IS Guerrilla

Three-month deadlines and a pure client-driven agenda: the best IT people in the business have learned to respond accordingly.

Send lawyers, guns and money

So sang Warren Zevon in the late seventies, and with the possible exception of the lawyers he may as well have been singing the guerrilla IT credo in the year 2000.

As discussed last column, it seems to have worked for, didn’t it? They got there first, hit their market hard (a.k.a. spending a lot of money on promotion) and did what had to be done to win the support of the local citizenry. You’d think that Jeff Bezos had been reading the warrior philosophy of Che Guevara.

The digital age we’re in breeds guerrilla capitalism at its best and worst: how else do you explain .com start-ups spending 70 per cent of their hard earned venture capital on a couple of Superbowl spots? How else do you explain companies that grow 100 per cent inside six months without regard to near-term profits?

How can we in the systems development business expect to be successful in this environment if we respond like a conventional army?

If we’re conventional in our responses, we’re asleep at the switch. The whole idea of getting IT products and services to market faster, to make real the launch-and-learn philosophy that the internet and Web-based products demand, should permeate everything we do.

If you don’t think so, look at what the winners in the new economy are doing with their IT development resources. Recently I listened to a Cisco Systems executive talk about the development of over a thousand applications that support Cisco’s rapidly growing business: he said that IT in Cisco operates according to two cardinal rules:

Rule number one: any cthat can’t be built and operational inside three months won’t ever get funding. The rationale is simple: things change much too quickly at Cisco to tolerate anything else – a company that combines high double-digit annual growth with the acquisition of dozens of new companies in a year is fundamentally incompatible with traditional IT development life cycles.

Rule number two: IT at Cisco doesn’t have its own budget any more – the funding for all IT initiatives comes directly from the business units that Cisco’s IT people support. IT doesn’t drive the systems agenda: Cisco’s customers and in turn Cisco’s internal clients do. They do because they need what only IT can deliver: automated systems that can rapidly scale up the operations and customer support infrastructure under torrid growth conditions.

Just as a guerrilla army lives by the support of the locals, a guerrilla IT organization operates entirely by the agenda of the clients its supports.

So what happens to IT under this direct client demand model? Does it become an insignificant part of the operation?

Not if Cisco is an example: under the new model, overall IT spending has gone from .75 per cent of total corporate expenditures to more than five per cent of corporate expenditures, and the Cisco business units are clamouring for more.

Three-month deadlines and a pure client-driven agenda: the best IT people in the business have learned to respond accordingly.

Interestingly, I see this same kind of response in IT organizations that are fighting for the lives – they’re focussed, they’re decisive, they underplay the technology, and they’re impatient for results that mean business value. Maybe its true that the fear of death focuses the mind.

If the IT organization you’re a part of isn’t feeling the pressure to respond in three months or less, to more directly and explicitly respond to your client’s business agenda rather than your own, it will be feeling the pressure soon, and probably not in a pleasant way.

I’d rather be in charge of my own destiny while I still had the chance, thank you. And I’d start by making the changes in my systems development thinking that would allow me to live by rules one and two. Wouldn’t you?