Business leaders often criticize IT for their inability to get with the times. Do the following questions sound familiar?

  • Why haven’t we embraced the cloud?
  • What’s our open source strategy?
  • What are we doing with mobility?

Well, in this post, it’s time to put these criticisms into context–and partially let IT off of the hook.

Learning from the Music Industry

In a recent piece for The Wall Street Journal, Dan Tapscott writes about business models that have yet to adapt to the digital age. The author and co-author of many popular books including Wikinomics, Tapscott knows what he’s talking about.

In the article, Tapscott covers a number of industries, including music. He writes:

Instead of clinging to late-20th-century distribution technologies, like the digital disk and the downloaded file, the music business should move into the 21st century with a revamped business model that converts music from a product to a service.

All music labels and performers should put their music into a commons in the cloud. Instead of purchasing tunes, listeners would pay a small fee–say $4 per month–for access to all the songs in the world. Recordings would be streamed to them via the Internet to any appliance of their choosing–such as their laptop, mobile device, car, or home stereo. Artists would be compensated based on how many times their music had been streamed.

While the particulars above apply to the music industry, that’s hardly the only business struggling with this brave new world. Many industries have yet to get their arms around entirely new economic realities. For starters, I’d put publishing firmly in that category.

So, let’s sayo that you ran IT for SONY Music or Random House. That’s right: You’re the CIO. Would it be fair if your CEO complained about not embracing Enterprise 2.0?

Understanding the Brave New World

The last five years has seen dramatic shifts in the world of technology. Many consumers have become de facto producers. Erstwhile products have been turned into services–and some physical products have morphed into digital ones. For this, we can blame or credit the usual suspects:

  • the rise in broadband penetration
  • the decline in the price of storage
  • the explosion of mobility and apps
  • the ubiquity of the Internet
  • the growth of the social web
  • and others

Of course, there are those in more mature industries and organizations that wish that these technology “improvements” would just stop. From an IT perspective, thousands of organizations in the late 1990s and early 2000s spent millions of dollars configuring their ERP and CRM systems to work a certain way. When it comes to today’s web-centric world, few CIOs are ready for the challenges associated with transforming their enterprises, especially when you consider the following:

  • Most CIOs have to accomplish these goals with fewer and fewer financial and human resources.
  • Technology changes faster than ever.
  • Regulatory requirements are anything but laissez faire.

And it is here where IT often gets a bad rap. How can IT (as a department and as individuals) be expected to embrace entirely new ways of doing things when an organization’s business model is antiquated–or is in serious need of repair? For instance, moving to a SaaS-based set of applications can be hard to justify when the organization does business like it’s 1990.

Simon Says

No one is exculpating IT departments and CIOs for intentionally dragging their feet. When the business makes a clear decision to get with the times and adopt more modern methods, IT has to quickly follow. By the same token, however, IT is by definition a support arm of the organization.

If your business is behind the times, don’t expect IT to be ahead of them.


What do you think?

What say you?