IT professionals who want to compete in ComputerWorld Canada’s third annual Blogging Idol competition have big shoes to fill.
This list is meant to inspire our guest bloggers, who will be writing on a variety of enterprise IT-related topics over the next six weeks. A panel of judges will read and comment on posts, and together they will choose the best-written and most relevant content to award the top blogger a $1,000 cash prize, along with a number of smaller prizes for runners-up.
The blog entries excerpted here are obviously not a definitive canon, but they do represent a good cross-section of the most thought-provoking ideas on enterprise IT since blogging reached a tipping point in the early 2000s. Some of the bloggers here are well known, others not. Some posts are old; one is as recent as this month. All of them showcase a unique voice, deep thinking and are great examples of how powerful a medium this is. They are in no particular order or ranking, and they are highly subjective choices – just like the highly subjective choices blog readers (and IT managers) make every day.
“The Amorality of Web 2.0,” Nicholas Carr, RoughType, Oct. 23, 2005
There’s a reason this is the most popular post ever written by the controversial author of “IT Doesn’t Matter.” At a time when most vendors and industry pundits were raving about the potential for Web 2.0 applications to encourage participation, collaboration and more affordable software, Carr demonstrates the strength of contrarianism. He pokes holes in Wikipedia (which was unusual at the time). He dismisses the veneration of blogs over mainstream media. He suggests Web 2.0’s economic impact will limit our choices around creative work. All of this underscores for IT decision-makers the need to apply some more thought to the way they use such technology, rather than seeing it as an innately positive force:
Like it or not, Web 2.0, like Web 1.0, is amoral. It’s a set of technologies – a machine, not a Machine – that alters the forms and economics of production and consumption. It doesn’t care whether its consequences are good or bad. It doesn’t care whether it brings us to a higher consciousness or a lower one. It doesn’t care whether it burnishes our culture or dulls it. It doesn’t care whether it leads us into a golden age or a dark one. So let’s can the millenialist rhetoric and see the thing for what it is, not what we wish it would be.
“It’s not not about the technology,” Andrew McAfee, The Business Impact of IT, July 11, 2007
Even the so-called thought leaders must get tired of hearing the same bromides repeated over and over. McAfee, principal research scientist at the Center for Digital Business in the MIT Sloan School of Management, is one of them. Like most IT professionals, he often listened to experts stress that “it’s not about the technology,” when driving changes in the business. But it’s not just about communication, planning and measuring results, either:
“This perspective is dangerous because it essentially denies two important facts: that technologies can differ from each other in salient ways, and that they can change over time. Losing sight of either of these can lead to confusion, or worse. For example, it’s well established that IT can help integrate the enterprise, but do they all do so in the same way? INATT, taken to the extreme, would cause a company to treat IM and R/3 the same way (after all, they both integrate the enterprise and enable business processes) . . . It denies that there can be improvements, incremental or radical, in the ability of technologies to accomplish important goals.”
“Enterprise IT at the crossroads,” Susan Scrupski, ITS Insider, Sept. 13, 2007
As Web 2.0 companies began to pop up more frequently in the mid-2000s, there was a growing movement to take these applications beyond their consumer roots and turn them into products that could transform the way companies operate. However many senior executives, even today, show a lot of reluctance to adopt them, or do a poor job of adopting them. Scrupski, having watched both sides battle it out, realized there was no sense throwing around blame, and provided an astute assessment of the situation:
“As I learn more about large organizations, I feel like each CIO I meet transmogrifies into Dr. Phil and says, “Get real, dude. We run a serious company here. We’re not going to put our assets at risk by exposing them to anything beyond our complete control.” It’s not that they’re control freaks; they’re liable for where, when, how, and why the information in the enterprise is handled. Period. That’s their job. You would think IT’s only stakeholders are users (err, people who work), but they’re also accountable to lawyers, the government, the board of directors, investors, stockholders, who did I miss? You see my point. So, I’m getting real. Not liking it, but I’m getting real. And, is it their fault that enterprise applications are so godawful impenetrable? So, I’m lightening up on IT.”
“The enterprise soft spot,” Robert Scoble, Scobelizer, October 9, 2008
The blogger who once worked for Microsoft and has since moved to Rackspace has built up an enormous following for writing posts that are often short, to the point and brutally honest in their criticism of vendors and IT industry players. In this one, however, Scoble takes a subject that would probably seem overdone – corporate e-mail – and identifies it as a paint point that could provide real opportunities to any company willing to help reduce its use on an everyday basis:
When I left my job at NEC after working there for a year I left with 1.5 gigs of email. Neither I nor the company had access to that even though there was TONS of valuable data in there for my replacement. Things like shortcuts in SAP to find important inventory data for our group. Or important people at other companies to know. Getting that data into someplace where other employees can get to it is still way too hard, even when I worked at Microsoft with really cool Sharepoint servers all over the place.
