June 16, 2014
metrics like IT as percent of revenue, and the pressure is always to do it for less.
The other tower is innovation. With these new projects, success "has to be measured based on what's the return on investment, just like the other capital and other resource-intensive choices that are discretionary choices that you make as a company," Mott said.
To innovate at higher speed, GM is upending its entire IT model, going from 90% outsourced to 90% insourced. Mott also crafted enterprise software licensing agreements with about a dozen well-established software vendors, from the likes of Hewlett-Packard, SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft, so that if employees start a new project, they don’t have to spend time choosing tools and negotiating contracts -- be it for software or outsourced IT resources.
The Ant Farm: Netflix
Netflix, during its growth surge, has used a concept called "separation of concerns" and "bounded contexts" in order to let developers try new ideas quickly, without breaking the system that serves movies and TV shows to tens of millions of people at a time.
Cockcroft laid out the idea to conference attendees: Some areas of the technology system are very locked down, and some are changing quickly, and the two are kept separate. The people in the fast-changing group have a lot of room to try things, knowing they won't take down the whole. (The videos below show Cockcroft's "what I learned at Netflix" slide while he is speaking.)
"This is much more like an ant farm than a centrally controlled system," Cockcroft said. "Everyone is swarming at the problem, and everyone sort of knows what the goal of the company is, but we're not centrally controlling every step of the way."
To me, the only proper reaction to all these ideas was neatly captured by one conference attendee -- Jerry Johnson, the recently retired CIO of Pacific Northwest National Labs -- who offered this reaction to Cockcroft's ideas: "You've both inspired me and scared the hell out of me."
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