Reading Bob Lewis’s most recent article in KJR set my head spinning with thoughts of a commoditized IT similar to that of an electric company. What Bob Lewis refers to in his article is a recent book entitled The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google (W. W. Norton, 2008), and written by Nicholas Carr. The very concept of IT as a commodity makes my stomach churn, as I’m sure it does with many of my associates.
What really hit home with me in Bob’s writing however was his statement that “Applications and the information they process are where the IT rubber meets the business road.” I couldn’t have said it better! It is these applications that make the difference particularly for the small business. It is applications that are the cornerstone of business processes that either contribute to the well-being and positive image of a small business, or are a detriment. Any business running a “canned” application that doesn’t really “fit” runs the risk of it becoming a detriment to the business. The application which “hums” serves both business and its customers well.
The idea of commodity IT in the application arena is downright scary to me. Every time I see references to SaaS I am reminded of my first encounter with a computer – back in the days of “time sharing”, and before the PC era. I convinced my employer at the time that we would be able to do so much more if we could get our inventory into a computer – and this “great service” that I had been sold on would solve all our problems! What I found then was really twofold, 1) it wasn’t really that easy, and 2) the “great service” really didn’t “fit” our needs closely enough to provide the real benefit that I had envisioned.
This same danger I refer to above is undeniably present whether one chooses to use a “canned” program or to “customize”. There is certainly a cost associated with the “customize” route that will exceed that of the “canned” route. In addition, choosing either route is extremely difficult to quantify the value of its cost to the business. It seems to me that the business choosing to “customize” an application must do so mostly in blind faith since measuring employee satisfaction, program application value and effect on the customer experience is basically unreliable.
Long live the applications and the IT personnel that service them!