Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Kodak Moments

It seems apt that in the same month Kodak filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.  Rob 'IT Skeptic' England should unleash his views on the irrelevance of social media and other transformational technologies. After all Kodak is a perfect example of a successful company derailed by not understanding the implications of transformational technologies, and don't even have the excuse that they were slow to adopt because the  technologies weren't invented here. Kids, that thing strapped to the side of it is what we used to call a cassette tape.

Many of you will know that I'm a passionate amateur photographer, but not so many of you will know that had I gone done down another trouser leg of time I would have trained to become a professional photographer instead of going to university. It was a tough choice to make. Like many wage slaves there are times when I still think about leaving ITSM behind and running a bijou little gallery in an English market town, so I try and keep in touch with the industry.

And that explains why Skep's arguments sounded strangely familiar to me, because I've heard it all before in the world of photography. Now that isn't to say I'm dismissing all of Rob's argument, but I do believe that  he is ignoring is the cumulative impact of individual changes on the whole ITSM eco-systen. When you look back on the story of digital photography that is what you see, but of course it is an awful lot easier to see things with hindsight. For instance with hindsight you can see that quip I made about the cassette  tape wasn't just an arbitrary comment - imagine where digital photography would be without the parallel development of new storage media like SDHC cards. Do you begin to see what I mean about the cumulative impact?

The Historic Contemporary Perspective

 Photographers, like IT nerds, are renowned for their obsession with the latest technology, so you would have thought they would have jumped at the possibilities offered by digital imaging. Some did, but many didn't. Many, many letters pages in photography magazines have been filled by those determined to convince others that film is good and digital is evil. To some extent the debate still takes place, though now it is a little easier to guess that the authors of the letters have been dipping their nibs in green or purple ink.

To be fair there were reasons why digital didn't look too great to start with. The technology was expensive, and tended to become obsolete very quickly, whilst the quality wasn't that wonderful once you removed the rose tinted glasses. That's a long way behind us now though. New cameras might come out all the time, and to some extent manufacturers, and consumers, are still intent on outdoing each other in terms of mega-pixels but the truth is you can go out and buy even a relatively cheap digital camera today that produce incredible results under conditions where you wouldn't even have bothered to lift a film camera to your eye, and you can still be using the same camera in five years time. In fact the sector where film is thriving is the artistic plastic fantastic area of over-priced cameras that were once sold as toys, their imperfections now being seen as features. That won't sound familiar to any of us in IT, obviously.

There were two other related arguments professional photographers leveled against digital. The first was that it removed their hard earned status as professionals and their ability to make a comfortable living, because amateurs could compete on an equal footing. As someone once said

"If you buy a camera you become a photographer. If you buy a clarinet you just become a man with a clarinet"

That highlights the other part of the argument, that digital technology has taken the skill out of photography.

The first b&w picture I took, developed and
printed myself some 30 odd years ago. 

I'm not without sympathy for those viewpoints. Having said that I'm extremely grateful I've been able to replace a chemical darkroom for a digital one. Chemicals and I weren't a good combination.  I actually believe that the quality of the average professional photographer has improved massively as a result of the digital revolution, and also that the true professional still has their place. I just don't think we need as many of them as we used to and that they might need to find a new place in the market.

Behind a lot of the antagonism there were both conscious and unconscious feelings at play. After all  there were photographers who had made a lot of investment, both in analogue technology and in developing the skills needed to exploit it who now saw their livelihood and their status slipping away. Again, far be it for me to suggest that similar fears might be driving some of the thinking around potentially transformational technologies in IT.

The Perfect Storm

Regardless of all the above Kodak and Polaroid wouldn't have got in a mess if other parts of the digital jigsaw hadn't been in place. Very quickly ,those pieces started to appear on the table, and like any jigsaw one of those pieces that didn't appear to have any relevance to the picture on the box turned out to be the most significant in bringing the big picture together.

I've already mentioned the importance of development in solid state media, but what about the development of the software to provide a digital darkroom, be it top end products like Photoshop or open source products like Gimp, and don't forget the need for cheap home printers able to match and exceed the quality of mail order and high street film processors. All these had their part to play in ensuring the ascendancy of digital.

In IT the transformational technologies - and actually I believe Rob has has been disingenuous in using that term to summarize all the changes that are below, at, or just above our horizon, depending on which part of the globe you are in - include a shift to various cloud based models, a shift to multi sourcing and service integration, the increased use of official BYOD and the unofficial  usage of mobile devices as an integral part of business processes. No one element is going to trigger monumental change, but the combination will. I don't know exactly how yet, because I think just the edge pieces of the jigsaw are in place.

