Across the history of the enterprise, there have been many moments of monumental change that endure as lasting examples of the power of ideas.
Often quoted is the Ford Motor Company’s introduction of the first moving assembly line in 1913. Prior to this, every manufacturer in the world built each car the same way, sat on the ground while mechanics assembled the parts around it. Although engine technology of the age was very similar, Ford’s breakthrough idea allowed it to reduce the time taken to produce each car from more than 12 to less than 2 hours. Within a decade, it become the world’s dominant car manufacturer, with its vehicles less expensive to build and often deemed more reliable.
Jump forward 100 years, and the cloud era provides almost limitless IT resource – in many ways, the same technological level playing field that the car manufacturers of the 1900s enjoyed. The differentiator is often, as it was back then, finding a better way to do something that unlocks a competitive advantage.
Although there are many factors to corporate success, the use of IT is clearly a major enabler for change. The idea of digital transformation – adapting manual processes to software-driven digital equivalents – has been an ongoing transition for enterprises since the 1980s. For many, the notion of opening a filling cabinet to manually collate paper files is a task written about in history books. With the commonality of systems such as the database, CRM and ERP across the corporate landscape; for some, it is a transformative culture that is still lagging the technology.
The sheer complexity, cost and lack of operability between different strands of IT prompted organisations to form functional teams that sat in neat departmental silos. The networking, storage, development and operations teams may have had slightly different names depending on the company, but their roles where defined as looking after the distinct infrastructure areas that underpin critical applications and business processes. In many organisations, they often sat alongside telecoms, server and facilities teams that in recent years have been subsumed by the all-conquering IT department.
These four big infrastructure roles have progressed through more capabilities and over the years the lines between each has blurred. IP telephony effectively ended dedicated telecoms teams. The arrival of SAN technology fused elements of storage and networking. Virtualisation and the DevOps culture put more freedom to spin up servers directly into the hands of developers. And this trend is continuing today as organisations increasingly look for ways to make IT more agile and responsive to the needs of the business rather than an inhibitor.
For many organisations, the cloud is possibly the single biggest tool to help enact these structural changes. Like Ford’s visionary assembly line a century before, the cloud is not just a technological solution but a way of changing how organisations can deliver fundamental processes that can offer either simple yet incremental improvements, or radical new directions.
However, the cloud is still a tool. And owning a hammer does not necessarily make you a carpenter. Enacting change to a corporate IT culture often requires three large ingredients.
The first is an understanding of the potential benefits; an outlook that is often gained by looking at innovators within an industry and trying to emulate or even improve upon their efforts. In the case of Ford, within two decades, almost every major rival had switched to a similar moving production line process.
The second ingredient is an understanding of the current business processes which are often still locked within these siloed yet functional business and IT teams. This means breaking down some of the internal walls and getting teams to collaborate to come up with ideas that can make a difference. This is a sensitive task and many corporate departments are territorial in nature and may resist ceding power to another group for fear of becoming obsolete. However, this obstacle can be overcome through leadership that defines the goal of improvement rather than cost cutting as its true aim.
Thirdly, organisations need courage to test ideas and even if they are not 100% perfect, learn from the results and adapt. This is where the cloud offers a distinct advantage by allowing small, innovative projects to be initiated, benchmarked and ultimately expanded outwards if they prove successful. Even projects that don’t pan out often provide useful insights into the business that may well prove viable as the market evolves or new technology arrives that overcomes an inhibitor.
Over the next few blogs, we are going to look at the each of these IT departments and try to provide guidance on how they can evolve to better serve their own respective needs while aligning with the goals of the wider organisation. As irrespective of era or industry, all organisations recognise that change is inevitable and leading rather than following a transition offers the chance to select the destination rather than just being a passenger.