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Conventional Behavior Is a Trap

Technology changes at an amazing pace. We adopt new tools and toys rapidly, often finding new, unimagined uses for them. And, sometimes they fundamentally change how we work and live. 

Yet, it is so easy for us to approach our customers, the path most taken. We in the IT industry provide game changing technologies and tools as we did decades ago – the same delivery approaches, cost and pricing models, compensation plans, and support arrangements. 

Maybe it’s time to challenge this convention.

I was in Headquarters Air Force in the late 1980s working in the division responsible for IT and telecommunications policy (the two were just coming together). We had just written Air Force-wide policy on life cycle management of telephony systems, which we believed to be solid and well- thought. It included a provision requiring continuation of maintenance of single line dial telephones, the old WECO 500s. 

One morning, after the document was sent to the printer, it dawned on me as I was shaving that my razor is called ‘disposable’ for a reason. When it wears out or breaks, I throw it away. I don’t have it fixed. It is in the vernacular a consumable, which means someone has figured out it is cheaper to replace an old razor than to sharpen or fix one.
I had this sick feeling we had fallen into a trap with the telephones. Conventional thinking. 

It turns out that phones were categorized as equipment items, not consumables, and therefore were subject to equipment rules. They had serial numbers, were accounted for, and had to be maintained in a prescribed manner. So, I sheepishly ask what the replacement cost for a WECO 500 was and if we had any data on the cost to repair one. 

We were about to reinforce policy requiring that a $35 phone be repaired at an average cost of two hours of labor at $36 an hour, plus parts.

Hmmmm… The path most followed. We had decided that since they were classified as equipment, they had to be repaired. That was just the way it was. We didn’t think about maybe reclassifying them. Well, we did make them consumables which allowed us to replace them when they broke. 

What’ wrong with this picture? Two things. We were wrapped up in “this is the way we have always done it.” And, we were still in the comfortable space of writing policy on the each’s of our trade – phones – cable, dial central offices – not the more important aspect of delivering the voice service. 

Each of us is the prisoner of our own experience. We think about things in conventional ways and often stay in our comfort zones. 

Here is an example. Today most of the IT we deliver including software and circuits is treated as ‘equipment’ that must be individually bought and sold, by the seat or agency, installed, and maintained often under separate, expensive contracts. This is the way we have done it for decades.

Seems to me like telephones in 1987.

Is that what businesses and governments want? To buy individual things they can count like software licenses, servers, terabytes of storage, circuits, WECO 500s? 

No. Businesses and governments want the value IT provides, not the bright shiny things. CIOs tell me over and over they have neither the time nor inclination to try to understand the each’s of this business. They are about business value. Yet we continue to sell and provide the each’s. At home I do everything on-line – shop, bank, schedule, live. I don’t care about the each’s between my laptop and the service I want. Why should work be different?

Let’s move away from convention and provide the collective value of the each’s as services that produce measurable business value, and answer the challenge from those who want simplicity. Cloud services are a good example. Capacity-on-demand is a good example. There is so much more we could do if we could change our delivery approaches, cost and pricing models, compensation plans, and support arrangements. They inhibit us.

Let’s move away from the WECO 500 convention and provide what CIOs want, not what we sell.

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