Information Technology Dark Side

Struggles of a Self-Taught Coder

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Run Corporate IT Like a Software Company!!!

November 19th, 2006 · 1 Comment

A friend of mine says this about every other week. Corporate IT needs to be run like a software company, not like the business it supports. I’ve often wondered what exactly would change in corporate IT if this advice were taken. Would we suddenly be allowed to wear shorts to work, like our comrades in Silicon Valley? Bring our pets into the office with us? Have breakrooms with ping pong tables, PS3’s, and free highly caffeinated energy drinks?

Somehow I don’t think this is what he means – offering hip perks to employees is probably not what he’s getting at. Although, I do think running corporate IT like a real software company would inevitably change the company’s attitude about the value of talent and effort. Maybe once that change, sweet perks like those I mentioned above would become important.

I think what my buddy means is more fundamental. It means that corporate IT has to see itself as just one of many important players in the open market, not as a monopolistic force that all technology change for the company has to run through. Why is this important? Because it’s the truth. Corporate IT departments can be replaced wholesale. Huge companies have proven it, including companies like Sprint, who outsourced IT to IBM a few years ago.

I believe that there is one critical activity that corporate IT has to do if it wants to survive. I think it matters more than anything else it does. Is it cut costs? Not specifically. Collaborate effectively with the business? Nice when this happens, but it’s an effect of doing the one thing that is most important: Finding a way to improve the ability of the business it supports to compete in the open market. Aligning with competitive advantage is the most important thing any corporate IT department can do if it wants to be run like a software company.

This means corporate IT has to find ways to deliver the most important business capabilities as quickly as possible and as cheaply as possible. When the rubber hits the road, this capability is the only one that matters. Your business partners won’t ask if the back-office design is scalable. They won’t care if the requirements are thoroughly documented or the test traceability matrix is complete. When they compare your IT department to a pack of starving programmers in China, their decision is going to boil down to a simple question: who can deliver the things we need the most the fastest?

You’ve and your IT department have got to be the one they choose. This means you’ve got to treat your business partners like a marketplace. Pretend you’re trying to sell them a product. Wait – don’t pretend. You are selling them a product! Do what “real” companies that sell software do – figure out what they need most, what will remove the most pain for them, what will make them more profitable, and deliver it. As fast as you can. Don’t do ANYTHING at all that isn’t REQUIRED to deliver your product. Do the absolute least amount of work you can do to get your business partners what they need the most and don’t do anything else.

Corporate IT departments that get run like corporate IT departments, rather than real companies that sell real products in an open marketplace, are in the same position American car manufacturers of the 1970’s and 1980’s were in. Fat, lazy, and relatively unconcerned about what their customers really want. Don’t be those guys.


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