The Missing Piece?

By one of those amazing and not at all contrived coincidences the missing piece in both the completed digital imaging jigsaw and the half completed future of ITSM jigsaw turns out to be the same piece: Social Media. Watch this space.


  1. Good post.

    I agree that Kodak is an important lesson. They made film when people wanted pictures.

    Excactly as ITSM trainers&consultants are making frameworks when people want better IT.

    1. Aale, I've emailed you as well, with a slightly different example about hotel receptionists, but are you saying ITIL tells us how to make film, ITSM is about making pictures (and "making pictures" can mean multiple things - if I never print a picture now it can get seen by many more people than even 5 years ago)

  2. Good article.

    What people have always wanted are memorable moments and Kodak did a good job delivering those moments with paper pictures. When the digital technologies came along and showed how the new delivery method (digital bits vs. physical paper) can deliver those moments more quickly, make them more accessible, and preserve them just as well, Kodak saw the digital train coming but was slow to adapt and got left behind. Similar force took place in the music industry with service like iTunes utilizing a different distribution method comparing to the physical records/CDs.

    I too agree that people want better IT, or perhaps better services from IT to do their work more productively. Organizations still need processing capacity and capability to get the work done, and those needs have not changed. The delivery method of using physical servers vs. using cloud services to deliver those processing capacity/capability is something to pay attention to. The increasing acceptance of electronic records in lieu of paper records is another delivery method movement. The changes in the deliver method will affect how IT delivers services, and I think a decent framework like ITIL can still help. Any technology that changes how an IT service gets delivered is worth keeping an eye on.

    1. David, At one level I agree ITIL will remain relevant, but at another I question (though still less than Aale) if some of the constructs within ITIL will prove to be as universally applicable and as useful as they have been in the past. In particular I'm wondering how well the model of industrialized repeatable transactions within a predictable process flow will fit in the future. Perhaps what I'm getting at is I wonder if the current level of granularity and abstraction in ITIL is right, or whether how we assemble the elements of ITIL will change.
      I'm very much thinking aloud here but take something like prioritisation. Is that something we need to be talking about in its own right, in an atomic sense, accepting that it is the same "thing" being bolted into change, request and incident management, and that it can occur at multiple stages in the lifecycle of those entities

  3. James, you raised some excellent points to think about further. I view ITIL for what it is, a reference model or a set of suggested principles that organizations can adopt if they choose to or have nothing else better to go with. Just how universally applicable ITIL will be is something that will become more apparent as time goes. I would also say I am a proponent of “industrialization” of IT where it is applicable. I say that because I believe repeatable processes give us a workable approach to understand how to provide IT services with a high degree of predictability and transparency. Businesses need at least those two elements to make better decisions on how IT can better support their operational objectives.

    Like many frameworks, I think ITIL will continue to evolve and strive to reach a level of granularity and abstraction that presents a workable solution to a great number of organizations. Are there more effective approaches to provide IT services than ITIL? I would like think there must be. For most organizations, though, that are just looking to even start somewhere, ITIL is better than having nothing.

  4. David, I loved Ivor Macfarlane's recent definition of ITIL as "A set of well accepted suggestions" I have a blog post that has been in draft for ages about the paradox that although ITIL is often accused of being theoretical it actually lacks a strong explicit theoretical basis. that can actually make it quite hard to judge "does ITIL work"

    Whilst TCS is an organisation whose business model is based on industrialisation of process it doesn't stop us thinking about the possibility of alternative models. Ideally we would have a blended solution.

    I continue to see a great many more organisations that claim to be using ITIL than I see organisations that are genuinely using ITIL and I can't help thinking that we still haven't explored all the psychological reasons for that.

  5. "Whilst TCS is an organisation whose business model is based on industrialisation of process it doesn't stop us thinking about the possibility of alternative models. Ideally we would have a blended solution."

    Agreed with you wholeheartedly, James. Technology may play a part in ITSM but it is still very much a people oriented endeavor.

  6. David, Whilst agreeing that with your comment I should clarify that when I talk about industrialisation of process I'm including the human component in that - the use of individuals as components within a production line model operating within very strict rules.

    That brings lots of benefits, especially when dealing with a commoditised service.The blended solution I have in mind though incorporates that with one where we allow the skill and experience of the worker to control the process, not the other way around.