The New IT Rulebook: Not For The Faint Of Heart
Smaller, lighter, and more agile are more than just industry buzzwords. IT organizations that fail to lead those charges will get relegated to cost centers.
In an industry where innovation threatens to tear down legacy systems and practices (and vendors) just as it generates new opportunities, IT organizations are nonetheless resistant to change. It's natural to fear the unknown, question the unproven, be skeptical of the latest and greatest.
Even pros who pride themselves on keeping up with the hottest technologies are prone to pooh-poohing the latest trends. Note the continued enterprise IT resistance to the cloud, consumer, and social movements--"non-compliant," "insecure," "overrated," "frivolous," "nothing really new here" ... pick your reason(s) for not buying in.
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Most CIOs understand that the old IT rulebook needs revisions, mostly because colleagues in marketing, HR, and other departments are making noises about working around their organizations (or are already doing so). But many IT teams continue to hang on to existing practices: developing expensive native apps when the Web variety will do; securing perimeters and devices rather than the most sensitive data; abiding the use of software as a service and other public cloud offerings for only non-strategic apps and infrastructure; shutting out the personal devices employees find most productive for work.
"Smaller," "lighter," and "more agile" IT are more than just buzzwords. They come straight from the new rulebook. While we're at it, let's add "less expensive." IT organizations that fail to fall in line with these imperatives--no, which fail to lead them--will get relegated to being cost centers that will be cut further.
Part of that "changing IT model," says the CIO of an international manufacturing company, involves moving bigger chunks of the IT architecture to the cloud--the kind of utility computing writ large by Nicholas Carr in "The Big Switch." "And part of this is actually greater specialization and customization enabled by more powerful tools," the CIO continues. "SaaS and cloud enable this, but also the evolution of development stacks and platforms which have made software development much more productive. When you look at what small companies are doing in terms of development speed, you no longer need armies of people to write software. I can see a swing back to more in-house development. Less outsourcing. Less monolithic ERPs. More cloud and SaaS."
Another prominent CIO we spoke with notes that the vendor landscape is changing as well. Apple, Google, Samsung, and Facebook are coming to the enterprise--either through the front door or the back.
Is your IT organization getting to know those new technologies and platforms, and consumer-focused vendors and their products, or is it still mired in fear, skepticism, and resistance?
One company apparently fearful of technology-abetted change is Target, which, according to a Jan. 23 Wall Street Journal article, is asking its suppliers to help it thwart "showrooming"--shoppers who come into its stores to check out a product in person, only to buy it from a rival online retailer at a lower price. It's all well and good that Target is asking suppliers to create exclusive products for its big box stores, as well as help it match rivals' prices. But such efforts amount to propping up an aging business model. Target would serve itself and its customers better by focusing more on harmonizing its own in-store and online shopping experiences--deep Facebook page integration, smartphone apps that let shoppers swipe a barcode in-store for discounts, and the like.
Resistance to change is also a time-worn tech vendor tradition. I'll never forget Western Union's new strategy exec telling me in 1987 that the struggling company would return to profitability by riding the telex cash cow, a preposterous notion even back then. The hidebound cultures at places like DEC, Wang, and Sun are even better known. More recently, Research In Motion named a new CEO, insider Thorsten Heins, to turn the company around amid steep declines in RIM's market share and market cap. Among Heins' first public statements: "I don't think there is a drastic change needed." (RIM shareholders were less than thrilled.)
The new IT rulebook isn't for the faint of heart. Getting to "smaller," "lighter," and "more agile" may not require a complete IT architectural overhaul, but it will require some hard decisions about legacy platforms and processes.
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