Posted on 12/05/2011
You Are Being Left Behind
Technology is constantly reshaping the business landscape - it’s leaving you and the traditional business world behind. The pace of innovation, the divergent path of the consumer world from enterprise IT, and the bottleneck of top-down management are all slowing you down.
There’s a rapidly expanding gap between developing technology and what the enterprise can deliver. If you're paying attention, you might think this gap may have actually become untenable, and you may be right. Yet recent [creditable] surveys of CIOs show an almost exclusively evolutionary and internal focus. But there seems to be just as many who feel that a technology emphasis for the enterprise is the wrong strategy right now [I know, you wonder what they're thinking, right?]. We, however, believe that technology advancements and new digital markets are often the key to an organization’s future.
But we understand your predicament. At the end of the day, you must be able to effectively serve your masters - the markets you cater to. And doing so means using the same channels and techniques as your trading partners and customers. Especially in a tight market, there is little motivation to shake up the status quo. However, you must adapt to the evolving marketplace to succeed. And fortunately for you, we offer other strategic technology that can yet be adopted to address this increasingly significant challenge [you're welcome].
Get Over it
The mind of a CIO is a mysterouis thing, but 60% seem to believe they should be directly driving growth and productivity [and we whole-heartedly agree]. But the issues are well documented; (1) there are at least five major “generational scale” changes occuring in IT today, (2) delivery channels are shifting (mobility, cloud, social), (3) communication and collaboration channels are being reinvented (Web, mobile, social), (4) the consumer world of technology is driving innovation, and (5) data is breeding like rabbits and exploding out of the proliferating apps, devices, and sensors that organizations are deploying.
And of course, everyone within the organization is experiencing cutting edge innovations daily on their own devices and networks external to your organization. Managers and executives, albeit mostly on the business side, are typically pushing for 1) service delivery on next-generation mobile devices, 2) much easier to use IT solutions, and 3) access to better, more collaborative and useful intranet capabilities. After all, they get these things for free on their iPad...
“Easy”, highly mobile, and “social” are the mantras of this new generation of technology. This sets the expectation for rapid [instant] acquisition and delivery of business solutions within your organization. You should be experiencing a workforce with a growing realization that technology, though increasingly complex in itself, can be wielded far more rapidly and efficiently than your parochial capabilities are providing. This can only result in unrest among the prolitariat...
Get over it. IT is not necessarily at fault [well, maybe a little]. Instead, it more than likely is the entire structure and process through which your organization absorbs and metabolizes technology. It’s centralized - controlled - top-down [funny, those all used to be good things...]. There are exceptions, but in most organizations, technology decisions are made at high levels and then pushed across the organization. This transmission process is slow and unpredictable. It’s also often not supported in the trenches where your business really consumes the available technology.
Where to from here?
So, after working so hard to convince you that your organization's efforts to keep up with technology will ultimately fail, we explore the approaches that we think will prevent much of the business world from falling so far behind as to become irrelevent. But becoming current with the technology first requires looking at each of the big technology trends with an eye towards the benefit they can provide.
1) Mobile - Smart Devices and Tablets
It is more than obvious that smart mobile devices based on iOS, Android, and even Blackberry OS/QNX are seeing widespread use. [If you're not following me here, just stop reading because your cause is hopeless.] And of course, comparing projected worldwide sales of tablets and PCs tells an even more dramatic story. Using the latest sales projections from Gartner on tablets and current PC shipment estimates from IDC, we see that by 2015 the tablet market will be 479 million units and the PC market will be only just ahead at 535 million units. This means tablets alone are going to have effective parity with PCs in just 3 years. So it's clear where this is going - enterprises must start treating tablets as equal citizens in their IT strategies.
Challenges to pacing smart device technology.
Smart devices have a poor enterprise ecosystem today. Enterprise software vendors and IT departments have organized around older platforms such as Windows and LAMP. Their infrastructure, skills, and relationships are largely built around an older generation of IT. In the meantime, iOS and Android have a lot to learn and to build up to begin to match this world, though they are starting to make progress. Many of the inherent advantages of smart mobile are anathema to structured IT. From app stores to HTML 5, the large and easy to access application universes of next-gen mobile immediately triggers a security lockdown response (right reaction, wrong response) from IT. Some IT departments even want to remove app stores from smart mobile devices entirely. The solution is probably policy-based screening of apps, but that’s a solution a ways away.
Approach to Pacing Technology.
Perhaps the only way to scale to this change on anything less than a multi-billion dollar budget is to “design for loss of control.” This doesn’t mean letting go of essential control such as robust security enforcement, but it does mean providing a framework for users to bring their own mobile devices to work in a safe manner, including use of apps with business data under certain prescribed conditions. This unleashes choice and innovation and vitally, splits the work of adoption and rollout with users that want to use their favorite mobile devices/app to solve a business problem.
2) Social Media - Social Business and Enterprise
While mobile phones technically have a broader reach than any communications device, social media has already surpassed e-mail, which was the industry mainstay. Increasingly, the world is using social networks and other social media-based services to stay in touch, communicate, and collaborate. Now key aspects of the CRM process are being overhauled to reflect a fundamentally social world . As Salesforce’s Marc Benioff was very clear in his dramatic keynote at Dreamforce last month, leading organizations are becoming social enterprises.
McKinsey and Company is reporting that the revenue growth of social businesses is 24% higher than less social firms and data from Frost and Sullivan backs that up across various KPIs. The message is that companies are going to — and have every reason to — be using social media as a primary channel in the very near future, if they aren’t already.
