I’m sad to say that my tour in Israel has come to an end and I’m back in the good ‘ole USA. Despite the fact that I was in the land of Milk & Honey for two weeks, I really only spent about two days of it bumming around Tel Aviv and talking to my colleagues and friends in the IT world. Yes, I do have a few good blog posts to write from my trip, but while I’m collecting my thoughts (and taking my sweet time doing it) and putting together topics, I want to start with a general summary that, if you can’t read anything else, will give you a good overview of my technology travels in the Holy Land.
There’s tech, tech, and more tech!
I have never been in a place where I could drive in a single day and see offices for Microsoft, CA Technologies, BMC, Google, AT&T, Intel, Xerox….the list goes on and on! Just about everywhere you go, there’s some technology park or office building that has several dozens of technology companies, with at least one or two bearing internationally recognizable names. Not only that, the Israeli infrastructure supports a culture where people are continually connected to the internet. I found that the trains have free wifi and power, I had a strong 3G signal on the top of Mount Masada, and even one of the oldest cities in the world has free wifi. Come on – if a city that dates back possibly 7,500 years can get free wifi, certainly the airports in the US can do the same (unless we need to wait 3,000 more years for it). My point is that Israel isn’t just a place where IT has grown by accident, but rather by years of cultural evolution established by societal needs to make the most of technology…and it’s very prevalent everywhere you go.
Technology is great. Service Management…not so much.
What surprised me the most about IT in Israel is that for all the technology and the cultural entrepreneurship, Service Management is pretty behind compared to the US or UK. It’s not to say ITSM doesn’t exist at all in Israel; I’ve found a few colleagues in the space that are the die-hard evangelists for Service Management and they are doing some fantastic work, but as a country leading the world in IT innovation, it’s sorely lacking. But when I think about the reasons why ITSM isn’t strong in Israel, I’m not really surprised after all. Here are a few of the key reasons:
1. Israel is a ‘Start-Up Nation.’ There’s no need to focus on process or business value when technologically innovative companies are most likely to be purchased by international companies at a nice profit. Once purchased, the entrepreneurs move on to another project.
2. IT in Israel is experiencing major growth and profitability. Typically, in such economies no one tends to focus on IT process to be as “efficient as possible.”
3. Technology and computer development is strongly emphasized over process. There’s a reason why several IT companies (Apple, BMC, CA, etc.) have R&D campuses in Israel, and it has nothing to do with ITIL.
4. IT (and the people) move quickly in Israel. When it comes to IT process, it can take several months to over a year to establish and improve a process. At the rate IT is growing in Israel, the technology is quickly outpacing the process; and the people in Israel like to move just as quickly.
5. With everyone expressing an opinion, changing culture can be tough. I really think “customer service” needs to be renamed “opinionated service,” because in Israel everyone has an opinion and likes to express it. While it can be a shock as an American getting used to an Israeli mindset, I also found that it’s quite refreshing to have almost everyone care about the choices I make. As an example, my wife was out to lunch with my son and he didn’t like the food (not surprising since he’s a picky 3-year-old). Since my son was eating my wife’s food, she decided to just pay for another order for him. When my wife asked the server for a new dish, the server stated something like “Why? That’s too much food. Just give him some of yours and he’ll be fine. I’ll get you a plate.” And really, the server was right and saved us a few dollars of wasting food. My point about the story is that while there’s an opinion given in every interaction, it’s done so because everyone treats you as a human, not just as a “paycheck” that will give you whatever you want just because you’ll pay money.
Entrepreneurship comes from innovation, which comes from survival.
To recap the general situation in Israel; there are about 7 million Israeli citizens, living in a country that’s about 27,000 square kilometers in size (a little bigger than New Jersey), surviving in a geography that’s about 60% desert, with no oil or natural resources to draw upon, and surrounded by 22 Arab countries that contain a cumulative population of over 300 million people that historically have announced intentions of destroying Jews in the Near East region of Asia. Yet, somehow Israel has come to be a leading innovator in the world. While I can confidently state that Israel’s greatest asset is the people, I also don’t want to ignore a quote from General George S. Patton that “pressure makes diamonds.” In such an environment and with such pressure that’s part of everyday life (how many of you can say you’ve had a happy hour in a bomb shelter?), it’s no wonder innovation, technology and entrepreneurship are key values in the Israeli culture. It’s not a country that sits back and waits for things to happen; doing so has historically never worked out well for Israel. Because of the history and culture, young people aren’t afraid to take risks to create a start-up and push a new idea or technology. While not every software company in Israel has the luck of Waze, the aura of innovation permeates society and people like to move quickly to turn ideas into reality. It’s refreshing to be in such an environment compared to the boring, mundane IT life in Ohio.
There you have a quick summary of my impression of IT in Israel. I’m sorry it took me a few weeks to get this out, but now that we’re going into Rosh Hashana (שנה טובה לחברים שלי), I’m becoming a little more contemplative and will hopefully be publishing more detailed blog posts. Until then, may you be inscribed into the Book of Life for a good year!