April 14, 2015
IT Spring Training: A Time To Experiment, Adjust, And Adapt
Every season, baseball pitchers and hitters adjust and adapt. A pitcher modifies the pace of his delivery, experiments with a new release point, or tries to add a new pitch to his arsenal. Every hitter adapts, too: he modifies his stance, experiments with a different swing, and tries to identify pitches more accurately.
Technology, too, is also a game of many changes. Makers modify existing tools, experiment with new technologies, and release new products. People—and organizations—modify systems and experiment with new capabilities, in an attempt to find a competitive advantage.
In baseball or business, if you do the same thing over and over without changes, competitors adapt. Hitters will figure out how to hit pitches. Eventually someone else will do it faster, cheaper, or better. Or they’ll create an entirely new product (or service) that people prefer over yours.
If you provide IT advice or services to clients, you have a real challenge: what do you need to change to stay competitive?
First, you (and your team members) need to be willing to try new things. That doesn’t mean you indiscriminately adopt every new tool listed at ProductHunt.com. Instead, use customer “constraints and complaints” to identify tools that add a desired capability or solve a problem. For example, a person with a mobile phone can show live video of a problem to a technician, with tools such as Skype, Google Hangouts, or Facetime. But your tech team needs to be ready, willing, and able to use these tools to support troubleshooting efforts.
Allow time for team members to experiment with tools—both new and existing tools. Many software makers add features and functions frequently. These features often change how you can support a product. For example, in 2015, Google added the ability to remotely access a Chromebook or Chromebox with the Chrome Remote Desktop app. Apple allowed two-step authentication for Apple accounts in fall of 2014. If you’re up-to-date on these tools, you could help people better secure their accounts, or save your team members a trip.
The word “experiment” is important. Unlike a “pilot project”, which implies “if this works, everyone will do it”, the word experiment implies a learning opportunity. That’s exactly what it is: a chance to try a new tool, learn how it works, and identify which problem (or problems) the tool solves well. Experiments are your version of baseball’s spring training: a time to try new things to learn and improve, not to win.
For example, if you’ve always done on-site data backup, experiment with cloud to cloud backup for a group or team. Learn what it takes to configure servers and systems to store data off-site. Test what it takes to recover data in the event of a disaster—or malicious mass deletion of files. Look at the test as an opportunity to fully understand capabilities and processes.
Some client teams might be willing to experiment with you. Make sure to keep the scope of experimentation clearly labeled and defined. If possible, obtain permission to document and share what you learn. (Obviously, some customers may not want results shared with competitors.) What you learn from your experiments, though, might benefit your other customers—and, if shared publicly, may also help attract new business.
Finally, you—or some of your team—should work to identify new technologies and trends. Use an RSS reader, like Feedly, to make sure you see new posts from sites and sources worthy of your time and trust. (For broad trends, for example, see Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report, or Pew Research reports.) You might also connect with interesting thinkers, entrepreneurs, or colleagues on social media, such as Twitter.
The goal is to modify your processes, experiment with new tools, and add new capabilities.
Keep in mind, though, not to change systems without a clear purpose. Mariano Rivera, the closer for the New York Yankees for many years, mostly threw one pitch: a cut fastball. He knew it. And the hitters knew it—but they still swung and missed more often than not. If you’re fortunate enough to have an effective system, stick with it. But most of us still need to attend spring training—to experiment with new systems—to make sure we can adjust when competitors adapt.