Next-gen IT: It's not about BYOD

Buzzwords like cloud computing, mobile, and agile don't apply either; instead, it starts with the basics of a healthy business

Read the industry press and research firms, and you might think next-gen IT revolves around the cloud and mobile computing -- or agile or BYOD (bring your own device). But these are consequences for only next-generation IT organizations where these trends make business sense. For other organizations, not so much.

So what is required for a next-generation IT organization? In a word: collaboration. More specifically, it has to be on every level of the organization. All IT departments, every workgroup, and every IT professional must collaborate with their business counterparts frequently and informally to help the business be more successful.

[ Find out the 10 business skills every IT pro must master and beware the 9 warning signs of bad IT architecture. | Get expert advice about planning and implementing your BYOD strategy with InfoWorld's 29-page "Mobile and BYOD Deep Dive" PDF special report. | For more of Bob Lewis' continuing IT management wisdom, check out his Advice Line newsletter. ]

Let's start BYOD, a policy that can reduce IT expenditures, increase user satisfaction and effectiveness, and encourage innovation throughout the business. It has a lot going for it -- unless you're a CIA subcontractor, or you work in an environment where hermetically sealed information security is an entry-level requirement for doing business. For these organizations, support for BYOD isn't in your immediate future, nor should it be.

Collaboration, on the other hand, is always in good taste. It doesn't sound like a radical idea, and it shouldn't be -- but it is. Compare the nature of collaborative interactions to the supplier/internal-customer alternative promoted so long and forcefully by most industry thought leaders. When you're someone's customer, your interactions with them are quite different than they are with equal partners who share a common purpose.

Next-generation IT requires a healthy business

Relatively few CIOs are willing to even consider a collaborative alternative to the "standard model." While some reject it because they've been persuaded by the aforementioned industry thought leaders and others because it's never been properly explained, there's another reason for its lack of popularity: CIOs can implement the standard supplier/internal-customer model on their own, in any kind of business environments.

Collaboration, on the other hand, only works in a healthy enterprise. I'd call it a next-gen enterprise if that wasn't such a presumptuous adjective for a very old-fashioned idea.

I once read this account of how businesses get sick (I'm paraphrasing, but it's close):

An owner started a business. He thought he was important because he was. He sold products to customers, who thought they were important because they were. To take care of them he hired employees, who thought they were important because they were.

Then he hired managers.

The point isn't that managers make a company unhealthy. It's that as businesses expand, those who run them take their collective eyes off the ball, losing track of what's important and why.

Healthy enterprises (in my less-than-perfectly-humble opinion) are, in most respects, diverse. There isn't one way to organize and run operations well; there are no business panaceas that guarantee success in all situations. All healthy enterprises do, I think, have a few common characteristics:

Importance. Mission statements are misunderstood. Business leaders are told to make them inspirational or novel or worthy of a significant wordsmithing effort. Instead, a mission statement should be a simple, straightforward statement of what the organization does that matters. If, for example, the company is General Motors, its mission statement should be something like "We build cars people want to buy."

The mission, not the mission statement, should be the inspiration. If it isn't, it's worth asking whether the business in question has any business being in business.

Commitment. A friend -- a former naval officer -- told me something about Admiral Mullen, until recently Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He had served under Mullen on the U.S.S. Yorktown. Mullen considered the Yorktown to be the finest ship in the navy (and insisted on it), and he considered commanding it to be a privilege he had an obligation to live up to. Mullen also made it clear he expected every sailor and officer on the ship to consider serving on the Yorktown to be a privilege -- anyone who didn't was invited to leave.

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