The New IT Rulebook: Not For The Faint Of Heart - InformationWeek

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Rob Preston
Rob Preston
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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.

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.

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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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User Rank: Moderator
2/14/2012 | 6:20:34 AM
re: The New IT Rulebook: Not For The Faint Of Heart
While I don't disagree with the general idea behind this article that IT must adapt to changing business needs, I do strongly disagree with much of the detail in the article.

A few examples:

1. Much of the benefits of the cloud and social media are hyped by the vendors selling those solutions, not IT professionals or professionals of any sort within companies. These concepts are discussed as if they have equal benefit to all companies, in any industry, and of any size. This is just not fact. Retail and consumer products companies with a target demographic from 10 to 40 years old should embrace social media. I fully believe it can make a positive impact. However a chemical company selling business to business is going to get little to no benefit from any kind of social media solution. Similarly, public cloud services can be a real benefit for a start up or smaller companies below the $500 million mark. However, there comes a point of critical mass where it makes more sense for a number of reasons (cost being one of them) to develop infrastructure capability internally.....and it may be a private cloud, but that's for the company to decide the best architecture.

2. It's interesting that the only business function where this discussion is held is IT. HR, Sales, Marketing, and Finance all want their own IT independent solutions their way. However, no one but HR gets to set employee policy and no one other than finance determines how accounting entires are made. But everyone in the company is an expert on IT because they use technology as a consumer? As part of IT adapting to this new rulebook as you call it, some parity should be established. IT should work with business functions to quickly enable relevant and business case driven technologies while at the same time it is fair for IT to comment on finance inefficiencies or the poor sales planning processes, etc.

3. Speed in and of itself deliveries no value and at worst can create havoc. There's a keeping up with the Jones's mentality about implementing Cloud/SAAS solutions in many business functions, but there is no business case or strategic direction behind the implementation and little to no process design. As part of IT adapting new and speedier solutions, business functions must step up and deliver a business case for action and work hand in hand with IT by delivering an adequate process design to be automated. The development/technology implementation work is rarely the long pole in the tent. It is usually getting the solution to match requirements or match business process (because the business does not know what it wants) and organizational change management that make projects last so long and in some cases business integration (not technical integration) issues when the solution crosses functional areas. It would be so refreshing to see someone write an article chastising the business functions for lack of vision, little to no strategic direction, and no ability to articulate or design business process as a big part of the speed to delivery problem. But unfortunately, most of the articles are written by those selling cloud, SAAS, etc to the business functions so all we get is hype. And now we can add Information Week to the hype bucket. It would be nice if you actually provided some real answers and support for your target audience, but instead you write an article just like a vendor.
Jason Sharp
Jason Sharp,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/3/2012 | 10:58:39 PM
re: The New IT Rulebook: Not For The Faint Of Heart
Spot on, Rob. This is so reminescent of the late 90s when business demanded online offerings for their customers, and IT was in full agreement *as long as there was no business data exposed through the firewall*. That is, as long as only static, generic data was presented on the web server.

Today's perfect storm of shrinking/scarcity of in-house staff and skills, focus on rapid and agile results, and availability of nimble cloud/SaaS options, is forcing IT somewhere they know they need to go, but at a pace too darned fast for the "faint of heart". In their defense, few IT shops remain with the resources to adequately tackle new. Too many have been gutted to where maintaining what they currently have is a tall order by itself. Which kinda emphasizes the need to get over the hump to the next brave new world...
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