Today, the music industry. Tomorrow


There’s probably never been a worse time to be a record company executive. The economy is slumping, popular music is becoming increasingly fragmented and, worst of all, the very model of selling music to the public is being threatened by millions of freely available MP3s.

The industry’s official response to this latter and most serious threat, however, has been puzzling. Covering their ears and eyes, they’ve opted to keep U.S. judges busy. Meanwhile, their own attempts at setting up revenue-friendly music download sites (where kids accustomed to Napster-like convenience are offered none of the benefits and all of the expense) looks an awful lot like your matronly aunt trying to speak in Messenger text – hopelessly out of date.

And so a mature industry full of intelligent people who breathe the same air as you and I could not come up with a better idea than to balk and hope for the best.

Then along comes Steve Jobs, boasting zero years of experience in the music industry, but with many years of thinking his way out of tight spots. Last month he unveiled iTunes Music Store – a download site supported by all major record companies that operates on the basis of a perfectly logical compromise: pay 99 cents for downloading singles, singles that are yours to keep.

Allow me to turn this into a long-winded analogy, because at this moment there’s an army of Steve Jobs at work, including in your organization, who’ve carefully watched the corporate IT procurement model for many years. Like Jobs, they don’t like what they’re seeing, and they’re determined to do it better – whether you like it or not.

In this case, the agents for change are the line of business managers; the CFOs, the CEOs and the VPs. For years they sat back and watched as senior IT executives sold them on massive enterprise software overhauls, end date uncertain, ROI vaguely defined. They signed off on it because that’s the way it was done – spend or be buried by someone with a fatter wallet. In many ways, that was true and with Y2K on the horizon and the speed with which nimbler start-up companies moved, speed was a priority for everyone.

But if the buzz around the recent PeopleSoft Leadership Summit in Las Vegas was any indicator, that attitude is gone. In attendance were some emboldened business managers who had no experience in IT, but who knew that any project, be it buying a truckload of staples or new ERP software, requires a strong and clear path to payback. In many cases, that meant cutting the IT department out of the strategic picture and into a supporting role.

One HR manager in particular told of a “significant shift” in his Canadian company, one he helped undertake when an IT manager sat him down one day to tell him how he could roll out his HR software. Dissatisfied, he quickly wrested ownership of the project away from IT, and continues to oversee it today.

This is not to assign any wrongs or rights, but merely to point out that the IT-business relationship is evolving yet again. If we aren’t proactive in meeting that change, someone will happily do it for us