Relevance Key to Federated Action

Posted under: From the Blog 23rd of May, 2010

Working IT across multiple organisations can be challenging. While the high level group spanning organisations might agree federated purpose and strategy, executing the strategy can stall in amongst the daily grind of pressed lower level IT folk inside their individual organisations. Lower level IT staff will need help knowing how important a task of external origin is to their immediate organisation in order to give it the right priority.

It is a convenient, but often mistaken, assumption that colleague organisations have hi-fi connection of external strategic commitments to task and performance management down through their IT layers. Or worse, to assume later that a lack of progress means a lack of commitment. People go on leave, and even when they are physically available, their urgent domestic list of technical tasks may prove remarkably resistant to work lobbed in from a federated activity that to them is possibly important, certainly remote.

Technical work supporting federated IT projects usually lands on a very few central technical staff responsible for key parts of individual organisation’s infrastructure, like their authentication, identity management, directory and web services. These are some of the hotter IT skills and often high turnover areas in IT groups. Many domestic priorities already converge on these few folk, and they need help with understanding what is most relevant to their organisation. Without personal attention by senior leadership, messages through the layers, about the federated work, will not survive domestic dilution.

I have found myself on several occasions having to help other organizations manage their internal communications, in order to ensure their lower level staff understood the relevance and priority of federated work, and got it done.

And this is about more than communication.
In my experience, the key is in engaging technical staff in the relevance of their contribution.
Inter-organisation IT is complex once a coalition aspires above basic internet interconnectivity. And technical staff have a genuine interest and capacity to contribute to opportunistic exploitation of higher order technologies, once they understand how the federation advances their organisation’s interests. If there is no genuine relevance, the advanced bullshit detectors of technical staff go off the scale, and the best you should expect is sullen feet-dragging compliance.

Direct senior mentoring of key infrastructure staff, in organisational context, is one useful strategy. Developing technical leadership roles across the federated technical staff is another. A few hours attention and minimal additional resources, relative to the grander federated goal,  can make a big difference to practical understanding of relevance and hence effective execution of strategy. The biggest challenge can become retaining their domestic interest once they have experienced success in this bigger federated world.

Technical staff fall back to their technical comfort zone, in the absence of a higher calling. It is our leadership responsibility to provide that bigger picture and clear purpose for selective exercise of technical muscle. Everyone wants their work to be part of something important.

Comments welcome.

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