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Revolution Means Deciding For Myself Who the Bad Guy Is

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
– John F. Kennedy

I’ve been pretty hard on IT and my former employer, SAP, lately. This is not due to any predisposition to bias against either group but really a catalyzing of frustration that I feel about all of enterprise software at the moment. This frustration is born out of the observation that many IT professionals resist change in spite of being in the business of change, and enterprise software vendors fuel that resistance by increasing the footprint and weight of their technology stacks in order to consolidate as much of the IT wallet as possible. That focus on spend invariably comes not through a pure technology innovation or business benefit sell, but one of risk avoidance.

Look at the obscene emphasis on risk and compliance software as an example. Without question there is a heightened regulatory environment that requires investment here, and indeed many of the failure lessons of recent years point to institutional controls failing or being nonexistent as the root cause of failure, absent of organized criminal fraud in which case controls of any kind will do little good.

But let’s look at the real selling proposition that GRC solutions employ… “buy my software or go to jail”. Furthermore, even the vendors acknowledge that companies are most often unable to gather data from multiple silos in the company, in other words, they aren’t data silos they are data fortresses. Who created those silos in the first place? The simplistic answer is that the enterprise software vendors did and their solution is to sell more software to help their customers bridge it.

As much as I would like a little revolution now and then, I also recognize that this isn’t always the practical approach given the massive investments companies have made in these platforms and the absolute requirement they have from an operational perspective on them.

It was with great interest that I read this piece in FT (via Thomas Otter) on comments that Shai Agassi had made about the IT profession and the absolute requirements for change at a level well above the technology.

Service-oriented technology systems will have a further impact on the mix of skills and organisation within IT departments. Compared with today’s process-specific systems (customer relationship or supply chain management, for instance), future ones will be more adaptable and able to combine pieces of different functions.

There is much more here and pulling quotes would not do it justice, therefore, I strongly recommend that you read the entire piece. While I think Shai’s comments, and by extension Geoff Moore who literally wrote the book on this idea.

“Every five years or so, it seems, the balance of power in business shifts, and a new set of frameworks is needed to bring the new realities into focus.”
– Geoffrey Moore,
Dealing with Darwin

Having said all that, IT evolution at a cultural as well as technology level is going to take some serious initiative and to those organizations resisting this change I would suggest they keep in mind Kennedy’s quote about revolution that I started this post with. Incrementalism is dead and as much as that might sound like an advertisement for a major systems upgrade this is going to cost you $15 million and take 18 months to complete, it’s not. I’m an advocate for shifting power to users in your organizations and letting them figure out where the investments should take place. As Shai would suggest:

The final group comprises “disruptive innovators”, workers who are charged with looking beyond immediate business needs to find new opportunities for applying technology.”