The e-business frame of mind

You've had no shortage of advice about what you need to do to prepare your IT organisation for e-business. But what about preparing your own psyche for the sea changes e-business will usher in?

You’ve had absolutely no shortage of advice and information detailing what you need to do to prepare your IT organisation for the e-business era. But what about preparing your own psyche for the sea changes e-business will usher in?

Those changes are radical departures from the time-tested ways CIOs have thought about their organisations, their staff and their whole approach to their jobs. History has shown repeatedly that when managers aren’t fully prepared for - if not accepting of - major change, they tend to resist it.

Recall the fortress-like resistance of many IT managers of the 1980s to accepting the PC as a serious business tool. You may also recall that many of those same managers were eventually replaced.

Preparing your psyche for e-business is far more subtle than acknowledging the validity of a vital piece of computer hardware but no less important. You will have to do a complete about-face in thinking about some things and do so in Internet time.

For IT people, who tend to be among the more conservative organisational people, this psyche adjustment may not come easily. Here are three psyche-altering areas to consider:

-- Who are your lead vendors? For at least 10 years, most IT managers have listed Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and Sun Microsystems when asked who their most important vendors are. They have derived comfort from long-standing relationships with their sales, support and development staffs.

In the e-business world, your list of mission-critical vendors will include the likes of BroadVision, Commerce One, Ariba and Exodus — companies that will use the products of the IBMs and Microsofts to deliver packaged e-business solutions. You’ll need to invest in these e-business vendors a level of trust that you developed over a decade or more with the current key vendors. Only you’ll have months, not years, to build that trust.

-- Buy vs. build: Pressure-packed directives from senior management to deploy e-business systems, coupled with a continuing and strangling skills crunch, have worsened the deadline-driven pressure cooker in many IT organisations.

Meanwhile, within the vendor community, a new generation of service companies such as those listed above, as well as application service providers, network service providers and even storage service providers, offer CIOs increasing opportunities to purchase or lease the user services that IT has built over the past 25 years. Embracing the concept of information as a utility may be among the most difficult mental shifts for IT managers, as well as the most vital for the rapid deployment of e-business applications.

-- From Scrooge to Trump: Perhaps because so many senior executives have continued to think of IT as a cost centre, IT budgets have historically been tight, making CIOs tight-minded when it comes to spending.

Gartner Group estimates that the top US companies today spend an average of 3.5 percent of revenue on IT. But within five years, Gartner maintains, spending will top 10 percent as companies build and deploy their e-business infrastructures. The simple fact is that the levels of spending that supported business processes in the years just before the e-business explosion won’t support e-business processes.

While moving from tightwad to spendthrift may sound enticing, rapid-fire IT budget increases will attract more attention to IT activities and outcomes. Are you ready for life under a far more powerful microscope?

Bill Laberis is a consultant in Holliston, Massachusetts., and former editor in chief of Computerworld. Contact him at bill@laberis.com.

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