During the early days of the Internet boom, an investor friend posited that while the “web” might make a car manufacturer’s business marginally more efficient, it was still just about the car. In that regard, he asserted that the Internet was just a new phone, and that the car maker’s core business was not going to change. It seemed reasonable at the time.
Today we have all kinds of examples that demonstrate my friend was wrong. Speaking of the automobile industry, just look at Tesla, a new entrant, fighting in many states for the ability to sell directly to customers without going through a dealer or franchisee. Or look at Zipcar, which allows you to share a car quickly, redefining car ownership and car rental at the same time. The more famous examples of how technology has revolutionized business include booksellers, music, cable networks and numerous others where ubiquitous Internet access redefined the value chain.
In the same way, disruptive technologies are upsetting the applecart all the time and in ways we cannot predict. Today, every business is a digital business and if your organization cannot adapt, it can perish very quickly.
Clearly, the very definition of the enterprise has been changed by IT. In the past, we could draw a boundary around the business and the mission. We drew process models about what came in and out of our carefully controlled closed loop systems. Modern IT systems came to be seen as vertical business requirements with horizontally shared technology resources. The amount of IT infrastructure and systems grew rapidly. But while complex, it was mostly understood.
But as the technology has advanced, the enterprise itself has changed. Let’s call it “Enterprise” with a big E. The new Enterprise now depends on all manner of integrated partners, from suppliers to intermediaries to colleagues to customers to citizens, directly and indirectly participating in combining data that turns into some kind of information or activity. This integration now happens within systems that are increasingly made up of composite services, inside and outside the old business IT boundary and that are increasingly shared across agencies. Digital strategies depend on social networks enabling collaboration in ways we could not have imagined. With untold variations of public/private clouds, mobile access, the ‘internet of things,’ and big data analytics, the agency of old is now truly something more diverse and more complex: a continuously evolving multi-dimensional ”hybrid Enterprise” that is organic and alive.
Just as my friend could not see the changes coming with the Internet, neither can anyone accurately predict where the new hybrid Enterprise will take us in the years to come. What opportunities and threats will arise from this continuous integration? Insightful government agencies will embrace a strategy to enable the new hybrid Enterprise, not by predicting the future or fixating on “cloud” as the solution, but by making sure the pragmatic day-to-day IT investments are tuned to provide flexibility and reduce complexity for the business. Success is now dependent on a more holistic management approach to infrastructure, applications and end user/customer/partner enablement. And the world of hybrid Enterprise still places a premium on compliance and security, an imperative that has only become more urgent.
Federal agencies such as the General Services Administration, IRS and the Department of the Interior are making dramatic changes to mission-critical IT services to enable their vision of hybrid Enterprise. GSA’s decision to move to cloud email and collaboration more than two years ago now seems so logical. Costs were reduced, and collaboration was greatly enhanced. But prior to that proof point, security concerns had pretty much closed the door on software-as-a-service. The IRS’ recent move to private cloud storage has not gotten as much attention, but it is a radical departure in the business model. Think of the nation’s tax records stored in contractor-owned infrastructure in IRS data centers, but with per gigabyte consumption based pricing. And the recent move by the Department of the Interior to move its agency ERP system into a private cloud environment is equally groundbreaking. Talk about mission-critical! These agencies are taking advantage of real cloud trends to become more agile, focused, and efficient.
We can’t know what your hybrid Enterprise will look like in the years to come but do know it will keep evolving. We need to think differently about how our IT investments can best help achieve our missions. One of my personal heroes, Albert Einstein, wrote about how the process of our thinking can change the future of our world, cause or prevent wars, and create new models of cooperation. Our challenge in IT, while less dramatic, may be no less important in defining our future. Innovative IT is promoting integration and coopetition that is expanding the scope of the Enterprise. Einstein declared that the world as we have created it is a process of our thinking and it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.
Here’s to the future!