Is it time for “Radical Change” in IT?

As I sit here fresh from a leadership conference for IT employees, I find myself thinking about that. Does IT need radical change? After hearing several examples of how people engineered solutions to solve specific problems or reviewed projects they had developed over the past year, I can answer with a definite yes. While it wasn't simply this experience that pushed me to realization, it definitely helped complete the pattern I had noticed in today's IT.

I spend most of my normal role investigating and researching emerging and next generation technologies. With this role came many headaches from pounding my head against the wall of established processes, procedures and preconceived notions. But to borrow an idea from Gene Meieran, that is simply the toll I am paying on this road to my success. But I look at this and ask a simple question, why?

When pushing to adopt a new technology, why do we have to wait until it meets all of our established requirements? Why do we try to make vendor's products adapt to us, versus us considering the possibility to adapt to them? Why does it take us 2 years to adopt a new operating system or major product? Why do we run projects for 18-24 months to implement a product that exists out on the shelf today? In looking at several examples of what people consider successful products today, I look to see what makes them different, attractive, and a must have. I then ask what would it take to make IT different, attractive and a must have for any corporation.

Five or six years ago, people came to work and looked to IT to get the latest hardware, OS and innovations, because we had it here. We spent the dollars and time to solve problems and innovate. But in the last few years, people have adopted technology must faster at home than we do at work. They use the iPhone, a Wii, social networking tools, cloud based services, etc. They are enabled at home with more options than we provide as an IT shop. We use instant messaging in IT, not because we developed it as a way to eliminate small emails, but because instant messaging was a consumer product that grew so fast, that IT had to adopt it. Social networking is doing the same thing. So I wonder, what would it take to get IT back ahead of the curve and become an enabler of new ideas and solutions, rather than an implementer & reinventer of existing technology?

We need to get back to freethinking and innovation that is core to our roots. Companies like Intel were founded on thoughts like the famous quote from Robert Noyce - "Don't be encumbered by the past, go out and do something wonderful" yet in our day to day life I see many encumbered by the past and am waiting for the wonderful. We choose solutions that have more of the one size fits all. Instead of picking the best solutions for the roles that exist; we try to find the one item that can solve all of our problems. Rather than choosing the optimal product for the "one size", we should look at the product that enables the end user to perform optimally. Imagined if corporations took this approach with their products. Image a shoe manufacture that developed the one size fits all. It would be an opened toe, ¾ shank athletic tread, men's size 10, 3-inch heel, sneaker pump. It would meet most of the needs of the shoe-wearing world, but wouldn't be the right shoe for many, if anyone. So why do we settle for the same model in IT? We need to be innovative. We need to look at Apple, Google, Nintendo and others. They didn't just develop products that do what everyone else's products do today, but they did them differently & in many cases better. What does it take to make your part of IT the next iPod, iPhone or Wii? How can we enable our partners to perform optimally? What does it take to just go out and do something without worrying about how many existing committees; review boards, processes and groups have to be engaged to just get it going? The answer is radical change. We need to change how we work. We need to change the level of control we have today. We need to shrink what we try to manage. We need to strive to enable the partners versus totally control their work life. We need to ask so what every once in a while. When someone says if we do A then B might happen. Ask the question, so what? We spend all this time doing the day-to-day moving from spot to spot, never worrying about the resources, costs and effort put into the status quo. When we try to implement something new, it goes under the microscope and quite often is held to a different standard than existing solutions. Requirements seem to be a never-ending monster of growth, instead of the simple point-by-point items they should be for solutions. Many times the solutions themselves are actually listed as the requirements. So I challenge us all to start a process of Radical Change. Start asking the question So What? Start pushing back on the status quo, quit being encumbered and start a process of innovation. Help your partners perform optimally and be a key part of their success rather than just one of their suppliers. It won't be easy, it won't always be fun, but it will be rewarding.