All posts by Stuart Knipe

Marval user conference

Yesterday I attended the Marval user conference in Kettering. The day started well with a collegue, Claire, meeting at my house and I would drive the rest of the way. Up the M1 we drove, confident that we were going in the opposite direction ro everyone else. Then this happened! M1 closed, I noticed the sign ping on just as I went past the last exit before the blockage!

We sat in traffic and moved about 200m. We got to Newport Pagnell services and decided coffee was better than sitting in my car. As we got the till to pay the lady said: “The gate will be open if you want to use it”, What? It turned out the staff gate was open so we were free to escape onto the A roads for a cross country adventure. As a result, we arrived about 1hour 15 late, so not a disaster compared to some who sat in traffic for 5-6 hours.

We arrived just in time to hear from Stuart Beale from Leicestershire county council about the challenge he had to maintain service qulaity but reduce his spend by £50k. It was a very interesitng talk and his focus on quality was an extremely interesting approach. The core of what he achieved was to automate nearly all the contact he had via email to the service desk. A brave move but one that proven results.

Next up was Dr Donz Page ITIL royalty no less,! Don challenged us all to think about how a service management tool can be used in other aspects of the organisation. Some great ideas were floated and everyone came away with a challenge to take back to their organisations. I took away some good ideas, the biggest being that using a service management tool to deal with a contact that requires governance to be applied to it would allow for transparency with the person aswell as a detailed log of the contact.

A nice lunch then it was my turn to speak. I spoke about devops and the challenges this is going to bring to the service desk and the traditional 1st two lines of support

It seemed to be well received with serval people asking questions as well as asking for the slide deck I used.  I was asked a question of “Am I doing devops but don’t realise it”. The answer to that is probably no. Devops has a very specific element that a lot of people overlook., the standard pre-approved change. Basically, it is a change that is done often, can be automated, and has a very low-risk score. THis allows people to speed up deployment but also allows for the controls that change management brings such as stats, governance and risk reduction.

Overall it was a good event with good information from a lesser know vendor. I liked the size of the event, about 70 people as it was easy to speak to a wide range of people. It also wasn’t too intimidating to stand up and speak in front of everyone!


Agile people development

Most companies have some sort of people development process often referred to as a CRD. In my past couple of jobs this process has existed in companies that have major aspirations as Agile organisations, but the process is anything but agile. So how can we expect people to develop an agile mindset when they are expected to work within an assessment framework that is anything but?

My biggest hate of the CDR process is the setting of goal for 12 months against projects and business strategy that can change at a drop of a hat. When I started my current role I had one team member who had to completed CDR objectives because everyone was aligned to a project or initiate that got cancelled. It took quite a bit of effort to get them to trust the process for the upcoming year and to convince HR that he was performing well!

Basics for a good CDR

  • Clear organisational strategy and priorities
  • Clear departmental strategy and priorities
  • Career view for the team member who is setting the objectives
  • Clear ownership of the objectives, they are the team members and not yours
  • Process and documentation that allows quick changes and easy tracking for both team member and line manager

The career strategy of the individual is important, get them thinking long term and strategic. One of my team has decided to treat themselves like a product as ultimately they wants to be a product manager. If this isn’t clear for an individual I suggest you work through it with them. When doing this don’t be afraid to look at roles that are outside of your department of even the organisation, people are valuable but good motivated people are priceless.

To make the objectives more agile I am tracking all for the year but encouraging people to change them. This will have a process of its own.

  • The objective can only be cancelled because the business doesn’t need it anymore. Responsibility for proof for this is with the objective owner.
  • New objectives will need to be prepared and validated with their line manager in the same way as the beginning of the year.
  • A completion % will be agreed for the objective cancelled. Part objectives are as valuable as whole ones.

SMART is still important and infact it is key to the approach I am using. have a great guide to SMART here. But don’t use this as a rule, using it as guidance. Sometimes the best objectives will be anything but the A in SMART, attainable. Feel free to shoot for the stars, you may just get the moon!

After all your hardwork review the objectives as if you are your own line manager. How do they align with your objectives? Do they support your objectives? And most important of all do they help your team to deliver against the organisation’s objectives and goals!

Why not go the full kanban and get a board running on one of the many tools available. I am using MS Planner but Trello is equally a great tool for this.

Give it a go and make sure you tell your learning and development team about it, they will love you!


CIOsynergy conference #itstartshere

I attended the CIOlondon conference held at the Langham Hotel in Central London on the 11th May. It was a great opportunity to network with peers and CIO’s as well as speak to some exciting vendors.

The future prediction panel was, unfortunately, spot-on as they predicted the rise of ransomware. The next day #Wannacry hit the NHS and many other globally known companies. Another interesting speaker was the CIO of the Francis Crick institute, Alison Davis. Alison spoke about the challenge of medical data and the sheer volume produced, petabytes not terabytes. So much is being produced at the institute that she is at the point of considering that cloud storage is more expensive than coming back on premise.

