Déjà Vu IS

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By Mike Swift, ArborSys Practice Director, Change & Communications Management

Sometimes what happens in the 80s does not stay in the 80s

In 1985, I went into business for myself developing custom accounting and finance applications on personal computers. Most of my customers were corporations and state / local governments. I had more work than I could handle. Word of mouth spread and suddenly I was developing applications for other areas such as Investor Relations, Marketing, and Operations.

This was all possible because my clients’ IT departments did not support personal computers or the software that ran on them. Most of my clients could have had their applications built in-house, but they would have been on a mainframe or minicomputer that would have taken months to develop.

After several good years, the tide started shifting. There was no one tipping point. Gradually more and more IT departments started supporting PCs and PC applications. I don’t know whether management mandated this, if they just realized that PCs were going to become a major component of their work, or if it was a combination of things.

The reasons IT gave for not supporting PCs and PC applications when they first started appearing varied. The inability to effectively back-up the data was a common reason. Not enough resources was another. Some mentioned security concerns. The surprising thing was that no one was making counter arguments as to why it made sense to support these tools.

My clients simply used their department budgets to acquire the tools and solutions they needed from me and others like me. IT was unresponsive so they simply looked outside the organization.

Sometimes what happens in the 80s does not stay in the 80s

History does seem to repeat itself. I am amazed to see the same thing happening with cloud solutions. Many functional departments within organizations are going directly to vendors for cloud-based solutions. There are long lead times for internal requests for new applications and tools, and the business is not willing to or cannot wait due to the changing business climate. Business units need solutions now. Business unit managers are simply renting what they want via the Software as a Service (SaaS) model. Why are they doing this? First, IT is not providing the service so the business works directly with a vendor. Second, by taking advantage of operating budgets, managers are using SaaS solutions and tools to increase productivity and reduce costs using applications they control and manage themselves.

During the first couple of years I was developing PC applications, I thought that the inability to share data easily across devices and across applications was a major disadvantage. Networking capabilities soon arrived and eased this problem. Before networking, a cash flow forecasting model for a corporate treasurer could not use the sales managers forecast data without some special actions and manual steps to get the data from one PC to another. People talk about silos of data. The early days of corporate PCs created tin cans of data scattered everywhere in the company. Today, the business-driven use of SaaS solutions and tools has created a similar situation. There are islands of business data that are accessible but not readily available by others within the company.

So how do we get around this situation? First, I think IT has to be receptive to not just supporting this approach but encouraging it. There are too many good reasons for SaaS. It is a way to quickly implement solutions to increase productivity and reduce costs. When IT offers and supports the solutions that the business needs islands of data disappear. What should the business managers do? Unlike their 1980s counterparts they should not just keep quiet. Managers who are using this approach need to document their success. They should make the case to IT and senior management that SaaS solutions provide effective, low cost, scalable business agility.

I think this situation is already changing. The pace of adoption is increasing. There are still the stragglers though. I know of several major corporations that did not put network PCs on their employees’ desktops until the mid-1990s. The cloud and SaaS solutions are changing business, markets, and competition. Vendors providing these solutions specialize in them and therefore tend to stay current with industry and technology trends, as well as evolving standards. Delaying or waiting to provide cloud services and SaaS options impedes the ability to deliver business performance improvements and value quickly. Companies that are already employing these services are gaining an advantage every day over those who wait.

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