A new report from the Leading Edge Forum proposes a new course for Enterprise IT - abandon the notion of creating the perfect intranet and instead live on the web.
Nicholas Carr put forth the argument that IT Doesn't Matter. In case there was any lingering doubt about Mr. Carr's views of Information Technology departments in the workplace, The End of Corporate Computing appeared in the Spring of 2005. While the essays have come and gone, one thing that actually has remained is corporate IT departments. Indeed, walk into any company today and IT's relevance is abundantly clear in myriad forms and options: desktops, laptops, cellphones, mobile devices, WiFi, terrabytes of storage, etc. The question isn't whether IT will go away, but rather, given all these choices and complexity, what will IT become? Doug Neal, a Research Fellow at the Leading Edge Forum, in collaboration with a Consumerization Working Group comprised of Fortune 500 industry veterans, has been studying this issue for several years and was kind enough to share his research with Read/WriteWeb. Their report, entitled Harnessing Web 2.0: Enterprise Strategies for Living on the Web, proposes that IT embrace the development of the internet, trust your employees, educate them on tools and live on the web.In May of 2003
Whether confronted by barbarian hordes in the hinterland or by malicious hackers on the internet, the response is the same: build a castle. If you've ever had the good fortune to travel, you've probably seen a few - they're usually in beautiful places and often make a great photo opportunity. If you've ever managed to get by security and visit the data centers of Fortune 500 companies, you've seen the modern day equivalent. They're usually not as pretty nor as good for a photo op, but they do share one thing in common: the surrounding population has far exceeded the castle's protective walls. These days a castle is a quaint anachronism to modern security. And the corporate data center? The LEF report answers this question by asking the following four:
- Can you make your numbers next year just by doing what you did last year?
- Where will the ideas come from to make your new numbers?
- Will the growth of your business increasingly require successful collaboration with customers, partners, suppliers and other organizations?
- What is the role of the IT organization in helping the company to make its new numbers in this new world?
The Complexity Ahead
In 2005 Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near hypothesized that technology is growing at an exponential rate. Even more important, or unfortunate, is that human beings (according to Kurzweil) are very poor at extrapolation and unable to handle rapidly increasing complexity. Which leads me to believe that Ray didn't have kids. My 16 month old daughter has observed my time in front of the computer and has no compunction about manipulating the mouse or pounding the keyboard. But toddlers aren't the ones running multi-million dollar technology centers (yet!) and the point is well taken that the increasing rate of change is difficult for IT professionals who have finally managed to build reliable systems with yesterday's tools. It's only natural one would like to tend to the system that works rather than reinventing things again. But the truth is, what IT currently has is the aforementioned castle - built on keeping everything inside.
As the report makes clear, this is obviously not a long term solution. Just as manufacturing began assembling commoditized parts, the technology needed to run and scale a business will be solved better and cheaper by external producers rather than internal workers. For example, the study lists Adobe's Rich Internet Application initiatives and Amazon web services as two prominent advancements that corporate IT would be well advised to look at and consider using. (ReadWriteWeb has been covering Adobe's and Amazon's visionary technology as well).
In fact, all of the players one would expect are mentioned in this study, all making a bid for the next generation of enterprise needs: Google for collaboration, Microsoft and Intel for virtualization, Salesforce.com for an on-demand model, etc. More importantly, as each of these vendors are offering solutions that commoditize traditional IT roles, corporate users - and management - are encouraging IT to implement and use best-of-breed instead of prevent and use what kind of/sort of works.
Just as the original PC revolution forced the creation of IT, the next generation of web technology is forcing IT to make a choice: vainly reinforce the castle again or open the gates and let information flow with enlightened users. I would recommend purchasing the report for details on exactly how this is being accomplished. What I can divulge from this report is an illuminating example of what one well-known corporation is doing today.
'Living on the Web' is a fascinating study - not so much by recognizing trends and needs of the internet and business, but because it comes from a group of big business thinkers dedicated to big business issues. What makes it powerful is actual examples of big business changing - in this case British Petroleum. When BP set about improving IT performance, they evaluated better ways to use public infrastructure and commodity computing, but more importantly they evaluated their employees knowledge and responsibility in the workplace and re-evaluated what IT's role should be.
Graphic from Harnessing Web 2.0: Enterprise Strategies for Living on the Web
Instead of IT edicts, employees were given the responsibility - including a budget - to build and configure their computing needs. Instead of issuing rules, BP began issuing a Computer Driver's License. A BP employee was given an increased role in managing and protecting their desktop environment, from keeping anti-virus software current to being responsible for licensing practices. In turn, IT was able to reduce its overhead and turn on the internet full time instead of maintaining an intranet/internet duality.
Not that this has been simple. As the reports states:
Although the idea of 'Living on the Web' has gained considerable support within BP, especially among business executives, there are still instances where ITÄôs first reaction is to control, not support or teach the users. It is a reflexive reaction born of years running IT that way. When he sees examples of this attitude in meetings, Jim Ginsburgh, VP of Enterprise Architecture, says, "We trust these people with multimillion-dollar drilling platforms. Why wonÄôt we trust them with a PC?"
The implications are profound. Instead of spending the bulk of their time monitoring and enforcing user behavior, IT can distribute the work and manage complexity by allowing users more autonomy - by trusting them. This lets IT focus on more pressing corporate, bottom-line needs like the best computing power for the cheapest cost. More importantly, it puts IT in a supportive role as employees leave the intranet castle and manage their own way in the internet world.
Will IT go away? Not as long as there are computers on your desk, on your lap or in your ear. Will IT's role begin changing in the very near future? The Consumerization Working Group, the Leading Edge Forum and Doug Neal certainly think so.