This concept overlaps with Joy's law, but it is subtly different. Not only can you not corner the market on a particular expertise, you need an ever broader swath of expertise to make progress these days. This is precisely articulated by Ricardo Hausmann, an economist who gave one of the most interesting lectures I've seen this year. He begins by comparing the relative genius of the Inuit man who can build his own house, acquire his own food and fashion his own snowshoes, with the relative helplessness of "Modern White Guy" who is, by these measures, completely useless. He goes on to describe knowledge in terms of "Person Bytes" which is a rough measure of how much knowledge an individual can master. He uses fascinating measures and statistics to show that those societies which can produce goods that require the most person-bytes, are the most differentiated, and enjoy unimpeded economic growth.
The idea is that there is no single individual that can master all the knowledge it takes to build a computer from scratch. This is why it took Thomas Thwaite a year to make a toaster. [A simpler, similar story is here].
It's not hard to extend that premise to business -- the more person-bytes required to deliver the value, the more differentiated and unimpeded the business is. So given that you can only hold so many person bytes within your organization, you are best served to get the maximum benefit of somebody else's person-bytes for as much as you can, turning your precious PBs toward that which others do not. The point: the "not invented here" syndrome is akin to self-immolation.
The typical enterprise IT team of the last 20 years was an organization that was in control of every aspect of your technology usage, and if you needed something, you could get in line, and you might get a pale imitation of what you wanted a year later. The IT staff were perpetually overloaded, working very long hours, while progress remained shockingly slow. The cloud is the ticket out. IT can use cloud to return to hero status -- enabling nothing less than magic at the exact time it's needed. The cloud can liberate IT from worrying about the minutia of everything you do and how to do it. They no longer need to be subject matter experts, network mechanics, UI designers and a help desk who are perpetually understaffed, under-budgeted and under-appreciated.The cloud sets them free from spending the majority of their time acting as administrators for what is, in effect, commodity software. They no longer need to reinvent every wheel.
The cloud allows you to allocate the person-bytes within your organization to the things that matter most -- those that distinguish your organization and are essential to fulfilling your purpose. The effort to deploy, support, maintain and upgrade commodity systems is radically reduced, allowing IT to focus on a) unique capabilities; b) strategic direction; and c) business support, meaning that IT can better fulfill its purpose at a very, very significant cost reduction.
3. Thinking Strategically:
Be the river, build the river.
It is said that you can never step into the same river twice. A successful business today needs to move at a dizzying pace to deliver the best possible value in the best possible way. It is trying to build and leverage a constant flow of ideas, information, opportunity, innovation to meet the current and future needs of its market.
The newly liberated IT department can look downstream, can look at the current technology portfolio and where it needs to go. Can weed out what's no longer useful, can evolve what is still useful into modern constructs and find opportunities that the business might be missing. The CIO is a strategist who can and should be several paces ahead of the business -- predicting their needs, recognizing their opportunities and informing their choices. The cloud puts nearly infinite capability in the hands of the CIO at a very reasonable price -- enabling the perpetually heads-down IT group to do what it has always really wanted to -- enable the company to be great.
The best is yet to come.
Editor's Note: You may also be interested in reading:
- The Cloud, Making Content Management Omnipresent
- Cloud Content Management is Agile's Disruption of Dinosaur Enterprise CM
- In the Post-PC World, the Cloud Is the New PC