Challenges to Social Media Adoption.
Social media is not an IT competency. Simply put, the best IT guys are not necessarily good at the human interaction portion of social computing. IT treats it as just another application to roll out. Instead, the business units need to be enroled in integrating it meaningfully into their flow of work. The more significant value propositions of social media requires business transformation. Maintaining a Facebook page and Twitter account is relatively straightforward and necessary, but it usually won’t generate significant growth, revenue, or profits. The more profound and higher order aspects of social media including peer production of product development, customer care, and marketing require deeper rethinking of business processes are where your organization need to focus.
Approach to Pacing Technology.
Engage by example. Both leadership inside the company as well as top representatives to the outside world must engage in social channels to show how they’d like change to happen. And integrate social media into your company's customer service so that it becomes an integral part of the consumer offering.
3) Cloud Computing
Of all the technology trends on this list, cloud computing is the least controversial in our humble opinion. While there are far more reasons to adopt cloud technologies than just cost reduction, perceptions of performance issues and lack of visibility remain one of the top issues for large enterprise. Yet, among the large enterprise CTO and CIOs, cloud computing is being adopted steadily for non-mission critical applications and some are now even beginning to downsize their data centers. Business agility, vendor choice, and access to next-generation architectures are all benefits of employing the latest cloud computing architectures, which are often radically advanced compared to their traditional enterprise infrastructure.
Challenges to Adopting Cloud Computing.
Many CIOs and heads of IT just feel they can’t yet trust the cloud, despite many cloud providers being more reliable than internal infrastructure (Google recently reported four nines across its Gmail and Google Apps services.) Widespread outages by Amazon and Microsoft in the past has set back cloud adoption a minor amount, yet uptime is still extraordinary good by most enterprise standards. More of an issue is moving the enormous datasets that enterprises now posses into and out of the cloud quickly enough. Backhaul and other methods will need to improve substantially to address this satisfactorily for large enterprises.
Approach to Adopting Technology
Until cloud computing workloads can be seamlessly transferred back and forth between a company’s private cloud and public/hybrid cloud, adoption will be held back and favored largely for greenfield development. Technologies are now emerging to make this possible, however, and for now, companies should invest in cloud standards (to the extent they exist today) to build private clouds in order to be in position to start selectively transferring services out on a trial basis (and being able to bring them back in safely as needed.)
4) Consumerization of IT
The consumer world is now driving the direction of IT. Enterprises which don’t steadily consumerize their application portfolios are in for even lower levels of adoption and usage than they already have as workers continue a low productivity hunt for easier and more productive solutions. Another decentralized and scalable solution is, as with next-gen mobile, to help workers help themselves with third party apps that are deemed safe and secure.
Challenges to Applying Consumerization to IT
Usability and low barriers to participation won’t exist until 3rd party vendors, which provide a large percentage of IT (often on lengthy upgrade intervals), get the message and overhaul their apps. Your enterprise can accellerate this by voicing your concerns driectly to the vendor. Consumer technology often isn’t enterprise ready. At one point, neither was open source, but eventually an industry that provided value-added services emerged. The same pattern is likely to happen with popular consumer apps.
Approach to Consumerization
Consumerization seems especially pernicious to IT departments because it happens all the time, without their involvement. IT departments can begin programs in partnership with other large companies (to distribute the work) to certify SaaS, cloud, and mobile apps and train workers on data safety, backup, and integrity for example. Longer term, companies will imbue their IT service design, solution acquisition, and delivery with user experience and design approaches and fresh ideas from the consumer world. This will drive more worker productivity, less user support, and higher innovation in IT solutions.
5) Big Data
Businesses are drowning in data. However, they surprisingly little access to it. In turn, business cycles are growing shorter and shorter, making it necessary to “see” the stream of new and existing business data and process it quickly enough to make critical decisions. The term “big data” was coined to describe new technologies and techniques that can handle an order of magnitude or two more data than enterprises are today, something existing RDBMS technology can’t do it in a scalable manner or cost-effectively.
Big data offers the promise of better ROI on valuable enterprise datasets while being able to tackle entirely new business problems that were previously impossible to solve. While most companies are still addressing their big data needs with data warehousing, you need only scan the impressive McKinsey report on Big Data to see the major opportunities it offers on the business side.
Challenges to Adopting Big Data
There are a host of advanced technologies and new platforms to learn to be effective with big data, and the IT departments we’ve worked with are concerned about the skills they must acquire or foster internally to take advantage of them. Meaningful use of big data requires considerable cross-functional buy-in. Big data requires tapping into silos, warehouses, and external systems using new techniques. SOA has similar challenges because it had to coordinate and align so many parts of the business. While some big data will be single function, many of the more intriguing possibilities requires a lot of cooperation across the business and with external vendors, which we all know is not at easy task.
Approach to Adopting Big Data
Big data requires a mindset change as much as a technology update. This means making open data a priority for the enterprise as well as an operational velocity that hasn’t been a priority before. Big data enables solving new business problems that weren’t possible before. It also means infrastructure, operations and development must be part of the same team and used to working together. This means organizational refinements must be made.
How IT can Evolve
IT departments must be prepared to adopt quickly to pace the fast changes in technology which are confronting them. What these changes looks like will be different for every organization, and their are multiple directions that can be taken. The deeply transformational nature means IT must either start leading the business models and evolution of the organization, or become a commoditized utility while the business figures out the technological changes on its own.
Our message here is, don't become a commodity, become the force directly driving growth and productivity in your organization.