Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Changes at Sun - Division between IT & the Business

I was reviewing the blog a bit at the weekend and I realized that it has become something of an RM & ECM blog. That's fine, but the title of the blog is Doing IT Better, and this element of the scope has been lost a little over time. So expect more posts on broader 'improvement' topics than in the past.
I am writing this particular entry on a flight to Minneapolis and have just seen the headline on the Boston Globe that Scott Macneally is stepping down at Sun. I have seen Scott speak quite a few times, and know many who know him (though I have not personally met him).It has to be the right move for Sun, but it must be shockingly hard for him to do this.
Sun has some great technology and I have worked with different groups there many times over the years and still do work with them now. I have huge respect for Sun and the products and services they produce. I have immense respect for Johnathon Schwartz, the new CEO (whom I have met and personally like) and I really hope that with Scott's departure, people like Johnathon can push things forward and get things to start to go Sun's way for a change. The reason this resignation touches me so much is that Sun is in some regards the antithesys of where I come from. They are an intensly geeky firm, that produces outstanding technology. But relating that technology to the business has not been their strength over the years, frankly they have been very bad at this. It was a situation that Oracle (whom I also know well) and IBM faced too, but both handled the transition far, far better.
If we take my stakeholder slide of a couple of posts back, both Oracle, IBM & Sun have always resonated well with the IT departments - but now the has long gone, to survive or thrive you have to resonate with a far wider group of stakeholders. Sun is starting to do this now, and the open software policy around Solaris 10 and JES in general is work that is taking Sun in the right direction. I have faith in the long term viability of Sun, but there is a lesson there to all tech firms....
You don't have to offer business consulting (ala IBM) but you do need to design products that meet real business needs, and you need to sell these products not just to the IT department, but across groups of stakeholders. In many cases Tech vendors don't need to do this alone, they can do it with the help of firms like Wipro or Accenture or McKinsey - but one way or another things are tightening and if business value is not perceived projects will go on indefinate back burners.
In the industry analyst firms there is a backlash against technology and Sun has been on the receiving end of much of this vitriol. But there is a need for outstanding technology, and even though I regularly tell people that technology has matured to the point where you can afford to be an early adopter without considerable risk, all technology is not equal. Sun technology (like that of Oracle) is top drawer stuff and remains the benchmark - but the need to articulate benefits to the business have been difficult to execute on.
There is a bizzare irony that many firms are running old hardware and software at extremely high costs, and flatly refuse to swap out or migrate to newer and considerably more cost efficient and powerful hardware and software arrays. Partly this is due to sharp tactics in the era with that result that there is a lack of trust for tech vendors, who now truly do provide much lower cost options (migration costs included) but cannot get the ear of the business.
For example if you are running 5 or 6 year old hardware and Solaris 6 then there is literally no techical or cost logic to not moving to new hardware and Solaris 10, the savings would be immediate and dramatic. But many just don't see it and fail to make the move. Likewise people spending $400 per seat on a traditional ECM tool that they will almost certainly under use and will fall into neglect when there are $50 options available that are just as good (if not better) is baffling. But when we reduce it all down to the essence - the business still doesn't understand IT, and IT is just as terrible at understanding business needs as they always have been. That is why I am a business consultant with an arts background working in the high tech sector, with my passion to bridge this gap. But despite everyone recognising its there, so few really attempt to tackle it.
Look at the ROI calculations that came out of every analyst firm from Gartner at the top to Aberdeen and Butler at the bottom of the heap in 2001/03 period. Papers were published claiming 200% ROI - they were and remain complete and utter rubbish. (click the Paul Strassman link on this blog to know exactly why). No business person in their right mind would believe any such rubbish - yet in fairness it was IT's attempt to talk business language (even though it failed) - the business attempt at managing IT in this same period was to outsource it overseas (a good thing for Wipro!) - but between these two camps sit piles of failed projects, and billions of dollars in underused, underperforming, incorrectly utilized technology - ultimately with both sides blaming each other for the mess...

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