4 Ways Managing Enterprise IT Compares To Being A Chef

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May 01, 2021

The art of food and industry of Information Technology may not appear to have much in common. But the truth is, they are far more similar than it first seems. 

I know this because by day, I am a tech executive with more than 20 years of experience, including my current role as chief information officer of a major international tech company. In my off hours, however, my interests turn to another passion of mine – cooking. 

The culinary arts are my joy and creative outlet. Dozens of cookbooks line the shelves and countertops in my kitchen. In the past, I would host a weekly dinner for 20 or more friends featuring cuisine from around the world. In fact, before choosing computer science as my collegiate field of study, I deeply considered training to become a chef.

As the pandemic forced many to remain in their homes over the last year, Australians spent more time cooking, with total time spent on online food and cooking websites increasing by more than 70%, according to one survey. People are finding solace in food, and I am no different. As I made a list the other day of goodies to bake, it occurred to me that, lo and behold, cooking and enterprise technology have much in common.

It is true. Many of the same elements that make up a fine dish are conceptually like those that comprise high-quality IT delivery. How well a cook or IT leader gets them right can spell the difference between an excellent experience and a blasé one.

So, with that in mind, here is a four-course meal of examples.

Framework visualisation. The best cooks do not think in terms of items on a plate, they imagine how those items combine for a great meal. 

Chef, cook, IT

The same holds true for enterprise IT. It is not the myriad of technologies that matter as much as how they fit together for the broader customer or employee journey. Each fit-for-purpose technology has a job to do and an objective to meet. All that matters is delivering a superior experience for the users, whether that’s a small IT team that has to deploy and troubleshoot a software upgrade in 1,000 retail stores, or a network operator in a telco who has to roll out new subscriber services more quickly to stay ahead of competitors.

If on a plate or in enterprise technology, everything must work on its own, together and as part of a larger whole. Both in the kitchen and in the network, it is all about delivering the best possible end-to-end experience.

Keeping it simple. “The greatest dishes are very simple,” French chef Auguste Escoffier once said. 

So, why should IT be any different? 

For too long, complexity was accepted as a given in enterprise IT. No more. Today, the goal is to “consumerize” enterprise IT – make it more user-friendly, without sacrificing functionality. This trend has seen IT companies shift their focus to experience-first networking, a concept that places the end user’s experience at the centre of the network.

As in a great meal, simplicity is the ultimate elegance.

Proper portioning. A good dish should always contain the right amount of ingredients and leave diners feeling satisfied and well-nourished but not uncomfortably stuffed. Similarly, technology solutions should be scaled to the size of the problem – not too much and not too little.

When assessing technology purchases, enterprise buyers will sometimes be lured by an excessive feature list and gravitate towards a large, expensive solution when a more cost-effective, targeted one would get the job done. 

If a solution does not match the size and scale of your problem, you are going to over-spend and set yourself up for unnecessary complexity. 

Nailing the presentation. Studies have shown that food presentation can make a dish taste better. In one, diners at a restaurant on two different nights were served the same meal, but one was plated more attractively than the other – diners reported liking the meal more when it was presented in the more attractive way. The study ultimately found that how attractively food is presented can affect how good it is perceived to taste. 

IT management, cooking

Presentation is also a tasty concept for IT – the entire experience of how easy it is to use the technology, the value that the user perceives (e.g. time savings or important insights gained) and how the solution is supported are all contributing factors. IT providers must constantly put the user first, from when they initially engage with the company to how they deploy solutions to the ongoing support of existing services. 

As these four points show, both cooking and IT can, and should be, a source of delight, not indigestion. 

Written by Sharon Mandell, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Juniper Networks


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