Working as a Seattle IT Consultant, I run into companies that claim to do everything for their clients. They call themselves an IT “One Stop Shop.” It’s a cool image. Plus it rhymes. For most business owners tired of technology problems the idea is very attractive. Yet I was reading the book, “Good to Great” by Jim Collins and the flaw of the idea, became obvious. Unless we match the vendor or employee with exceptional skills to the right problem, the company will never be great. In IT we often think that we are the exception to the rule. Yet I think the concept of the “One Stop IT Everything Shop” actually poisons the success of the organization.
When I think of the convenience of the super market, I think of the “One Stop Shop.” In an American super market, anyone can go and find all the base products needed to get through the week. Fruit, vegetables, protein and even non-food products like cleaners and paper towels are all located in one convenient place. Compared to 100 years ago the idea of one place to buy everything is kind of like science fiction. Yet today we take the convenience for granted.
So what is the weakness of the supermarket? I live in the Seattle area in Washington State. I live within 50 miles of one of the top geographic locations for fresh apples in the world. Wenatchee is the one of the main cities where all the apples in the area are delivered to, before they are shipped around the country and the world. Wenatchee is about a two hour drive from where I live. You’d think that being so close the local market would also have the freshest apples in the world in my local supermarket as well. Yet it’s not true. If I go to my local Safeway supermarket something happened to my apple that was grown 2 hours away.
Safeway will ship my apple 1000 miles to California. There the apple is washed and bagged. Then the apple is shipped back up to Washington State to be sold in my local Safeway. Because of this process, it’s impossible for me to get an apple that is less than 3 days old in my local supermarket. Yet I could drive two hours to Wenatchee to get the same apple that had been picked an hour or two before I bought it. The advantage to the Safeway process is the ability to give the same quality apple to every supermarket around the country as I get in Washington State. What I lose in freshness I gain in the convenience of a “One Stop” grocery shopping experience. It’s great for the buyer in Texas, Oklahoma or New York. For me the system means I lose out on the freshness that I could be getting living locally. Whether it’s Georgia Peaches, California Strawberries, Texas Grapefruit or any other local product each local area suffers in the quality of their local produce in the same way that I suffer from not getting the freshest local apples. This model for buying apples is also the same model for the “One Stop IT everything Shop.” What we find is that the “One Stop Shop” vendor is,
- Exceptionally good at 1 or 2 things
- Better than average in two or three other areas
- Satisfactory in just about everything else they do
This is similar to my local supermarket. In Washington we can’t grow citrus fruit, so I’d never be able to get a Texas grapefruit without a supermarket. Yet, in my local supermarket, the apples are always older than if I went right to the local farmer. Would I stop buying grapefruit at the local Safeway because they don’t sell fresh apples from Wenatchee? Of course not instead I buy local fruit from local vendors and the rest of my fruit from the supermarket.
The difference though is that if we switch from a “One Stop Shop” Seattle IT support vendor, we risk losing what they do exceptionally well. By it’s nature, the “One Stop Shop” IT Support vendors discourages clients from using other vendors. While the Seattle IT support vendor may be exceptional at IT support, but what are thier skills at architecting a new technical solution? Do they have the skills to migrate clients into the cloud or other new technologies? So we end up with exceptional Texas Grape fruit (Settle IT Support), wonderful Georgia Peaches (Seattle IT Services), but the local apples (Seattle IT Consulting) suck. As Jim Collins would point out, we limit our clients (and ourselves) to being just Good, not great.