InformationWeek 500 keynote interview, with Michael Lock, VP, Google Enterprise, and Clay Bavor, head of product management for Google Enterprise, had some closing fireworks. As usual, my colleague Fritz Nelson asked a lot of pointed questions, but I thought that the real theme of the conference--"Throwing out the old IT rule book"--was highlighted by a conflict between traditional MBA-think and Google's lean, agile, or whatever-you-want-to-call-it attitude about building great products.
It started with Michael Lock talking about the enterprise product direction. He quipped, "A lot of MBAs at Google are frustrated because they want the five-year roadmap, and we're just not that way." To be fair, I think he was more or less joking that the way MBAs are trained is pretty inflexible.
But things heated up when an audience member with an MBA said, "When I'm going to commit hundreds of millions of dollars, I really do want the five-year roadmap." Fair enough, right?
Cue damage control, stage right. Bavor indicated that there's always a vision and guiding principles in place that ensure that Google continues to build great products. Not good enough. Some of the IT leaders in the audience that I spoke to afterwards rolled their eyes and said that this statement was essentially, "Trust us, we're Google. What could go wrong?"
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But cue applause: Lock made a great point with me and some other folks that I spoke to afterwards when he said, "We're trying to be careful not to become the product that we're replacing." He meant that a lot of Google's success has been because the company has been nimble and hasn't spent all its efforts devoted to a five-year road map that is essentially one big guessing game anyway.
After all, who really knows what's going to happen five years down the road? Did you ever believe that RIM could have fallen so low in a period of less than 12 months? Nope. So do you really want to devote a huge amount of resources to trying to guess what IT is going to look like in 5 years? I sure don't.
As I mentioned, the theme of the conference was "Throw out the old IT rulebook," and if we IT leaders are really committed to throwing out that old rulebook, we had better be able to at least consider killing some of our sacred cows, like the holy of holies five-year product roadmap. At least one attendee (a self-proclaimed Apple fan, theoretically a sworn enemy of the GOOG) tweeted, "Google's approach though seems wonderfully nimble. I believe."
Over and over during the conference--during our startup session, during Randy Mott's keynote interview--the notion that "you're not going to be able to get next-generation results by sticking with the old-generation vendors and playbooks" kept resonating.
Are you still doing the same-old, same-old bridge calls where everyone's either answering email (at best) or playing Solitaire and saying "Huh?" when someone asks a question? Or are you biting the bullet and spending big bucks to fly everyone in so that you can actually look them in the eye and have a real, engaged conversation?
Bavor says that one CEO is using Google hangouts for staff meetings, claiming something like $20K in airfare savings. So my question to the MBAs in the group is: Do you really need a five-year road map for that?
Full disclosure: I am one of those MBA-types (specifically, an MS degree in management from Georgia Tech), but I have kept my eyes open since graduating, and as I've said before, startups--and those who use startup methodologies--have a great deal to teach those who were trained in traditional business methodologies.
I think Google has some work to do to be adopted in the enterprise, but it's not about the five-year roadmap or fashioning Google into a Big Enterprise Software Company. Google has work to do, for sure, but simultaneously, IT leadership has work to do, and lessons to unlearn as well. It's about playing from a new IT rulebook, but it's even bigger than that: there's a new business playbook to be learned. There are lessons about agility, stopping the overplanning (guessing) processes in our organizations, being constantly in beta, and aiming for less perfection. As IT and business leaders, we need to be on board with that if we want to continue to help our organizations succeed.
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