Think about the enterprise IT landscape in the 90s and the early 2000s. If you were in charge of IT in, say, a mid-sized company the culture of the role and the industry was such that large vendors like Microsoft, IBM or Oracle were the primary source for your software requirements.
But what happened if you faced a problem that these solutions were not designed to handle? You could not approach the OEMs or the vendors directly – you were simply too small for them.
Sometimes you had the option of approaching a local consultancy partner who might be able to provide a solution, but quality and best practice was often inconsistent.
The perils of sticking with “tried and tested” technology
This would be costly, and there was no guarantee that the solution would be valid long term – a vendor issued software update might cause the fix to break and you would have to go through the process all over again.
Building up domain expertise in a particular field like Microsoft technologies to solve your business problems also came with it’s own pitfalls. The demands of the business should establish the requirements for the software you have in place. Using off the shelf solutions forces you to bend your business to the functionality of the software.
You, as the CTO would be in an untenable position.
Because you had established domain knowledge and long term relationships with vendors, you were stuck paying for costly software licenses while your competition was innovating with solutions that were smaller and faster to deploy.
Because you had outdated IT policies that forbade any non-standard hardware or software on the corporate network, you would have to deal with dissatisfied users who became frustrated and started asking if they can “just use my own phone/laptop”.
And most importantly, because you had brand loyalty to a particular vendor, you would keep using their software regardless of whether it solved your business problems or not. Simply buying the latest piece of kit or software and then bending your business to meet it’s rigid functionality stifles innovation and business creativity.
That’s a nightmare scenario for the CTO. IT, instead of facilitating and enabling business goals was becoming a bottleneck.
It was becoming a liability and a dead weight.
The developing landscape shows that IT departments, CTOs and CIOs will have to work in a more flexible environment collaborating directly with the users and entrepreneurs within the business.
You will have to be more aware of open source alternatives and will have to be savvy enough to customise and implement these solutions to aid business functions.
You will have to move from being merely an IT manager to a visionary leader who understands the intersection of technology and business.
You will have to learn to let go, build a team that’s a healthy mix of generalists and specialists and also recognise that not everything can be done in-house, and that it’s ok to ask for help.