A different approach to enterprise technology

I delivered the closing keynote at SocialNow in Amsterdam yesterday. The organiser Ana Neves takes an interesting approach to connecting technology vendors and potential customers. Each vendor is asked to demonstrate their system, from the stage, as if applied to the same fictitious company. A panel of experts ask the first set of questions and then the audience get their chance. As a way of helping potential customers get their heads around technology it was so much more interesting and relevant than the usual unsatisfying mêlée at trade shows or being hounded by salesmen. This was a neutral space where the vendors were on a level playing field and people had a better chance to understand their offering.

I don’t know this for certain, but sadly I suspect that there weren’t many in the room in control of IT budgets. The macho, big numbers game of enterprise procurement gets played out in very different ways in different places. During my time at the BBC I got an insight into the world of IT procurement and it is not pretty. In fact it is borderline corrupt. Same old players, often changing sides from vendor to buyer, escalating expectations and budgets in a pathetic arms race. They then spend even more money deploying their over engineered, over priced systems, and their organisations waste even more time and energy adapting to them and coping with their not always positive impact.

Building a technology ecology from small iterative deployments of specific tools, with a throw away mentality that allows more constant adaptation, driven by ongoing conversations with users is the only way to do technology efficiently. We can manage this on a global scale on the internet. All that is stopping us doing this inside our organisations is a combination of complacency, lack of imagination, and greed.

4 thoughts on “A different approach to enterprise technology

  1. Euan I would argue that the biggest issue with Enterprise IT is getting the user to accept the system. To often IT projects fail because they don’t take into account the behaviour of those asked to use them. I can remember an early use of Tablet devices in the NHS where a Senior Consultant on his ward round used his expensive fountain pen to etch his notes on the patient records saying that after 30 years in medicine he was to lofty to be a lowly IT Input Clarke.

    Whilst I agree that all to often you see poachers turning gamekeepers with staff changing sides the major failings all to often are in specification. It is in this area that the balance of knowledge is far to in favour of the vendor over the buyer and the payment methodology is one of fixed price with additions overcharged. This means that the vendor has an incentive to under sell what is need at the start of the project as they can make more money when the project fails in early stages and so specifications are altered.

    I am cynical that open source, cloud based services would be any better than old school enterprise software projects as the fundamental failing is who to get grumpy old people to accept change and the introduction of technology brings a level of automation that means change will happen.


    1. If it is any comfort the theme of my keynote was that the biggest challenges are with people and attitudes but that we feel more comfortable getting busy with toys and spending money than we do having difficult conversations.


  2. Greetings, Euan.

    Thank you for this post. As someone who works in government, I have experience with some of the most challenging procurement processes to be found anywhere. The processes we follow are designed to ensure broad access for vendors to our procurement processes while also ensuring that we get what we require in order for government to function.

    However, it is not a process designed to support innovation. This is hugely problematic as we try to find new ways of doing things and new ways of partnering with communities, businesses, NGOs and so on.

    Part of the problem is that the throwaway model you describe is perceived of as wasteful by taxpaying citizens. This can turn into fodder for question period and the media’s insatiable appetite for any sound bite that inflames the public’s sense of indignation over "big government."

    We have much to do to change perceptions and procurement practice. In government, we would have a hard time changing one without also changing the other.


    1. Thanks for commenting Angie.

      By throwaway I didn’t mean before you’d had good use out of it! I was a suggesting a more tactical use that doesn’t need you to cling to a system beyond its sell by date just to justify the initial investment.

      Low cost systems are unlikely to attract much attention from the press and you’d also have to burn through a hell of them to even approach the £12 Billion thrown away on the failed attempt at an NHS patient records system!


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