The dominant model for information technology (IT) centers on heavy weight technologies. Heavy weight technologies, like ERP, BI, SCM, etc. These technologies appear heavier as they require the enterprise to purchase, own and operate IT applications and data. This ‘heaviness’ is in comparison to lighter weight technologies based on the services and distribution via Internet technologies. These lighter weight technologies include managed services, Software as a Service, Cloud computing and web 2.0/social media.
For more than 30 years, this was the dominant technology model for the enterprise, shaping IT budgeting, value and operations. However, CIOs are expressing interest in these lighter weight technologies and the role they play in the enterprise and IT. Interest in lighter weight technologies means involves more than extending the enterprise architecture – these technologies create a new model for IT because of the following maxim:
Change the nature of the technology model and you change the nature of IT.
Today the heavy weight technology model is under threat and with them current ways of thinking about IT. CIOs need to recognize the implications of a world moving to lighter weight technology models.
Lightweight technologies involve less upfront investment, deliver through a focus on services, require less customization and operate outside IT. Here are a few key differences:
The investment models are different. Heavy weight investment models are front loaded and symmetrical. Front loaded from the perspective that they require significant resource investments ahead of benefits realization. These investments are symmetrical in the sense that you supposedly have to spend millions of dollars to get millions of dollars in benefits. Lightweight technologies are more level loaded, paying as you go / grow without significant up front investment. These models are also asymmetrical generating millions in benefits from a few thoughts of dollars in investment. A global company using lighter weight technologies supports more than 50,000 users at a total cost of less than $125,000 per year.
The deployment models are different. Heavy weight investments need to make significant changes in work processes to generate significant benefits. With that come large or insufficient expenditures on ‘change management/deployment’ activities to educate the user base to use the new technology in the way it was intended. Lighter weight technologies, Web 2.0 in particular, uses the social nature of the solution to drive deployment as users create and use the tools they need rather than having to be coerced into software compliance. It is not uncommon to hear that a 50 person pilot becomes a 1000 person deployment in a matter of 10 days when working with social software.
The cycle time of each model is different. Heavyweight technologies require significant planning and time to investigate, select, install, build and deploy. A new heavyweight technology can take months at best and often more than a year to implement. Lighter weight technologies are more responsive as they create and manipulate services to deliver their goal. In one multi-billion dollar company we studied a three person IT team built a supplier relationship solution using cloud services in three weeks time – the same amount of time it took the business to prepare a requirements document to start the software selection process!
Lighter weight technologies are not some kind of miracle technology handed down from the web. They are technologies that take advantage of the application and service infrastructure developed over the last 30 years. That fact is important, not as a revalidation of heavy weight models, but as a recognition that the name of the game in IT has changed from building, ripping and replacing core systems to generating a return on our deep investment in knowledge, information, skills, business rules, etc.
A heavy weight approach created that infrastructure, but it will not be the basis for generating the innovative solutions, and responsive applications needed to realize their full value. That value will increasingly be unlocked by lighter weight technologies and those technologies will change the nature of IT in the enterprise.