What can we learn about managing IT in the 21st century from one of the first car manufacturers of the 19th century?

As a business leader of a technology company, I spend a lot of time planning for the future and thinking about what lies ahead. Though personally I enjoy learning about history and find it a very rewarding passion.

The phrase ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ popularised by Newton in 1675 resonates with me, as I believe there is much understanding to be gained from studying the learnings of the major thinkers that have gone before us in order to make intellectual progress today.

Today, device laptop management or end user computing (EUC) is critical to organisations to ensure that team members have direct and constant access to resources through their laptop, regardless of their location. Supporting a fleet of laptops for most organisations does not create a unique competitive advantage but if it’s not done properly, it can create frustration for users and loss of productivity – not to mention cyber risk issues. The best practice solution for EUC includes establishing systems, applications and settings and then providing the ongoing management of these on employee laptops.

Many organisations seek the support of Managed Service Providers (MSPs) to outsource or arbitrage this work to engage specialist skills without hiring large internal technical teams. This engagement shifts the work of building and supporting an EUC platform to the MSP, but it doesn’t shift accountability of the outcome or performance of devices. MSPs usually charge their customers on a time and materials basis adding their profit margin to the time they spend to support customers.

Standing on the shoulders of a giant

In the early 1900’s Henry Ford developed the first motor vehicle for the masses, the Model T Ford. Demand was so great for this car that Ford needed to innovate new manufacturing processes to mass produce model T Fords at the rate of ten thousand per day. This capability relied on production lines that enabled this level of output and new ways of managing people. Henry Ford was a pioneer in many workplace practices we still see today including the 40-hour work week with five working days.

A lessor known innovation was that Henry Ford employed a specialist team that was paid to “Not Work” in the rest room. This team was accountable for the machinery that ran the factory’s production capability. The team was only paid while all the machinery in the factory was running (meaning they were paid for doing nothing) BUT if the factory stopped due to machinery issues, they were not paid while the factory was at a standstill.

While rewarding a team for not working appears to be counter-intuitive, the outcome was to ensure that any repairs needed were done quickly and that they were done at the highest quality so that disruptions didn’t happen often. By linking the required outcome to the incentive, Ford was able to produce cars at a rate unheard of at the time.

What does this have to do with modern day laptop device management? In short, a lot.

Many companies engage MSPs to support their EUC needs and often pay the MSP to build the platform supporting EUC, including how laptops behave and how reliable they are. A conflict arises as most of these engagements also charge the customer for all support requirements. In real terms, the MSP charges the customer to setup the solution, and then charges them to fix the issues that arise from the solution they built in the first place.

There is no incentive for the MSP to ensure that the solution they created for a customer reduces outages, as they get paid to fix the outages. It’s a win-win for them.

If we overlay lessons from Henry Ford’s factory team, customers should look for EUC solutions that are charged on a fixed outcome basis. In today’s terms this means ensuring that devices are up and running. This shifts the accountability of performance from the customer who is paying for the service, to the provider who delivered and is charging for the service.

Today’s MSPs are very skilled at managing exclusions and fine print in contracts to maximise their financial returns regardless of the impact to the customer.

What makes ThingsAt different?

Conversely, ThingsAt operates on a fixed cost basis. As a specialist EUC provider, ThingsAt helps customers to build their EUC platform and capability, and to ensure its ongoing performance is aligned to outcomes.

ThingsAt provides EUC services on a fixed cost per user per month which shifts the accountability of the quality of the service to ThingsAt where it should be, not the customer paying for the service. If the platform is not configured to reduce issues, then our workload increases, reducing our profit margins. This builds an incentive for ThingsAt as the provider to ensure things keep running smoothly.

This fundamentally changes the service paradigm from a traditional engagement of being rewarded for work done regardless of accountability, to a provider being rewarded to ensure that can free up your IT team to drive transformation.

I am often challenged by our customers to explain the value that ThingsAt provides, especially when we are doing our job and devices are working seamlessly. Explaining to customers that they don’t have issues because we have delivered an outcome, can be like selling insurance as our customers don’t see the work that goes into keeping them running, nor should they.

Strangely, having customers without EUC issues and questioning what we do is the ultimate recognition of what ThingsAt does for them, just as the team at Ford in the early 1900’s were being paid to relax in the break room, safe in the knowledge that they were enabling Ford’s success.

Ruy Franco

Chief Executive Officer
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