December 20, 2010
Cash-starved. Fast-paced. Understaffed. Late nights. T-shirts. Jeans.
These descriptors are just as relevant to emerging tech startups as they are to the typical enterprise IT infrastructure and operations (I&O) department. And to improve customer focus and develop new skills, I&O professionals should apply a “startup” mentality.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend time with Locately, a four-person Boston-based startup putting a unique spin on customer insights and analytics: Location. By having consumers opt-in to Locately’s mobile application, media companies and brands can understand how their customers spend their time and where they go. Layered with other contextual information – such as purchases, time, and property identifiers (e.g. store names, train stops) – marketers and strategists can drive revenues and awareness, for example, by optimizing their marketing and advertising tactics or retail store placement.
The purpose of my visit to Locately was not to write this blog post, at least not initially. It was to give the team of five Research Associates that I manage exposure to a different type of technology organization than they usually have access to – the emerging tech startup. Throughout our discussion with Locately, it struck me that I&O organizations share a number of similarities with startups. In particular, here are two entrepreneurial characteristics that I&O professionals should embody in their own organizations:
Develop only what the customer wants.With limited funds, startups are challenged to quickly develop a product that customers are willing to pay for at a profit. If not: bills can’t be paid, employees walk, and your business in all likelihood disappears. Given the severity of the situation, entrepreneurs work tirelessly to find that unique or compelling use of their service that paying customers, by the masses, will gravitate to. Listening to early adopters and incorporating their feedback is paramount.
What it means for I&O: Apply the same sense of urgency as startups do to “get it right” for your customers. I realize this is oversimplified, but to understand what technologies your business wants and what they don’t, conduct a customer satisfaction survey. And at a higher level, use business capability maps to identify the key customer-facing, supply chain, and corporate capabilities your organization competes on and how IT supports this.
Learn new skills and rethink responsibilities. While the founders of Locately excelled at technology, both PhD candidates at MIT, they realized that to get their business off the ground they would need a business plan. To do this they “borrowed” skills from MBA students, which ultimately won them seed capital from the MIT $100k Entrepreneurship Competition. But once their business was up and running (and the MBAs moved on), the founders had to develop these skills themselves… and take on all of the mundane – but completely necessary – responsibilities of running a business, from accounting and paying salaries, to updating their website’s HTML.
What it means for I&O: From a skills perspective, Forrester has long said that the IT professional of the future is not just a technologist; he or she must also possess strong business knowledge and interpersonal skills. And while taking on multiple responsibilities is nothing new to I&O professionals, the lesson here is to rethink responsibilities. Instead of owning and managing infrastructure, manage the user experience and service-level agreements. For example, don’t see cloud computing as a threat, see it as an opportunity to deliver what your customer wants quickly and affordably.