Mark Hayes, 2nd August 2019.

Administration as a Service NOT a Task

I've added this concept as a distinct topic as it is without a doubt the simplest, most important way to save money and improve efficiency in any environment. This concept is fundamentally very simple and can completely revolutionise the way organisations work, without necessarily spending a penny! This applies to everything, not just delivering solutions.

Signpost

The simple facts are:

  1. Almost all administrative tasks can be performed by anyone who can read, write and use a computer. I.e. almost no costly skills required... meaning low cost labour should be used!
  2. Having skilled resources performing tasks that could otherwise be performed by unskilled resources is a blatant waste of money.
  3. People who perform mundane tasks such as administration, all the time, become very quick and skilled in performing those tasks. Accuracy and efficiency are optimised.
  4. Administration issues, such as dodgy data and missed dead-lines, generally originate from the more costly resources.
  5. Having expensive, highly skilled resources who would otherwise be working on something complicated, interrupt their work-flow to perform a mundane task is counter-productive and not conducive to flow.
  6. The cost of having administration splinter through an organisation is exponentially higher than the cost of the time it takes to perform those tasks. There are many reasons for this, including:

    • System overheads, such as the naturally higher support, licensing and availability costs of having a larger user base.
    • Training larger user bases to use those systems. I.e. cost of the training plus the cost of being trained.
    • Cost and inefficiencies related to interrupting value added work-flow, with simple overheads.
    • Hidden support costs. I.e. users supporting each other.
    • Time wasted on administrative issues that should have been performed by someone dedicated to the task.
    • Time spent rolling out updates and retraining users.

Additionally, there are positive benefits to having administration as a service, not just cost reduction and time savings:

  1. Having a dedicated resource committed to performing such tasks makes its easier to identify opportunities for process improvements and automation.
  2. Quantifying administration costs is simpler and having a better understanding empowers management to make better decisions.
  3. Many managers hide behind administration and don't actually manage. Removing administration from functional areas, that add value, makes it harder for administrators to find a niche in the management of those areas. In the same way, not having administrators involved in management makes for smoother, more effective performance in all areas where administration is just an overhead.
  4. Duplicated and pointless administrative tasks are easier to identify.
  5. Business critical tasks are less likely to be hidden by the sea of administration.
  6. Support costs almost disappear when a system is operated by a smaller, dedicated team.
  7. System outages affect, and interrupt, fewer people.

Caveat: Care should be taken when creating an administration service to ensure that the people designing and running the service don't over engineer it. I.e. the service shouldn't need to be much more than a typing pool.

Conclusions

Gavel

Existing methodologies, Agile in particular, in their rawest form already offer perfectly good delivery models, in the right context. However they have been corrupted by culture, middle management and consultancies. Mutated into clumsy, bloated cash cows focussed on maximising busy work and administration costs.

In other words, the more money spent on administrating the bigger the profits for the people managing the delivery.

Not because complex subject matter, such as software delivery, requires a lot of administration, but because the people at the top either don't know any better or are happy "wasting" vast sums of money.

This is particularly apparent in the public sector where accountability and transparency are dwarfed by corruption, self interest and a complete lack of common sense.

To repeat myself one last time, look at the National Patient Database... Ten billion pounds, almost nothing to show for it and nobody went to jail. A handful of people did however make a lot of money despite their failure.

Of course this type of thing is nothing new. Delivering large IT solutions however, has provided and excellent platform for acquiring huge budgets and spending most of it on non-tangibles.

Break the Cycle!

The solution is clear:

  1. Isolate the delivery team, only allow actual analysts, programmers, testers and the like in, let them talk to the customers themselves.
  2. Protect them from the administrators and other overheads.
  3. Make compliance independent of both delivery and administration.
  4. Understand the benefits and outcomes the solution should deliver.
  5. Facilitate smooth flow within the team.
  6. Make sure someone who knows all the answers, or at least where to look, is available all the time.
  7. Always aim to get from A to B in the minimum number of steps.
  8. Don't, under any circumstances, let the process eclipse the deliverable.

With administration removed from the team and set up as a service, that can be closely scrutinised, most of the administrative overheads should disappear and with them, most of the noise, friction and inefficiencies.

Progress will flow more smoothly, the delivery team will be more focussed and scope creep will be easier to control.

With compliance as an independent body dedicated solely to making sure progress in on-track, appropriate and compliant, dangerous conflicts of interest are removed. Project reporting is less packaged and misleading, objectives are clearer and the quality of the final solution more predictable.

The simple fact is, the IT world has evolved. It, no pun intended, is no longer a mystical black box. Delivering large software solutions is a job of work that isn't helped by wasting most of the budget on busy bodies and bureaucracy.

Focus on what you want, the benefits it should deliver and how you can help smooth the way for the team that are producing the solution.

In other words, just get on with it and try not to let anyone get in the way. Let the creators create...