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It is time for IT to ‘THINK small.’

by Mark P. McDonald  |  September 12, 2011  |  5 Comments

IT trends and transformations over the past decade have been driven by a common theme: reducing cost.  CIO-led initiatives for outsourcing, consolidation, shared services, applying lean manufacturing principles, have all revolved around the need to take costs out of IT.

All of this cost cutting must have worked to one degree or another as IT budgets have been essentially flat since the dot com bust about a decade ago.  However, the monotony of cost cutting has beaten the IT organization into submission.  It has driven out emerging technology, innovation, creative capacity and the capability of IT personnel.

Yet it is not finished. The drum beat of another 10 – 15% ‘take out’ in IT can still be heard. IT risks marching towards a dangerous tipping point where we can no longer do the same things at lower funding levels and expect to get the same result.  The world of “managing IT demand, with fixed IT supply”, robs an organization of one of its most dynamic capabilities: IT, just when competitive dynamics means its  needs it the most.

It is time that we change the way we think about IT.  It is time to re-imagine IT.

It is time to “get Think SMALL”

The path from Large Thinking IT to Thinking Small IT.

We all started with LARGE IT.  Large in the sense that the IT organization was fully vested in in-house staffing, equipment, applications and the like.  Large IT was slow and expensive, but it was necessary as companies had to build much of the technology stack on their own.

Large IT still exits, although its increasingly rare as cost pressures, coupled with Large IT’s inability to deliver quickly, fueled demand for substitutes that the IT market vigorously responded to. In turn, these readily available substitutes created a compelling business cases for  Large IT that led to the creation of MEDIUM SIZED IT THINKING.

Medium IT is medium in the sense that the IT organization attempts to do everything it did in the large model, but at a cheaper rate.  If you have ever spoken the words “more for less” then you have participated in the super re-sizing of IT.  Medium IT is the domain of IS-LITE and LEAN IT where organizations seek to do everything that they did before only for less money.

The problem is Medium IT is no more sustainable than Large IT.  The only way to make it sustainable is to think of IT as a generic commodity that is managed by concerns of cost, scope and quality.

Just because IT costs less, it does not mean that IT is worth more.

The vast majority of IT organizations are now medium IT organizations.  If you look across your office and find a sea empty cubicles, manage a set of services relationships that took advantage of labor arbitrage, are trying to manage IT demand, then you are a medium IT organization.

A medium IT organization is not sustainable in the long run as you cannot manage demand effectively in an environment of increasing consumerization and choice.

Thinking Small IT is now on the agenda for many.

Yet CFO’s and cost cutters beware — Thinking SMALL IT has nothing to do with the size of the IT organization, its budget or cost structure.

Thinking SMALL IT is small because of how it thinks, how it manages itself, and the way it works.  Yet it is BIG in the results it delivers.

Thinking SMALL IT is a state of mind, not a staffing situation, or a budget request, or a strategy to do more with less. That is how we got into the mess that is MEDIUM IT.

Thinking SMALL IT addresses fundamental issues of productivity, cycle time and throughput across the organization, including the part of the organization now called IT.

Leaders are already showing the way to think SMALL IT.

Sure they have new answers to IT’s old questions about cost, control, security, IT’s role in the enterprise, IT value, etc.

But they have more.

They are finding new answers to new questions raised by changing technology, economic conditions and our progress.

Thinking SMALL IT hinges on new questions organizations must answer:

Thinking SMALL IT provides new answers that are focused on:

Thinking Small IT is one of the ways that leading CIOs are re-imgaining ITfor 2012.  Over the next few weeks, the blog will discuss these and other aspects of SMALL IT.  Look for the key word SMALL IT as well as links that I will try to update below.

Related Links

Thinking Small — Creating value rather than controlling costs (part 1)

Thinking Small — Thinking value (part 2)

Thinking Small means ‘dating’ the business

Thinking Small — the IT organization from monolith to mosaic

Additional Resources

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Category: 2012  cio  it-governance  leadership  lean-thinking  management  re-imagine-it  small-it  strategic-planning  strategy  

Tags: 2012-planning  cio-leadership  cio-strategy  it-leadership  it-management  small-it  

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and Fellow Emeritus in Gartner for General Managers Program.

Thoughts on It is time for IT to ‘THINK small.’

  1. […] IT infrastructure not as a unitary, homogenous entity (or a monolith, as Mark P. McDonald has said), but as an evolving pattern of focused systems. This vision requires not so much getting the […]

  2. terry says:

    “Yet CFO’s and cost cutters beware — SMALL IT has nothing to do with the size of the IT organization, its budget or cost structure.

    SMALL IT is small because of how it thinks, how it manages itself, and the way it works. Yet it is BIG in the results it delivers.”

    I fear that no CIO or CFO would read this and only think that this article means lets shoot for more budget and job cuts. I don’t see a pretty end to this story. How about ‘Nimble IT’ as a catch-phrase instead? It will at least repel some of the reflexive bean counters and outsourcing leadership out there.

  3. Mark P. McDonald says:


    Thanks for your comments and points. I agree that language is tough, and that the word “small” carries different connotations. But it does capture the way these leading CIOs are thinking and provides a contrast to what we have now, which can be described as either Large cumbersom IT or Medium sized more for less hollowed out IT.

    You are right that an IT organization that “Thinks Small” is more nimble. Its also a lot of other things too. But nimble is a word that is overused too.

    How does “Thinks Small” work? The qualifier may be better than just Small IT?

    Also the analogy here is to a baseball strategy called ‘small ball’ which revolves around the idea of hitting singles, doubles, etc rather than relying on home runs. Small ball is effective, you still have the same number of players, but more people on base, it is also more exciting to watch.

    I did not use the small ball example since its US Centric but that was one of the things I am trying to communicate.

    Thanks again for your comments and for taking the time to read the blog.


  4. […] cloud –  Mark McDonald  just published a series around  ”Thinking Small” (It is time for IT to ‘THINK small’,  Thinking Small — Creating value rather than controlling costs , Thinking Small — Thinking […]

  5. […] cloud –  Mark McDonald  just published a series around  ”Thinking Small” (It is time for IT to ‘THINK small’,  Thinking Small — Creating value rather than controlling costs , Thinking Small — Thinking […]

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