It wasn’t that long ago when the phrase ‘nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM’ was the rule that corporate IT lived by. It was based on the fact that the number one concern when it came to purchasing new technology was the minimisation of risk. In the face of ever-increasing competition from industry disruptors, businesses across all sectors are finding that safety is no longer the number one priority. Now it is as much about speed, agility and the ability to innovate.
In the traditional corporate IT infrastructure the tendency was usually to try and find a single supplier that could support as many parts as possible. This always created problems because one company was rarely good at everything but good enough was often good enough. IT was expected to be cumbersome and complex and its role was not to drive the business, but to ‘support it’. The link between business and IT was tenuous at best. Now however technology is seen as something that has the capacity not only to solve business problems, but to find the business new opportunities and new ways of doing things.
But organisations should not be fooled into thinking that ‘sexy start-ups’ are going to solve all of your IT problems. For businesses over a certain size it makes absolute sense to have a ‘big IT’ infrastructure for certain elements of the business. There are few organisations with more than 1,000 employees that don’t have an ERP system of some kind and that is unlikely to change. If you are going to invest in something smaller and potentially riskier then it probably won’t be an application that makes sure all your employees get paid on time.
So forward thinking global brands (including customers of ours like ASOS, CBRE and Northern & Shell) now work with a combination of technology suppliers, from ‘Big IT’ i.e. medium to large software houses, to smaller specialist tech consultancies – who bring a different set of skills and expertise – order to provide some balance. ‘Big IT’ often still holds sway when it comes to the infrastructure but increasingly organisations are turning to smaller, specialist IT shops in other areas, in particular around digital transformation.
The problem for many organisations is that although they might want a blended approach, too many of the tech consultancies that they rely on to deliver new systems are either one or the other. They either consider themselves in the traditional mould – with partnerships with big software vendors, or they will position themselves as part of the new generation of consultancies that eschews established software for new, cutting edge, technology.
Technology can be a little like religion. Often consultancies and software companies adhere to their own religions and are dismissive of any thinking that doesn’t fit within it. Many ‘new breed’ consultancies will exhort the benefits of a particular technology or platform and will struggle to adapt their thinking to what a customer already has. Debates about whether to build or buy, rip and replace or try and build on what already exists are common but usually they are based not on what the client needs but on what the consultancy wants to sell.
What the customer is looking for is a solution that starts and ends with the business, its priorities and the benefits (and drawbacks) at both ends of the technology scale. The focus should be on creating successful business outcomes and what you want is a technology partner that can not only join the dots between IT and the business, but also identify what technology fits best where and has the technical skills to make them work together.
For most organisations in an ideal world, their tech partners will bring together the best elements from around the technology market into a tailored solution that solves their particular need. They should have the business knowledge to weigh up all the options and the technical expertise to knit the best technology together to deliver the right solution. Technology consultancies need to understand that it isn’t a case of them OR us, it is them AND us. For the vast majority of organisations the right solution will be a combination of Big IT and smaller specialist consultancies, blended together to get the right solution for the challenge at hand. To add real value to a client you have to accept that it is your job to solve the client’s problem and the best way of doing this is to avoid religion entirely and stay technology agnostic.