Time Flies

by Dave Michels

Relatively speaking, time flies. I’ve worked in big Fortune 100 companies, my own company, and now just me – and I am amazed at how relative time can be.
I am currently involved with a large school district that has numerous IT projects. Typical list of projects and priorities, you can probably guess the list: PC budgets and support, ERP issues, website issues, data backups, tablets, cloud evaluations, wireless planning – the usual.
A lot of IT has to deal with urgent matters – particularly outages. But what I find painstakingly slow is technology evaluations that are largely necessary to winning buy-in. Specifically, the Microsoft Office vs. Google Apps debate.
This is not the forum to air those issues pro and con. But I did want to hit on the timeline. The school district hopes to have a decision (Google vs. Microsoft) by the end of the year. And then hope to implement (switch or upgrade) during the summer of 2012. Now a big part of the decision making process has to do with a test group pilot.
These timelines are a reality, but also effectively ridiculous. Whatever you pilot today will not be what you install in a year. Internet speed is not compatible with large organization buy-in.
CIOs that manage without buy-in find themselves out of work pretty darn quickly. Even if they have some form of current protection, the politics of making enemies isn’t a viable long term strategy.

Microsoft vs. Google really isn’t a technical matter. Both products are proven, particularly for email and calendar (the main issue here). Either decision will work fine and both have strong arguments in their favor. There is also a financial elements, but it really boils down to a buy-in issue: which of the solutions are preferred by the users. Pilots and committees are a noble and reasonable approach for IT, especially during this age of consumerization.
But the issue of time makes it un-viable.
The problem is both solutions will be totally different by the time whatever is selected, implemented, and used. On the Google side, the company is releasing new features frequently – this past week:

Background Sending: Google today introduced a new feature to Gmail that allows emails to be sent in the background while you use other parts of the app.
Uploading Files: Last fall, Google Docs users gained the ability to drag and drop files from the desktop to the upload page. Now Google has announced that it will be rolling out a few more features to make that process of uploading even easier.
Google Image upload in Sheets was improved.
A new Google Groups feature.
I also just noticed that feature that helps you remember to add specific email addresses based on prior patterns.

On the Microsoft side, Office 365 is currently in beta and will be released later this year. Live@Edu for education customers will be transitioning to Office 365. And if that isn’t enough, Office 2012 as a client application is coming too. Then actor in tablets, new browsers, new smartphones, and Windows 8. What can a pilot realistically reveal today about these future solutions?
The CIO role has a very difficult balancing act that is rapidly becoming impossible. The pace of technology is fast, very fast – but buy-in takes time. Today, everyone needs an iPad, but the first evaluation units hit the market thirteen months ago, In fact, those first iPads are already discontinued. In a year, the product went from virtual to 2nd generation to must have. Conversely, IT decisions and budgets can easily take two years. What we have here is a failure to communicate.
It is a very fine balancing act between the timely dictator CIO or what (appears as) the paralysis by analysis CIO due to Internet time.
Related: See the CIO Hat Trick