The highlight of the day was the keynote delivered by Hamish Watson. Hamish has had an incredibly successful career jumping between sectors by using an ability to resolve problems without being constrained by the industry they arise in. This is proved in his story about the fully flat seats within BA’s transatlantic flights. He spoke to aircraft seat manufacturers but they were so hooked up on aircraft seat they couldn’t see the solution. So he turned to luxury yacht interior designers and got the now iconic BA fully flat business class seat.

My big take away from the keynote was to get into the customers head and think like them. Not only that but to understand what they want to feel from a product or service. The best example of this was his approach to selling products for Sainsbury’s bank. Make them an item that goes in the trolley because customers just want to get the shopping done and get back home. Quick and easy!

Hamish also spoke about the importance of staying close to all levels of employees within the business. The idea behind this is the front line team will have great ideas that really do help customers to feel better about your product. Frontline teams are in contact with those paying for your product and understand their challenges better than most. IT is bad at this. Too many still have a closed door with the attitude that they are the experts. This is completely wrong in a world where technology is a given. Remember the computing you were taught at school and discovered in your teen years? This is now intuitive and babies pick it up in seconds.

The day did suffer a bit from speakers not turning up but credit those that stepped in at the last minute, some great insight especially around using identity as a firewall.

Will I attend again, probably not, but I would still recommend CIOs attend it at least once.

#wannacry isnt an IT incident

IT are working 20 hour days; the pizza is going on expenses and the business is worried. But this isn’t at IT incident, this is a BC or Business continuity incident.

Bart hospital got this perfectly right, they kicked in their BC plan because that was what was at risk. They had a gold command defined and he was identifiable. SO the question is how much do you know about your BC plan?

This incident is going to be a wake-up call for many organisations. This wasn’t targeted at big organisations; I think this was a consumer or home user focused attack that has gone wild in the wrong arena. The lack of money made suggests that as it hit big organisation the response was higher and more focused. Also, big organisations know you don’t pay the ransom on these attacks.

The importance of IT and the understanding of business impact form a IT shutdown is now in the forefront of a lots of people’s minds. I think a lot of bosses of medium and small businesses thought they could operate without IT, they are very wrong. IT leaders need to engage with the business and reassure them that the processes that mean the business runs day-to-day can protect against these sorts of attacks.

Approach the business with what the impact is to them, show them the processes you run every day that will provide the reassurance they need now. But most of all remember to frame this in the context of the impact to customers. Negative impact can take a lot of effort, and cash, to turn around. You don’t need to be a world class CEO to know that unhappy or scared customers don’t spend their money with you.

This incident is scary but it should be a wake-up call that without the right process and correct communication you will lose customer confidence. But simple process and prepared communication plans will stop this.

Raspberry pi power

This is a video of a raspberry pi controlling my Sony Alpha. This is going to be the basis of the time-lapse dolly I am making.

The pi will be controlling both the shutter release as well as the motor powering the dolly carrying the camera. Using a pi to do this has the advantage that I can ensure the dolly is still when the shutter is fired.

Homemade astronomy builds

Astronomy can be massively expensive, £10,000s! But thanks to IoT, micro computing, AWS and eBay it can be a lot cheaper.

I am planning to build a few items that would usually cost lots.
1. Time-lapse dolly
2. EQ tracker for long exposure wide-field astrophotography
3. All-sky camera

I am going track the projects from concept, through design and to completion. Cost and source of all the parts will be included to help others not make the mistakes I make!

Building the credible technology team

We all want to converge into the business and be an essential driver in the business. But how do we get that place and the voice to influence across the business?

There is an expression in technology, ‘keeping the lights on’. What this means is you must deliver the core of IT and your credibility.

If you deliver the core you will make colleagues in the business not notice you. Not being noticed is the first step to credibility.

So you have done the hard work, operations are delivering every day. How do you take advantage? How do you spark that meeting, conversation that puts you on the path to credibility.

The first thing to do is not talk technology, set an agenda for a meeting that is just about the goals of the business unit you are talking to. Deliberately avoid technology and talk about what business outcomes are important to the organisation.

These conversations should demonstrate you understand the overall goal of the organisation and how the unit you are meeting fits within it. Keep it simple all you need to do is spark conversation. You will need to listen and listen hard. Work on the skills that will make you an active listener. Listening has a primary purpose that some people seem to miss, listening is about learning. Too many people listen so they can reply and show how awesome they are. Listen to your peers in an attempt to empathise with the challenges they face and look for the technology elements that will support them through solving these challenges.

If you can get into this position you face an even bigger challenge, BRM. Business relationship management is how you captures these business conversations and turn them into initiatives and good quality technology strategy.

More on BRM and then transition in the coming weeks.

2017 – year of the geek

2016 wasn’t the greatest year, dumbing down turned into outright lies which enabled the post-truth series of events that are going to shape the world.

2017 need to be the year of the geek! We need complexity and the truth more than ever. We need graphs and statistics. But what we need more than anything is exponents of this truth that can make it accessible. Our current crop of politicians are fearful of this. They seem to fear the people shaping their own future. I see this as arrogant and dangerous.

People are not stupid they are busy, they are busy being absorbed in their own world of work, ego and facebook. The challenge is to break into this and communicate in the same way.

I don’t pretend to have the answer but I am going to work hard to challenge everyone around me to be better informed and to prepared to challenge me.

2017, Bring it on