Microsoft's Dynamic IT: Cake or Crap? Depends on Your Recipe

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I don't know about you, but when any vendor says something like Autonomic Computing or Computing On Demand or Adaptive Computing or... I feel like covering my ears and running for the door. How many times have we heard these same words as vendor after vendor promised to make IT more strategic, promised us the world, took our money, and then clearly didn't respect us in the morning?


Since Microsoft rolled out this latest initiative, dubbed Dynamic IT, in what has been a history of long promises and short results, I've been thinking about it. My conclusion is we are likely much of the reason why these things don't actually amount to anything. Don't get me wrong -- the vendors are over promising, but they don't understand what we should, and because we don't understand either, we fail right along with them.


Why "Strategic IT" Initiatives Generally Fail


I've worked with virtually every major enterprise vendor and every one of them knows that if they can make IT more strategic, both IT and the vendor win. This is because a strategic resource gets more money year over year, while a resource that isn't strategic only gets more money occasionally; when times are tight, it is the first to get cut. In most companies, not only is IT not strategic, it is viewed as a cost center, which has a lot to do with why the non-consumer tech market has been in the toilet of late.


But these vendors often forget three things:


The first is that to be strategic, an organization has to be expert at the business the company is actually in AND be expert on the related technology. Most IT organizations know technology but actually have little deep knowledge about the industry their company is in.


The second is that, without a strategic focus, IT often gets involved in activities like open source that should be a means to an end but become an end themselves. The vendors often fuel this by promoting these technology wars, which have everything to do with what the vendor thinks is important and nothing to do with what the CIO's CEO thinks is important.


Third, and finally, the vendors seldom treat their own IT organizations as strategic. The range is from IBM, which treats its IT group as unwanted tenants or cobbler's children, forcing them to live off of technology that was old when this decade started, to HP, which has recently given IT a seat at the executive table and largely benefited by actually walking their "strategic IT" talk.


But even though they are the best, you will still find HP's IT organization has little to say about future HP products or overall direction. These decisions are aggressively protected by the product groups, and turf in virtually all things kills everyone's efforts in this area.


I think any vendor who wants to lead in this area needs to make sure their own IT shop is truly a strategic asset.


I would think this part would be brain-dead simple, but given how often we focus on things that make IT less strategic, I'm not so sure. Strategic resources get the money, cost centers get the grief. IT for much of the last decade has moved from strategic resource to cost center. While this has hurt the vendors, it has hurt our community more, leading to layoffs, outsourcing, and raises that are as elusive as honest politicians.


But for them to succeed, we need to shift our own focus from efforts that aren't strategic to efforts that are. First of these is actually learning the business and industry we are in. While you would think that would be easy if the industry you are in was technology, that apparently isn't true, and how much harder would it be if your industry was petro chemical, transportation, health care or banking/finance? Some of these business subjects are not only very different from technology, for many of us, they are downright boring.


But if you don't learn your business and your business is not IT (it's the same business your CEO is in) you can't anticipate needs, and if you can't anticipate, you can't be strategic. You can only be tactical -- and late at that. Following events makes you a cost center, and an expensive one, while accurately anticipating events should, if your top executives are smart, earn you a seat at the table.


Once you get strategic, an external vendor's strategic IT initiatives can be evaluated on their merit, and you can more effectively, and accurately, direct the vendor into areas that will assure your, and their, success.


Succeeding with Microsoft


I should start off by saying I believe that for an IT organization to be "anti-" any technology vendor is stupid, unless your company is in competition with them. Your job is to make your company successful and you should consider any and all options that will allow you to do that.


By the way, I continue to say that, if you don't trust the company, regardless of what company that is, you don't use them strategically until you can fix this trust problem. Trust is critical to any related success, but trust is a two-way street and like any problem, once analyzed, can be corrected if both parties work at it.


You don't have to use the vendor's products, but holding your hands over your ears and saying "la, la, la, la" as loud as you can to avoid hearing what they have to say probably won't assure your success but will likely make your competitor's day.


Even if you don't use the offering, understanding it gives you ammunition to go to the vendor you do want to use and give it grief for not doing something similar if there are positive aspects to what Microsoft proposes. This is true of any vendor; closing your eyes is simply not the way to succeed in this business.


But, for something as broad-sweeping as "Dynamic IT," if you first don't have an idea how to make your organization strategic, there is nothing Microsoft or any other vendor can do to fix that problem. This is like being in a car race and not knowing what kind of race it is before contracting out a race car; chances are neither you nor your boss will like the result regardless of who builds the car.


With Dynamic IT, you are the cook. The result, "cake or crap," is nearly entirely up to you with a foundation on your organization's integration with your company, its strategy, and execution. The first step is fully understanding where you stand in the strategic future of your firm.


Then, once you know where you stand, if you engage with the vendor you must engage all the way. This doesn't mean you buy everything they suggest, that would be stupid, but it does mean you assure they know as much about your business as you can make possible, and you know as much about their solutions as you are capable of knowing. That includes making contact with early adopter accounts and working collaboratively with them as well as Microsoft to make sure your teams only learn on the job when they have no choice and not all of the time.


Wrapping Up: Strategic IT


In the end, if you can't think or be strategic then there is no vendor on the planet, Microsoft or otherwise, that can make that happen. One thing, however -- when any vendor presents you with this concept, ask them to demonstrate how strategic their own IT organization is, look for mistakes the company has made that their own IT organization could have prevented, and use that as a lever to get the vendor to pick up their game.


In the end, to make something like Dynamic IT work requires both of you, but you own the effort, and you need to know that not only is the vendor up to this, but you can "motivate" the vendor when they don't move correctly and your own staff when they are out of touch.


The result of becoming strategic is worth the effort because, if you ever want to be a CEO, it opens up that path and, even if you don't, the success you demonstrate should not only assure your career success it should assure the success of anyone who helps you succeed. To me, particularly the last benefit is worth any price -- even working with Microsoft.