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Steve Jobs, Apple and ITSM

November 21st, 2011

There has been an avalanche of copy written about Steve Jobs and Apple, so I apologize in advance for adding to it. This post is about some reflections on Steve Jobs biography, and how certain parallels could be applied by IT Departments looking to improve how IT services can be delivered.

As an aside, I found the Walter Issacson biography of Jobs to be a gripping read, although the format and story telling did not reflect the simplicity and focus of its subject . While I was reading through the copy it struck me there are a number of significant parallels between how Apple approaches product innovation and how we talk about these things within the construct of IT Service Management (ITSM).  A specific example is the introduction of the iPod and the musing from various industry insiders who asked the question “how on earth did Sony not invent the iPod and iTunes?”

At the time, the music industry was looking to Sony to produce a digital rights management solution that would counter the concerns over piracy and stem the decline in music sales. After two years of wrangling, the industry was no closer to a solution. As we know, Apple came along and provided a service that was completely integrated from the consumers’ perspective with the advantage that it was simpler to buy a song on iTunes for the average person that scour the web, and take chances on dubious quality alternatives.

Many people ideologically do not welcome Apple’s approach because (at the time) music purchased from the iTunes store could only be played on Apple Computers and iPod’s, however, despite your particular ideology on open vs. closed systems, the question remains; “how did Apple manage to snatch victory from Sony where they really had no business being able to do so”.  They had no history making a music device; they did not have the relationships with the providers (the artists) and they generated their money from selling computer hardware.

A large part of the answer is found in how the two companies were structured. As noted in Donaldson’s biography ‘Sony’s divisions were at war with one another’ and were continually trying to out-compete; thereby information sharing was limited and worse they would actively sabotage each other to prevent incremental increases in their organizational sphere of influence. Apple, driven by Job’s obsession in owning the user experience, saw the value in integrating its divisions. Tim Cook, then COO of Apple states “the company doesn’t ‘have “divisions” with their own P&L” and Steve Job actively encourages integrating of divisions to provide a cohesive end-to-end experience.

The parallel with internal IT organizations is apparent. Interestingly it is not from a technological perspective but an organizational one. Many efforts attempted at transforming the experience of delivering IT are hampered by Managers of silos that prevent change from occurring. In addition, Senior Managers do not push through the structural changes necessary to transform IT service delivery to be service (rather than product) as the push back from the organization itself seems too much to spend political capital on.

I don’t blame Senior Management unconditionally as our industry itself has let down IT Departments as we continue to focus on technology based solutions to attempt to address organizational issues.

IT Service Delivery can only truly reach its potential in those organizations where CIOs and CTOs step in and remove the traditional barriers by implementing a horizontal IT structure rather than what is traditionally a vertical one.

Steve Jobs is often dismissed as a ‘salesman’ or ‘marketing guru’ by many of our colleagues in IT Operations, however, we as an industry would do well to think differently about how we deliver services and the internal barriers that need to be adjusted to allow us to reach our potential of providing the right services at the right time at the right cost.

It is time for us to encourage organizations to stop investing in another ‘silver bullet’ tool but rather encourage changes to the fundamental issue of silos and hierarchical structure that impact cross communication, planning and delivery of great IT Services.

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