

So what does this mean for organizations that want to provide Information Technology Services to customers?

It is the infrastructure itself that has now become the central service – e-mail, unified messaging, voice/presence/video, collaborative and meeting applications, and web collaboration tools like Microsoft Sharepoint – all provide essential services to the workforce that is neither tied to nor is processed on a single class of computing or communications device.  The workspace has become an ecosystem of highly integrated and machine independent services.

How those services are delivered – defined in terms of the work that individuals have to do – has becomes a series of bundled services based on the type and value of tasks that those users can be expected to perform. Classes of service then become defined in terms of personas that carry with them a set of collaboration, communication and processing applications and access methods that are appropriate to those business roles.

The economics of this are where it gets genuinely compelling. With capital intensive infrastructure now borne by the service provider, one can procure these services on a purely operating expense basis.  Each persona can be delivered at a different price point, giving businesses granular control over workplace technology costs – one only pays for functions strictly where they are needed, instead of across the business. Clients also get flexibility to increase and decrease headcount without being constrained by IT investments, and get longer term predictability of their expenditures.

Access to the workspace can then be provided from any supported device. Today, even high end televisions have sufficient internet browser support to run some of these applications. In-car telematics systems currently being deployed are likely the next class of applications to be able to provide access.

The long road that started with the first barely viable versions of Microsoft Windows has created an information technology universe where one’s personal computer is far less important than one’s virtual computing environment which can be accessed with almost anything from almost anywhere. Leaders in the user centered computing space will provide clients with tightly integrated, machine independent, highly resilient and reliable services that focus on the user and what they need to achieve. The days when technology support meant worrying about keeping a fleet of PCs humming is about as cutting edge as your rangefinder film camera.

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