You know I really struggle to get excited about Enterprise 2.0. Not because I don’t think IT needs to undergo change, but because I feel that Enterprise 2.0 as we seem to be defining it, and covering it in the press and the blogosphere just doesn’t seem to be solving the key issues that either IT or the business units face. Let me explain why I have a problem with this.
I deal with CXO level execs all the time in my job and the ones I deal with all seem to have similar issues when it comes to IT Systems for the most part. While each firm and/or project will have some unique issues, they generally tend to fall into the following buckets:
- Reduce cost in the IT organization
- Improve efficiency in the IT organization (measured as cost reduction, responsiveness, improved time to market for projects, etc)
- Improve user satisfaction (which usually happens if you get the first two right)
If you think about it, pretty much everything we do in IT boils down to one of these. Now clearly there are a whole lot of sub-bullets to each of those buckets some of which are listed here:
- How do you fit more servers into the existing data centers
- How do you improve server utilization
- How do you consolidate legacy applications
- How do you get new applications to market faster
- How do you improve the usability and user experience of new and existing applications
- How do you do all of this with a leaner and more productive organization
and most importantly (and in my opinion the one that if not managed correctly is the single biggest cause of failure in major IT projects) how do I get my existing staff which has a personal vested interest in maintaining the status quo to execute the vision efficiently. Because, lets face it, radical change in the existing IT organization along the lines of reducing costs and improving efficiency is going to result is potentially dramatically reduced head count one way or another. By that I don’t just mean offshoring IT, but literally a permanent reduction in the numbers of IT staff across the board (on, off or near shore).
So, the questions one needs to pose when evaluating Enterprise 2.0 (or any other technology or movement, and lets face it Enterprise 2.0 is more movement than tech) are as follows:
1) What is the compelling reason to act, or significant problem, for the target users (in this case the enterprise itself)?
2) How is the proposed technology or solution going to solve that problem better than the alternatives?
Now I don’t think there is much disagreement around #1 in general. I think the Enterprise 2.0 movement and I see eye to eye here on the problem and the compelling reason to act (which we defined at the top of the article re cost, efficiency and satisfaction).
Where I have real issue is with #2.
In general I am going to boil this down to my belief that the suggestions of the Enterprise 2.0 movement are in general naive when it comes to how to apply both technology and technique to large enterprises. Lets look at some examples:
1) I had a customer who has 500 applications running in part of their business. The systems had a lot of overlapping functionality and it took 200 people full time just manually fixing errors in data replication from the nightly ETL processes. I cannot see how cloud, mashups, social networking technology and the like would have addressed this issue.
2) Recently I was doing a design for a client and we explained to them that the only way to hit their target go live was to use Agile methods and cut functionality to deliver a minimum viable product. The client nodded and agreed. Then after we spent time cutting down the 150+ use cases to the bare minimum, the clients Business Analysts committee went through every line item we cut and demanded it back because they were apparently all super critical in their view (not one item was allowed to be cut)
3) A while ago we did a complete SOA design for a client. The business was excited, the budget was approved, etc and we were ready to start executing on the build. Then IT middle management got involved. Their people decided that if they supported this project then some of their existing pet projects would be shut down and the improvement in efficiency would mean job losses in IT. They didn’t outright rebel, they just passively resisted, stalled, etc until the business gave up and the project died. As a result it never got built and the bank ended up losing Billions when the credit markets collapsed and those same IT people got fired anyhow. This system had been to manage risk more effectively in the banks credit portfolio, which the business knew in 2004 was an issue, and would have been online in 2006. We actually proposed to run this on a cloud environment at that time and the IT people refused to allow it even though the business wanted it.
These are but a few examples I have seen just in the past few years. I could go on all day with items like this. The bottom line is this, none of this would be helped by Social Networking, Mashups, Cloud Computing, Enterprise Search, etc. and these are the kinds of problems big enterprise IT shops face every day. When we talk Enterprise 2.0 I can’t help feeling all the discussion is really aimed at the SMB sector and not the Fortune 500 types. That Enterprise 2.0 it is focused solely on the GUI side of the Applications, which frankly is almost never the problem.
From my perspective, I think the Enterprise 2.0 crowd needs to come down to earth and get a large dose of reality. The world of Big Enterprise IT is not the same as a tech startup in the valley. Not every application is about Web and related tools, collaboration, mashups, etc. The apps where that stuff applies are frankly trivial and if that was the state of the world app complexity wise we wouldn’t have the issues we have and we wouldn’t even be talking about Enterprise 2.0. The reality is real Enterprises have issues with Organizational Structure and that same structure fights changes. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen attempts to redesign IT Org’s go down in flames or the result be just as bad as where they started. They have issues with tons of legacy apps that continue to need to be supported, integrated, updated,etc. Think Y2K people. Those Cobol apps are still going strong (as much as the thought of that gives me a rash) and they cannot support mashups or social computing, or be run in a cloud. How do you deal with putting Paul Michaud’s contact information into 500-1000 applications which are scattered around the firm globally and no two of which store and address or a middle name the same. These are boring mundane problems bu they are the real issues that keep CIO’s awake at night, not whether their employees can change the color of the GUI background on the latest app or have better internal chat facilities, or Tweet from their desk.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am the biggest proponent of wholesale change being needed in both the technology and organization within today’s Enterprises. I am a huge fan of new RAD tools, SOA, SaaS, Cloud, etc. My point is simply that we need to wake up and not be so naive about Enterprise 2.0. Changing big enterprises with 100’s of thousands of employees, is not trivial and just having lots of conferences about it, articles, etc and even getting CIO’s excited about it will no
t get it done. Its the rare CIO who can drive through the kinds of
wholesale changes needed to make an Enterprise truly Enterprise 2.0. Remember it not sufficient to just use E 2.0 approaches and technologies for a single departmental application we need to do it across the board. And remember, this is like the old saying, we need to change the tires on this formula 1 race car while it continues going around the track. We can’t shut the place down and start from scratch. Managing the change process is the biggest challenge these efforts face.
Please feel free to comment either here on the blog or reach out to me on Twitter at @techmusings.
(Guest post by Paul Michaud, Global Executive IT Architect for the Financial Markets sector at IBM. Paul blogs @ Technology Musings)