Get your IT to work for you, not for Microsoft

October 5, 2013

Blog_MSDelta Airlines recently announced that they will start to use Microsoft Surface 2 tablet computers as “Electronic Flight Bags”. This move comes as a surprise, especially because Delta already began trials with iPads and it further started to buy thousands of iPads for use in it airport restaurants.

Employees reportedly “fought hard” for the iPad solution who is succesfully run by American Airlines as a EFB as of this year, involving 8.000 devices. But more importantly, this move is puzzling on other fronts:

The Surface 2 isn’t even yet authorized by the FAA for in-flight use. Furthermore, one FAA requirement for EFB devices specifically states, “if a touch screen is used, it must be evaluated for ease of operation. The touch screen must be responsive and not require multiple attempts to make a selection, but not be so sensitive that erroneous selections occur.” Touch performance on the Surface played a significant factor in its poor reviews.

Delta’s Information Technology staff has been described historically as being “in bed” with Microsoft. I personally had the same experience on multiple fronts, with the CEO of a former employer who explicitly stated “We are a Microsoft house” while ignoring to implement cost-saving solutions. So what is going on here?

Historically, Microsoft’s business model has always included to eliminate the competition. If you have a big IT, you probably notice a trend when you give Microsoft too much power over your IT Department: Licensing costs are on the rise, complexity goes up while flexibility goes down. The IT budgets get increasingly complex, and more “Microsoft Certified” professionals get hired to handle the system.

Many CEOs find it increasingly hard to understand what their IT is doing and just approve the IT budget without questioning too much what is going on. This is a widespread scenario and ultimately ensures a steady revenue stream for Microsoft.

So, how can you possibly reverse this trend? There is one way: Let your IT compete for the best solution.

You have specific long-time goals what you want your IT to do. Define the mid-term / long-term goals and get two teams to develop the scenario next to each other. Let at least one team develop an alternative idea that doesn’t follows the path your IT would traditionally take, in case of doubt implement someone from the outside to help. Also, encourage them to explore possibilities in a playful way. When it comes to decide which way to go, you are much better able to weigh the pros and cons of the individual sides.

This actions may initially not be popular but can greatly benefit the personal development and success of everyone involved.

I discovered a good story in that regard while working at Apple. From Wikipedia:

“In 2005, when Jobs began planning the iPhone, he had a choice to either “shrink the Mac, which would be an epic feat of engineering, or enlarge the iPod”. Jobs favored the former approach but pitted the Macintosh and iPod teams, led by Forstall and Tony Fadell, respectively, against each other in an internal competition. Forstall won that fierce competition to create iOS”

In hindsight, this engineering feat was one of the most important advantages the company had over his competitors and largely formed what the “modern” Apple is today.

Most people describe themselves as being uncomfortable with conflict, morally conditioned to avoid it, and unskilled in processing it. Try to change your IT culture to thrive in challenging situations and they will be much better suited for future developments and ultimately will help you to be more independent.