The advent of ubiquitous technology across all aspects of society today, led by what is popularly called consumer technology, has had, and continues to have, a huge impact on business activities. Externally new products, particularly new services supplied online, are creating new markets and important new revenue streams. As part of this there is a shift in the decision making process for purchases around social networks and social CRM. All of this new activity is leading to a CEO and business management focus on innovation in business ‘go to market’ models.

At the same time internally, so called ‘consumer IT’ is resulting in increasing numbers of staff preferring to use their own PCs, smartphones, or tablets. As a result, the phrase ‘at work’ has come to describe an activity taking place at a time, a place and using a device of the employee’s choosing, rather than implying being at a desk in a particular location at a set time using an employer-supplied PC.

The question of ‘the role of technology in the enterprise today’ has to embrace more than just the current focus on internal IT; the question I have been discussing recently is; Don’t ask what the role of the IT department in the enterprise should be; instead ask what role technology should be playing in the enterprise’s business?

There seems to be a recognisable answer to this question around defining six roles, each with a relative clear requirement for technology to address their business need. Three of the roles are around what we define as information technology today, meaning internal centralisation and automation of procedures/transactions to reduce operating costs in the back office. In addition, there are three new roles around what is often defined as business technology meaning revenue creating front office activities based on the decentralisation and local optimisation capabilities of new technologies including the web, cloud and mobility as well as social tools.

  1. Business Users and Managers are using new technologies including ‘free’ web services, or ‘X as a Service’ pay-by-use to optimise their local activities in respect of their market and activities
  2. CEOs are looking to find ways to increase their revenues in new products and markets using ‘digital transformation’ to create shareholder value
  3. Smart Business Models are frequently the outcome of the above two roles, as an example the smart meter transformation of the utilities market

All three roles require a shift to using decentralisation to achieve business ‘go to market’ front office optimisation and deliver the following:

  • The need to compete and go to market with new business models
  • The formation and management of external ‘influences’ / partners
  • An expectation of ‘localised’ geographical and virtual products
  • Real-time decision making to optimise events and opportunities
  • Speed, flexibility, agility with direct cost allocations to the point of use
  • Shift to a pay at point of consumption for what is used

Business Technology delivers this by adopting the disruptive shift to ‘services’ around the web and clouds from traditional information technology ‘applications’.

  • A shift from monolithic transactional applications for back office procedures to granular ‘services’ front office processes
  • From client-server ‘systems integration’ based on tight coupled, state-full and deterministic architecture to browser-cloud ‘web services orchestration based on loose coupled, stateless, and non deterministic cloud architecture
  • From finite internal resources to infinite external resources interconnected by the Internet
  • From passive infrastructure to active business platform managing the decentralisation

The traditional role of IT remains vital to the successful internal operation of the enterprise. The role of the CIO and the IT department was defined around the dangers of decentralisation introduced by the PC twenty years ago. The reintroduction of technology and business manager-driven decentralisation seems a danger to be resisted yet already in many enterprises it has become a fact, and in all over the coming three to five years it will become a competitive necessity. The challenge for the three roles that manage the centralisation, transaction, compliance and policy management of the enterprise is to deliver what they do today plus understand how they will enable and integrate with the new business technology environment.

  1. CFOs are under pressure from auditors to prove that they are in control and can manage the new decentralised activities with effective policies
  2. CIOs are concerned with ensuring the integration with and integrity of the transactional systems and understand clearly the risk in returning to the era of corporate data being corrupted by business users with PCs
  3. Business Process Outsourcing reflects the maturity of IT operations in focusing on the outcomes rather than the outsourcing of technology resources

The real challenge is that a successful enterprise will need to master the ability not just to succeed in addressing some of these, but to succeed in each individually and together in an overall integrated enterprise model. Given that this means mastering two completely different worlds in every aspect from the technology deployed, the business requirements served, the delivery model and payment models, and agility versus stability, this is a going to be a tough order. The starting point is to find a model that can break down the current situation into a definable and recognisable approach.

Footnote

A quick follow on to last week’s comments on the launch of the Apple iPad when I commented that the retail launch I attended wasn’t the way I would have wanted Apple to treat prospective customers. In fairness I have to add that the business manager at the same store in the following week as refreshed stock arrived did show a very different attitude and followed up with his customers, including coming back to me, very effectively. Thank you Steve it was good to see. Sadly the one unit that he couldn’t get was a AT&T 3G iPad2, only the Verizon version, and if you go out to buy an iPad2 for use outside the USA be careful as you must get the AT&T unit which can house a conventional SIM card. The Verizon unit can’t and it’s going to catch out some people for sure!