Smells Like Entrepreneurial Spirit... In The Enterprise? - InformationWeek

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Smells Like Entrepreneurial Spirit… In The Enterprise?

Hiring the enterprise IT talent needed to speed innovation will only get harder. Perhaps it's time to partner with independent developers.

Recently a friend of mine told me how her teenage son had been put on report by his school for acting like an entrepreneur. He'd been caught selling soda from his locker and undercutting the school's lunch services. For his efforts he not only received detention, but was also forced to write out "I will not profit from the thirst of others" 100 times on the whiteboard. Oh, how the spirit of youth can so easily be dampened!

This sad story got me thinking about the importance of acquiring, nurturing, and retaining talent of the entrepreneurial kind -- especially for CIOs and IT leaders whose new marching orders are to stimulate innovation and grow the business. But it's not so easy.

[Looking to hire millennials? See How To Attract Young Talent: 10 Tips.]

We've all read about the severe skills shortage in IT. Enrollment in university computer science degree courses is at an all-time low, while the demand for experienced data analysts, cloud geeks, and web and mobile "rock stars" is growing. And the problem will only get worse, as the pressure increases on CIOs to speed up business innovation without blowing the budget.

Meanwhile, times are not so great for young job seekers. They've inherited the financial hangover of recent economic calamities and face an uncertain employment future. But on the flip side, they have no choice but to rise to the challenge and become much more entrepreneurial as a result. This, of course, will be fueled by access to technology, but also by a stark reality: They might need to create jobs themselves.

But in all the doom and gloom, are there more effective talent strategies CIOs and IT leaders can employ? Yes, but they're non-traditional and require tapping into the eternal entrepreneurial spirit that may never make it onto your "official" enterprise staff list of requirements.

To address talent shortages, some CIOs I know have recruitment partnerships with academic institutions. Some even have graduate intake programs and apprenticeships. This "get them while they're young" approach can be applauded, but in my opinion it doesn't always guarantee success. Why? Well firstly, many graduate programs I've observed should really be called "spirit crushers." Rather than encourage and stimulate innovation, they force graduates to undertake lengthy enterprise assimilation programs. When they're finally ready to contribute we give them boring jobs, the rationale being that everyone starts at the bottom, right?  

Secondly, today's talent doesn't only come from grad schools or MBA programs. On the contrary, talent is actually getting younger and more diverse. For example, there are now new incubator type schools (The Incubator School in Los Angeles is one) with the mission of nurturing and launching the entrepreneurial teams of tomorrow. These are places where students as young as grade six are given the support and encouragement to turn ideas into actual business ventures (which hopefully are more sustainable than selling soda in the school yard).

My advice to enterprises, therefore, is not to become entrenched in traditional recruitment practices and rigid company assimilation strategies. More successful approaches involve understanding new talent dynamics, developing relationships with external resource communities, and accepting that in many cases it isn't always necessary to hire, but rather partner with, young, independent, and external development communities.

In most cases, the pace of development requirements can no longer be met with internal talent acquisition. IT is under pressure to accelerate the delivery of innovative apps, but to meet this demand, companies have an internal supply problem. Partnering with a community of talented yet independent developers isn't as crazy as it sounds. They may be coding in ways alien to you, but who cares as long as they're effective? For example, one developer friend of mine has a bad Xbox habit and, as this column's headline suggests, loves Nirvana. But grunge music and video games aside, he makes a very nice living from mobile development and foreign currency trading -- he's a genius, albeit from the comfort of his parents' basement.

So if, for example, an enterprise wants to build a mobile service ecosystem around a product, it makes sound business sense to partner with and compensate external developers. This talent might just deliver something as simple, but compelling, as a new way to visualize information, or an innovative mashup from many data sources.     

What's most important is to curb insular thinking and start employing secure yet flexible strategies that connect your enterprise value with an entrepreneurial developer community. This could involve recrafting more agile development platforms or opening up enterprise data via APIs.

But that's only a start. Don't expect everyone to join your team and deliver cool new apps unless you make it easy for external developers to do what they do best: innovate. To get your enterprise to smell like entrepreneurial spirit, you'll need to nurture external communities through open collaboration, incentives, and encouragement. 

Peter Waterhouse is a senior technical marketing advisor for CA Technologies' strategic alliance, service providers, cloud, and industry solutions businesses.

Too many companies treat digital and mobile strategies as pet projects. Here are four ideas to shake up your company. Also in the Digital Disruption issue of InformationWeek: Six enduring truths about selecting enterprise software. (Free registration required.)

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User Rank: Apprentice
6/3/2014 | 12:41:47 PM
Re: How do you hold on to external developers?
You have the right idea Shane, you simply plan on NOT holding on to them.  Believe me many don't plan on holding onto the company longer than they are willing to provide the paycheck.  Particularly if they are expected to support everything they "turn over" to the enterprise.  My recommendation would to have 2 specified in-house techies available to do nothing but review the documentation and source that the external consultant has been hired and contractually bound to provide in excruciating detail.  Yes you pay for that, but if you want to have any future for the code, or heaven forbid the code turns out to be fairly archaic in 6 months, you will have a path off of it based on that doc.  IMHO, written documentation is the single most important deliverable any external development or integration services contract, and never gets the attention it needs.
User Rank: Apprentice
2/21/2014 | 3:13:22 PM
Re: Accountability
Not a fogey, but logical. Can a business reasonably entrust their information capital to a "genius" running their operations in their parents basement? I would question this point as well. I agree with most of the article, but this point, I had to chime in on.
Mohamed S. Ali
IW Pick
Mohamed S. Ali,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/17/2014 | 12:01:01 PM
The price of failure
As Lorna points out in the enterprise failure is usually not an option. However, the cost of failure in the app world drops quite a bit. Unlike a $100M CRM transformation project, most mobile apps cost less than $250K. At this price-point, the cost of failure is a bit more acceptable, and like it or not, being entrepreneurial does require a fair bit of dealing with failure. That said, the cause of failure is equally as important - if you fail because you chose a lousy set of developers (internal or outsourced), that shouldn't be acceptable regardless of wether its a $100K project or a $100M project (ala, howevever if the project failed because your hypothesis on what the market wants is wrong, then being entrpreneurial requires you to accept that risk, and at best minimize the cost of that failure - hiring good indie developers or teams can be a cheaper route to the second type of failure.

(for full disclosure, your article is exactly about what companies like mine are trying to pomote)
Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
1/14/2014 | 2:38:19 PM
That all sounds great, but wasn't the ACA site done by outsourced talent? And, sorry, but trusting someone doing business from his parents' basement with an important innovation project seems to have career-altering potential -- maybe it'll go great and the person who approved the spend is a hero, with a great app for short money. Think the Health Sherpa guys. Or maybe it doesn't go so well and confidential competive information is out in the wild, your outsourcing fee is spent on a new Xbox game, and you as the grownup is on the carpet.

Just saying, it's not such a simple calculation. Employees, internal and of established dev firms, have a level of accountability.

Boy, now I feel like a fogey.
Shane M. O'Neill
Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
1/14/2014 | 1:43:05 PM
How do you hold on to external developers?
This scenario does put young and talented developers in the driver's seat. What other incentives could, say, a FedEx or a Bank of America, give to independent external developers other than the necessary paycheck (and perhaps cases of Red Bull)? An enteprrise is not about the shill out for health benefits and a 401K. So if it's just about paychecks, how will enterprises hold on to these renegades when a contract is up and another firm offers more money? Maybe there's an expectation that the partnership will last a year and everyone just moves on.
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