In an article in the March 10, 2008 edition of the Wall Street Journal, (How to Tap IT's Hidden Potential) authors Amit Basu and Chip Jarnagin describe how "top executives at most companies fail to recognize the value of IT."
Among the various risks the authors address, one stands out:
CEOs who use obsolete metrics such as head count or benchmarking the competition to decide on the role and evaluate the performance of IT in their companies run the risk of being blindsided by competitors who take full advantage of IT innovations.
Read that quote several times so it sinks in. Print it on posters and plaster the walls with that message. In the 21st century business environment, it's all about innovation. More to the point, it's about innovating at speeds that'll make you dizzy -- and make your competitors nauseous.
In 2003, marketing guru Seth Godin published In Praise of the Purple Cow, an essay he described as "a plea for originality, for passion, guts, and daring." In that essay, Godin asserts that "the one sure way to fail is to be boring. Your one chance for success is to be remarkable."
Godin's advice has obvious implications for the success of any business, especially in an age when innovation is the expectation rather than the exception. According to Godin, "You can't be remarkable by following someone else who's remarkable."
The irony is that by making it increasingly easy to do remarkable things, modern information technology is raising the bar on remarkability. Survival in the global business environment is becoming ever more dependent on the enterprise's ability to innovate at will -- on the ability to out-innovate competitors. That can't happen if, as Basu and Jarnagin observe in their Wall Street Journal article, "there is still a tendency to think of IT as a basic utility, like plumbing or telephone service."
Phone service and plumbing are important, of course. But is investment in your company's phone service or plumbing going to keep your competitors awake at night?
"That's right! Automatic flush! Boo-Yah! Who's your daddy?"
Business-as-usual is dead, as is IT-as-usual. In the volatile 21st century business ecosystem, an enterprise will earn and maintain king-of-the-jungle status only through perpetual innovation. That level of sustained innovation can be achieved only when IT and business operate as a single entity, integrated at a molecular level. That transformation will be quite difficult for some organizations, but is there really any choice?
The search for competitive advantage is as old as business itself, as old as civilization. What's different now, and what will continue to be the most daunting challenge in the pursuit of competitive business advantage, is the accelerated -- and accelerating -- pace of change. In that environment, keeping pace is as good as giving up the race. In the new business jungle, the herd offers no safety. The new laws of that jungle are simple and stark: Lead or Lose, Innovate or Evaporate.
To put that in the context of Seth Godin's essay, that means transforming the enterprise into one quick, nimble, bad-ass ninja of a purple cow.
Moo, baby. Moo.