Revolution, not Evolution

In my previous blog, I stated:

21st Century IT is a revolution – not an evolution of what we have been doing for decades. The skills required to transform through this revolution are different than those required to operate the existing state, which are different still from those required to operate the new state.

A fundamental misunderstanding of this concept underlies almost every troubled or failing IT transformation project. It took me a few years of assisting enterprises in their cloud migrations to fully understand the ramifications of the difference between evolution and revolution as it applies to IT initiatives and how they impact business.

First, let’s consider an earlier technological revolution

The combined impact of the Personal Computer, GUI and desktop publishing was revolutionary and had a transformative impact on the enterprise. Prior to this revolution, enterprises had specially trained computer operators to handle I/O functions for the mainframes and steno pools with typewriters for document creation. As a result of this revolution, there was a fundamental change to the way business was done. Employees, managers and executives alike were able, and quickly required to generate their own documents, manage their own calendars and perform their own data I/O. Within a short time, everything changed. Successfully navigating this change required different IT staff with completely different skills. It ushered in and set the tone for the next 3-4 decades of IT practices.

Within a short time, everything changed

Successfully navigating this change required different IT staff with completely different skills. It ushered in and set the tone for the next 3-4 decades of IT practices.

It’s interesting to contrast this with the evolution of virtualization that really took hold at the turn of the century. While virtualization had significant impact on IT Departments and how compute power was provisioned in the data center, it did not significantly change what IT staffs did, or how they did it. The skill sets required after a move to virtualization were mostly the same as those required prior to the move and the virtualization of data centers was primarily performed by existing IT staff. The impacts of this transformation effort were barely felt, if recognized at all, by those outside of IT.

I’ve spoken with countless enterprise leaders who view the transformation to 21st Century IT as nothing more than a data center migration – something that is normal to the ongoing operations of an IT department. While this can technically work, it’s unlikely to provide the ideal outcomes promised and sought after. Ultimately the reality will be that an IT estate moved in this manner will most probably cost more over the long term, negatively impacting security, availability and performance. The great news is that it doesn’t have to be this way!

If you embrace this transformation as a revolution, impacting all aspects of how your enterprise does business, you’ll be taking the first important step.

A few years ago, my team and I were brought into a large financial services company. They were looking to contain IT costs and as a result, investigating the cloud as a way to accomplish that goal – but this is not the start of the story. Over the previous several decades, this enterprise had become one of a couple “800lb Gorillas” in their particular vertical. They had thousands of employees, all the major customers, massive amounts of data and an annual IT spend nearing 9 digits. A few years prior to our involvement, a couple of start-up companies with few staff, no customers, no data and extremely limited IT budgets entered their vertical and started disrupting it. Initially, these start-ups were ignored by the enterprise, then they were mocked, and ultimately, as they began to take market share away, they were feared. The enterprise started playing defense, leading to the cost cutting exercise we were brought in to assist with.

If you embrace the transformation to 21st Century IT as a revolution, impacting all aspects of how your enterprise does business, you’ll be taking the first important step.

As we worked with this client and helped them understand the revolutionary nature of the cloud and the wide-ranging impacts that it could have on the way they do business, they began to reevaluate their posture with regards to the insurgent companies. With the transformation to new technologies came a culture change. These changes positively impacted customer interactions and the speed with which our client was able to respond to feature requests. Eventually, our “800lb Gorilla” client became the disruptive innovator in their vertical. Today, aside from the name on the building and the vertical they serve, they don’t look much like they did when we first met them. The way that they do business has fundamentally changed; across their entire enterprise.

Your enterprise may or may not face similar challenges and you may not need or want such sweeping change, but regardless, understanding that your transformation is revolutionary, not evolutionary will position you well for success. Don’t be surprised if embracing the revolution doesn’t help address some of the issues you are facing.

Just be aware that it isn’t easy or free — revolution never is.

Andrew Pope is a Co-Founder of Effectual, Inc.