As we look forward to 2014 — I doubt many of us miss 2013 — we can anticipate a number of massive changes. Robotics and 3D printing will make huge inroads in manufacturing and prototyping, battery technology will likely become obsolete and we’ll be up to our armpits in Chinese vendors attempting to break out from China.
And that’s just the obvious stuff. We’ll undoubtedly have to deal with security (Target), employee benefits (healthcare reform) and new customer privacy rules. This suggests that you’ll need to free up resources that are being used to maintain obsolete systems today, eliminate underperforming vendors and look more aggressively for best practices.
Reduce Complexity and Make Better Choices
Companies naturally become excessively complex over time. Look at IBM in the 1990s and Microsoft today: Both firms went through, or are going through, massive and nearly fatal restructuring so they can again be agile enough to compete. This is true of all firms.
Lying at the heart of this complexity are systems and software — so little of which, over time, were designed to work together or anticipate the changes that are to come. That’s why the vast majority of IT spending and staffing is devoted not to improving your company’s performance but on keeping all that old, jury-rigged crap running.
Things won’t get better unless you actively start replacing the obsolete stuff and also make better choices about the vendors and systems you work with. Look for systems that interoperate and vendors that embrace flexibility as a way to anticipate change. Avoid vendors that lock you into their solutions, don’t seem to care that you exist or simply view you as a piggy bank so the CEO can buy things such as, say, an islandand airline.
Identify and Eliminate Bad Vendors
This takes us to the critical need to eliminate bad vendors. You’ll do this eventually anyway, but if you move ahead of the curve, you should find resources to help make the move more readily acceptable. During the dark years of IBM, in the 1980s, the company believed it was impossible to move. The IBM customers that moved first got tons of attention from competing vendors. Those that waited shared an inadequate amount of resources; they still moved to IBM competitors, albeit with much more pain.
If you can first identify vendors who mistreat or ignore you, try to get their attention and express your dissatisfaction. If you’re a fluke, you might end up with better service for the same cost. If not, up focus on getting rid of the bad vendors — and saving a ton of money and aggravation in the process.
One tool getting a lot of play at the moment, from Ombud, helps you use your people to actively evaluate vendor and tool performance. An internal rating system with rigor should give you the information you need to decide if you can repair your relationship with a vendor or just replace it.
I think we’ll soon see a wave of Oracle departures, based on the horrid feedback I see from Oracle customers, but it would surprise me if Oracle is the only vendor in any shop that has become a problem.
Kill the ‘Not Invented Here’ Attitude
I just finished an interesting review of Healthcare.gov and spoke about it on Wall Street Journal Radio. It’s evident that the government’s long-term practice of bidding and provisioning for this particular project that was, in hindsight, insane. As a result, the Obama administration has been badly tarnished and may never recover.
The Healthcare.gov review uses the example of the wheelbarrow. The Chinese wheelbarrow, in use for nearly two millennia, is a vastly better design that can transport much heavier loads, but the West still uses the European wheelbarrow because it was invented here. Many products, initiatives and companies themselves have died because of the “not invented here” philosophy. I’ve done a number of postmortems; invariably, some stupid historic practice sits at the core of the failure.
Personally, I’ve reached the point where anyone who objects to something new with the phrase “That’s not how we do it here” but cites no other reasons should be fired so fast his little feet never hit company ground again. Tradition should never be an excuse for doing something stupid. Take a hard look at core practices. If they aren’t best practices, but they are bad habits, get rid of them — and the people who won’t do things any other way.
In an Ever-changing World, You Need to Be Agile
We are really starting a period of unprecedented change, from increasingly intelligent systems such as Watson to hacker attacks that are ever more damaging. Even the human species is expected to change, which is pretty scary in and of itself.
In the end, the firms that survive and flourish are the ones that are the most agile. IT is at the core of that agility. Assuring that your firm is as agile as possible should be at the core of your New Year’s resolutions.