I often read documents that preach how IT operations should push the business structure to minimize customizations. I understand their motivation and the conventional wisdom related to the reduction of cost. However, I do disagree wholeheartedly with the conclusion.
There is a lot of talk about how IT has finally reached its position as a strategic partner with the business it serves because of a new focus on analytics. Analytics will allow businesses to make smart decisions, and it is very, very important. But so is the customization of software offerings. Consider the following:
Just yesterday, one of my friends purchased new beach chairs, from his beach chair, at the beach, using his phone. Hello, Amazon Prime, here we come! Analytics will inform Amazon of national trends on purchase of beach chairs, as well as what else my friend is likely to purchase. However, the reason they have his business, and the subsequent data, and other people’s data is not because of analytics. It is because of process. Amazon invented the one-click purchase, and they made the online shopping experience great. Then they instituted Amazon Prime, pushed the phone experience, and changed retail: each of their services hinge on process. What the articles I read fail to mention is how the operational side of IT is just as much a part of strategy as analytics. Together, strategy and meaningful data must walk hand in hand.
Furthermore, the phone company has successfully convinced him to pay much more for his service than the trend had indicated prior to 2009. Phone service was getting cheaper and cheaper, long distance charges were dying a slow death, and company rates were on a race to the bottom. A regular household paid the phone company approximately $15.00 per month for a single dedicated line. Now we pay almost $150.00 per month for service and $600.00 for the actual phone, and yet we can’t live without it. As most of us have some type of internet service at home, we end up paying twice for internet access, month after month. This is the second piece of the puzzle that allowed my friend to buy his chairs at the beach yesterday, and it is all related to PROCESS.
Analytics will bring intelligence, but innovation comes from thinking differently and operating differently from your competitors. As long as you try to fit your operation to the software, rather than the software to your operation, you will -- by default --operate just like your competitors, and you will stifle innovation within your operation.
In higher education, the discussion is the same. I have spent ten years of my life customizing IT services to a business that was fixated on delivering unsurpassed customer service. At my last institution, our processes -- not the software -- defined our differentiation, and our clients rewarded us handsomely in return.