Archive for October, 2008

Comparing Large and Small organizations

How have you managed the transition from a large international organisation and employer, to a smaller organisation?

What challenges have you had to overcome and how has your approach to doing business changed?

Jonathan Brooker

Experienced programmes and commercial director – telecoms / I.T. / media / manufacturing / business intelligence

I have a slightly different view.

I spent approximately 15+ years working in International and dealing with the cultures, politics, regulations and regional ethics of integrating systems and business process across 30+ countries. I was able to work with and touch almost every facet of the business and I had the luxury of a free hand to effect changes that had tangible impact.

My wife and I had our first child and I shifted gears to a domestic-only job with “no travel”, “low stress”, and “<80 hour work-weeks”. My personal life is much better, but it’s frustrating to lose the scope, influence and ability to see changes that you make impact hundreds or thousands of people across a global organization. It’s also difficult to see people repeat your mistakes and no longer be in a position to do anything about it.

I think that the transition pains have much more to do with your relative level and scope of influence within each organization rather than the actual large global/small domestic issue.

However, there are some generalizations:

Larger organizations usually have better process frameworks and more complex bureaucracy. Smaller organizations have better agility, but more chaos and things “slipping through the cracks”.

Larger organizations have much worse end-to-end integration (usually due to a lack of direct communication). Smaller organizations tend to have better internal alignment around goals.

Larger organizations have a “been there, done that” attitude to a lot of things. Smaller organizations are usually learning as they go.

Larger organizations present more opportunities with more competition. Smaller organizations have fewer opportunities, but the ones that are available tend to be much more significant.

Larger organizations have a much greater pool of talent that you can draw from. In a smaller organization, you have to play the hand that you’re dealt.

In some cases, moving to a smaller organization provides a greater ability to effect changes. However, if that organization already has strong leaders and you aren’t hired as one of them, it can be more difficult to have a voice.

My approach used to be “Bash your head against the wall until you see daylight”. Now it’s basically the beginning of the serenity prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

IT Is the Business?

“IT is the Business ” and ” The Business is IT”. What do you think? What does this mean exactly?

It is no longer possible to separate The IT department from the process of delivering the “End
Product” of the business as the IT is now truly “customer facing” in most organizations. It is
also fair to say that the Business cannot ignore or underestimate the importance of IT to its
own survival. The relationship is now a true symbiosis where both sides have to work as one
to survive and prosper.

Hisham Burdini

IT Management & Business Process Re-engineering Practitioner

IT (Information Technology) isn’t the business. But, it should be a strategic partner. Unlike accounting or corporate real estate or payroll or (to a certain extent) HR, it shouldn’t be commoditized as a generic service. There are elements of IT that fit into that category, but to treat all of IT as a commodity would be as naive as considering your sales, marketing or new product development to be commoditized functions. They all require a strong alignment with the business strategy, an in-depth knowledge of the business and continual adjustment based on feedback from the business or they simply won’t provide maximum value.

IT can provide functionality to the business that the business never even considered. I don’t mean to get preachy, but It can enable huge paradigm shifts in customer contact, marketing, sales, service, delivery, process management, quality improvement, etc. By providing a seat at the table to IT and developing a strong knowledge and consideration of the needs of the business within IT, IT can bring appropriate new technologies and models to the business to solve real business problems.

The business can continue just fine with commodity IT. Focus on KTLO (Keep The Lights On) activities and keep IT away in a closet away from the discussion of the actual business issues and strategy and you might as well outsource the whole organization. But if the business takes full advantage of the capabilities of an aligned, mature and engaged IT organization, the benefits can be incredible.

Unfortunately, the trend seems to be to further commoditize IT through outsourcing and offshoring rather than treating it as a potential source of innovation for the business. It’s fine to commoditize operational aspects, but don’t go overboard. Don’t lose sight of the solutions that IT has brought to the table in the past (PCs, PDAs, mobile salesforce, databases, email, web, etc.) and think about what the future may hold. An outsourced organization isn’t going to understand *your* business or see the opportunities that a strategic partner will.

Just my two cents worth.

Clarification added October 22, 2008:

I just want to address the “IT is a just a tool” argument, since it’s such a common theme these days. I understand the position and it certainly has some credence when I.T. is nothing more than desktops and email. But, it breaks down in the context of more complex infrastructures.

Yes, IT is a tool. As an analogy, you could also make the assertion that Medicine is just a tool:

For bandages, aspirin, vitamins, antacids and the vast majority of your daily needs, the pharmacy works just fine. It’s a commodity service that doesn’t need to know much about you to be effective. You can walk into any pharmacy and have your needs addressed. However, you wouldn’t go into a pharmacy and expect them to blindly dispense prescription drugs simply because you asked for them. Some businesses go even further and essentially demand scalpels, anesthetic and operating room equipment to do surgery on themselves based on a procedure that they read about in an in-flight magazine. Of course, when the business lies bleeding on the table, they blame it on bad tools or broken technology and expect IT to fix the mess. This is, unfortunately, a very common situation in Corporate America today.

Like a responsible doctor, IT needs to understand your history, your general state of health, any of your goals that may require their help and any potential activities that may put you at risk. If there’s no dialog or partnership, IT can’t do an effective job. Like the Doctor analogy, the business can choose to ignore the advice and expertise. But for long term survival, you’re better off working together as partners. There’s no question that the Doctor/IT is a service provider. But they’re an engaged, informed provider who provides not only a tool, but the associated knowledge, expertise and advice (not directives, but advice!) to use it effectively.

I’ll admit that many IT organizations do take the “We are Gods and you are idiots” position. But that’s just as bad as the business relegating IT to the role of technology janitors. There needs to be a balance and, as I was careful to say, a partnership. The good of the business ALWAYS needs to take precedence. But IT should to be a participant in the dialog and not just a glorified order-taker.

To reiterate: I do disagree with elevating IT to the status of the Business. But in a complex organization, there is a “symbiosis” and IT should have a role in the strategy and decision making processes.