In enterprise IT, we're not very good at sharing, are we? But we better get good at it, and fast -- because today, what and how we share is driving innovation.
Growing up, I was taught to share everything, whether it was food or the new toy. It was sometimes hard and often painful, especially with a younger brother to contend with. But a sense of fair play prevailed. Fast-forward to my college years and sharing become a survival mechanism. For me, that involved renting a house with three other impoverished students who shared (with a few notable exceptions) just about everything. Sure, there were occasional instances of someone stealing my food in the shared refrigerator, or the housemate who was never quite honest about those long distance phone calls. For the most part, however, we shared and did it willingly.
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Things are different in enterprise IT. For 30 plus years, we've developed a mentality based on tribal knowledge, information retention, and ownership. We've separated our teams into developers, operations, and service management. And while there is always talk of working for the greater good, sharing often takes a backseat. Indeed, if someone leaves food in the proverbial shared refrigerator, it'll always get eaten. It will probably be the developers, who eat everything and always leave someone else to clean up the mess, right?
We've also been pretty careful about what we share with our customers and partners, building secure perimeters around corporate information and assets. It's true we've developed damn fine websites, mobile apps, and sophisticated front-ends to our systems of record, but for the most part, IT has dictated the terms in which the customer or partner engages with the business.
But we better get used to sharing a whole lot more and start unlocking the sharing gene that's hardwired into our DNA. Why?
Call it collaborative consumption or collaborative economics, but the reason is quite simple. New startups are springing up everywhere, building platforms that enable our community to share just about anything – whether its cars, food, pets (yes, pets), office space, or even spare rooms in their homes. These new businesses recognize that for a younger generation, access to services is more important than physical ownership and that the advent of technologies like mobile and social computing has made sharing not only feasible, but profitable, too. They recognize that the crowd now has the power, not traditional businesses and supporting IT systems.
This is a wake up call that threatens to disintermediate the business from customers unless we take some practical steps to embrace the sharing revolution. Some of these steps are obvious, many will be painful and counterintuitive, but all will bring tangible improvements.
Deliver business services over IT products
As businesses come to terms with service-based consumption, IT will similarly need to be more service-centric. That is, focus more on building the processes and IT systems needed to help the business shift from just selling products to also offering them as services. This will almost certainly require quicker delivery of new customer-facing systems and mobile apps. You'll need to develop many of these services internally, but some may also be available in the cloud and from partners.