Why is this need for IT speed accelerating? First, technology and process advances, from cloud computing and virtualization to Web services and agile development, are making it possible for IT pros to deliver applications and infrastructure much faster.
Amazon, for instance, showed it's possible to deliver compute and storage infrastructure in minutes, not months, and Salesforce.com slashed the time it can take to launch CRM applications. Yes, there are caveats galore. Can Amazon meet your security requirements and enterprise-class service-level agreements? Can Salesforce integrate the way you want with other enterprise applications? But these cloud services reset the benchmark when it comes to getting critical IT resources up and running in next to no time. Inside companies' own data centers, virtualization has made it feasible for companies to mimic Amazon-like clouds. They're building private clouds that allow for faster provisioning of servers and more flexibility in moving workloads across servers and storage to meet changing demand.
Second is the juggernaut of consumer IT, particularly mobile devices. The pace of change in consumer tech--led by Apple's iPhone, app store model, and now its iPad--is raising the expectations of what people can do at work, and IT must keep up.
The third and most important driver is the changing nature of demand for enterprise IT. It's what Carter alluded to--business just can't move without IT anymore. IT is embedded in new products and new product development. Consider FedEx's sensor product that can relay an alert if a package is opened en route. Consider the video interview clips Manpower will send to clients along with the resumés of job candidates. Consider the digital mock-ups Procter & Gamble uses to show a new shampoo bottle to a focus group. If IT's too slow, business is too slow to innovate. It's that simple.
A related factor is that IT is doing a lot fewer long-term process projects, like ERP, and a lot more iterative projects, like new tools for collaboration or customer service or customer-facing Web sites. The Corporate Executive Board has studied this phenomenon and found that these shorter-term projects, which it calls "information projects," now account for 45% of IT's new project budgets.
With these kinds of projects, business units don't know exactly what they want at the start. IT needs to move with the business units to get something in front of customers or employees, listen, and then iterate, either by fixing what's wrong or adding more features. Last holiday season, Guess CIO Michael Relich gave the clothing retailer's salespeople iPod Touches equipped with bar-code readers so they could tally customers' purchases on the store floor. As soon as the salespeople got those devices, they flooded Relich with requests to do new things with them: Let me sign customers up for the loyalty program. Let me check inventory at the mall on the other side of town.
In such a world, "velocity is more important than perfection," says Peter Hinssen, a consultant and author of The New Normal. More and more products are experienced through a digital filter, Hinssen argues. He recounts buying a new car, trying to plug an iPhone into it to play music, and being told his "accessory" wasn't compatible with the phone. This is the digital world IT must keep up with--one where Apple can view a $40,000 car as an accessory to the iPhone.
Speed over perfection can be a tough notion for IT to accept. But if IT is going to drive business results and maintain its strategic presence, it can't slow the business down. Warns Hinssen: "If you don't like change, you'll probably like irrelevance even less."