Good ideas take time

IT has to do more than just keeping the lights on

Two years ago, I publicly floated the concept that IT should start thinking more like entrepreneurs. What a disaster! I was speaking at a meeting of CTOs, and I mentioned that I’d heard of a few IT departments that were focusing, at least in part, on creating saleable new products and services for their companies. I asked the group what they thought of the idea.

Not much, to say the least. One CTO called it a flat-out terrible idea and a huge distraction. Another suggested that having one’s staff do on-the-job R&D -- when they should be minding the server farm -- was a great way to get fired. Only one CTO at the meeting supported the concept. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

I tucked the cockamamy idea away for safekeeping. But I kept running into IT leaders who would tell me tales of far-flung projects that had produced ongoing revenue streams for their parent companies. So recently, I sent Senior Contributing Editor David L. Margulius on a mission: to see if the time was finally ripe. His conclusion, as presented in “Entrepreneurial IT,” is a resounding yes.

“This is very real,” Margulius says. “And it fits into the larger trend of more products and services becoming IT-enabled.” When that happens, not only does IT play a more active role in building and supporting existing products, but IT people move closer to the customer, as opposed to simply being concerned with keeping the lights on.

Margulius illustrates his point in the article with three case studies. “But this is just the tip of the iceberg,” he says. “I could easily find another 100 of them.” And Margulius expects many more of these projects to keep bubbling up. “This stuff takes years. You don’t just get an idea and turn it into a revenue-generating product in six weeks.”

Just like your typical article. Especially one that’s two years in the making.