IT is Dead: Long Live IT!

IT assumes its real vocation: solving business problems. But it cannot do it alone.

As an IT professional or business leader, it is paramount to recognize the vastness of the changes that have occurred in the last ten years in technology. These changes will not slow down. It is no longer possible to write software today to support a business and expect that it will do its job effectively without being touched for the next five years. It will have to morph, it will have to adapt, and it will have to interact. So not only is it necessary to have an IT team that can design and build great applications, this same team has the responsibility to avoid creating monolithic solutions that are hard to maintain and extend.

“In three years, every product my company makes will be obsolete. The only question is whether we will make them obsolete or somebody else will.” – Bill Gates .

Today is Yesterday’s Tomorrow – IT as Infrastructure

In 2003, Nicholas Carr wrote his famous article in the Harvard Business Review magazine titled “IT doesn’t matter” ( ). In this article, Mr. Carr suggested that IT is like other infrastructures such as electricity and railroads, and once it becomes ubiquitous, any first-mover advantage is gone. Well, we’ve reached this point. IT has indeed become a basic piece of business infrastructure today, and just like you cannot shut off the water, you cannot shut your IT systems down. IT now seems to be in the category of the “cost of doing business.” At the same time, it is well known that ingenuity, creativity, and entrepreneurship are at the heart of competitiveness. So, the question is, how can IT still play a significant role in business differentiation today?

A Fool with a Tool is Still a Fool – Gaining a Competitive Advantage from IT Requires Strategy

Investments in IT operations rose significantly in the last several decades, but the results obtained were not directly correlated with the amount of money invested in many cases. The explanation for this discrepancy lies with the fact that IT is inanimate, it is not a cannon you bring to war, neither a bomb you drop on your problems. The effective application of IT resources requires strategy, and most important, it requires that people understand their business. What are the gains in productivity that will yield the best results? Where is the competitive advantage hidden in the sea of day-to-day operations? Without a clear vision and understanding of a particular business’s strengths and weaknesses, IT becomes a mere shiny (and expensive) object that offers little in terms of moving a company forward.
IT operations, be they internal or via partnership, need to have deep involvement and knowledge of how the business works. In turn, product owners (using an agile term) need to identify and prioritize features and systems that can provide real and fast results.
With a myriad of technologies to choose from, including open-source, cloud offerings, and general-purpose systems, the modern IT professional is required to advise clients about the best combinations of third-party modules, custom solutions, and any combination of these, but always in the context of the particular business problem to be solved, never in a vacuum.

Selecting Solution Building Blocks – Levering the Best Mix of Ready-Made Solutions and Custom Development

If there is one area in IT where the ground was really shaken, it would be in software development. Since the term “web services” was coined, many technology companies decided they would be able to provide several of the building blocks necessary for companies’ IT operations. They were right. Today it is not unusual to find two or three companies offering IT solutions that can be quickly deployed and operated. Most of these solutions will be cloud-based, requiring little or no in-house infrastructure. On top of that, they are generally cheaper compared to custom solutions. It would be unwise for businesses not to utilize these solutions in the bread-and-butter grind of regular day-to-day operations. But what about strategic areas, such as the ones that carry the business’ competitive advantages? These still need to be kept in-house, but they will not live inside silos. They are like organisms and need to be able to interact, grow, and change. The way they are designed and built will determine their fate in the long run. Some will thrive; others will disappear. Consider the following points when looking at solutions to solve your business problems:

  • Design for change: make sure solutions are loosely coupled, not just at a technology level but also from a user perspective. Convince yourself that change is the only constant.
  • Modularization is key: modules need to be built so they can be repurposed.  Designs with the idea of disparate “business areas” with encapsulation are essential.
  • Talk, talk, talk: Engage in brainstorming sessions and use-case discussions with stakeholders throughout all business levels. Make sure you have a robust understanding of the business involved, and the key stakeholders understand your proposition and the possibilities. Engage in constant feedback circles and be aware of changes in the business environment.
  • Integrate often: IT leaders should look for solutions outside the organization that can streamline their own solution without weakening the design.
  • Think about the future: Try to anticipate what comes next. Talk with business leaders throughout the organization and try to grasp what is on their minds. Communicate with them about possible expansions and/or new integrations. People like talking technology if the language is accessible.

Final Thoughts

IT operations, and specifically software development, is at the heart of most organizations today, and this will only expand in the future. Applications today have thousands of lines of code and need to be delivered fast, securely, and with high quality. This poses a challenge that cannot be addressed by IT only. The entire organization needs to understand this shift’s strategic nature and continuously partner with IT providers (internal or external) to guarantee that competitive advantage is being produced at the right cost.