“A game-changing play in enterprise software,” Frank Scavo, The Enterprise System Spectator, March 3, 2010
Scavo’s blog provides some of the richest ongoing commentary on vendor strategies with corporate users in mind, and this post is a good example. While many bloggers spend the majority of their time pointing out what their suppliers are doing wrong, Scavo takes the time to point out one, in this case RightNow, which did something right. His detailed analysis of the SaaS player’s pricing model is an example of granular thinking not often seen in the blogosphere. Which is what makes it so valuable:
If software is truly being delivered as a service, then, it is logical that the industry would move in the direction of usage-based pricing. In the case of SaaS providers, the only reason they haven’t moved in this direction is their desire to lock in customers to maximize revenue–a legacy from the on-premise world.
“An enterprise software licencee’s Bill of Rights,” R “Ray” Wang, Software Insider, July 14, 2009
The former Forrester analyst has always been a strong advocate for better support towards corporate customers, but this post, which marks a revision to a document he has been developing for some time, takes this philosophy to new heights. Imagine if more vendors took this kind of document seriously, and how it would change the kind of relationship between IT departments and the suppliers upon which they rely:
“Virtualization and SaaS transcend interesting pilots and concepts and become the norm in mainstream adoption. Users will expect to achieve savings in virtualized instances, the ability to swap user and usage rights among new deployment options, and protection from SaaS vendor bankruptcies.”
“But we don’t have the discipline to implement ITILv3!” Vaughn Merlyn, IT Organization Circa 2017, Feb. 24, 2009
More people need to read this blog, which covers all manner of issues around business-IT maturity, portfolio management and much more. In this post he looks at the set of best practice books which are often talked about but seldom implemented easily. Specifically, he attacks the sometimes defeatist attitude heard from IT professionals who give up on ITIL before they’ve even tried:
“For all the criticism we might throw at airlines, hotels, and even hospitals, by and large, these organizations have the processes, controls and disciplines to mostly do it right the first time. IT service management is hardly open heart surgery, but the IT organization is being paid a significant amount of money to deliver services that people depend upon. The customers of these services expect that they are being delivered consistently, reliably, accurately and at the best possible cost. I can’t imagine what they would say or think if they knew this was not necessarily the case – that their service provider “did not have the discipline” to do it right!”
“Hire a professional,” Mark Runta, IT Management and Global Sourcing, Dec. 2, 2007
This is a blog written by an IT manager who almost never mentions actual products, services or vendors. Instead, he focuses on all the things that everyone else ignores, like soft skills, building your career path, managing “up,” and finding fulfillment as a technology professional. This post helps justify the need for specialized skill sets in an industry that sometimes seems to favour generalization:
“IT departments stumble on this front because of a variety of reasons, including ego, fear and denial. Ego – we have an excellent IT shop and can accomplish any objective. Fear – lets not expose our deficiencies by bringing in external consultants. Denial – This project is not that hard – we can retrain our folks to learn this new stuff.”
“Pain sharing – the trust issues facing CIOs and solution providers,” Mark McDonald, Gartner, March 31, 2009
You expect useful insights from market research firms like Gartner, but during the height of the most recent global recession McDonald went beyond the statistics and proposed an interesting model that reflected the interdependencies among vendors and their IT department customers. Few may have applied this idea, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored:
“Solution providers are interested buy wary. They need assurances that their current pain will be more than offset with future gains as the business improves. This requires both a contractual commitment and a leadership commitment on behalf of the CIO regarding the continued use of the solution family and its strategic role in their enterprise architecture. Solution providers are also wary of the latter gain to be shared in exchange for the pain they will feel now. They have seen other sharing arrangements fail when benefits exceed what people see as reasonable in the future – everyone wants the vendor to pay, but no one wants the vendor to enjoy what they see as a windfall.”
“Web 2.0 and cloud computing,” Tim O’Reilly, O’Reilly Radar, October 26, 2008
Much more than a technology book publisher, O’Reilly has managed to change the way the industry talks by coining the phrase “Web 2.0” and building up a network of influential bloggers who cover all facets of information management. This post builds on his thinking to explore the various flavours of cloud computing and how they will play out among the Oracles of the world, not to mention IT managers:
“So here’s the real trick: cloud computing is real. Everything is moving into the cloud, in whole or in part. The utility layer of cloud computing will be just that, a utility, without outsized profits.
But the cloud platform, like the software platform before it, has new rules for competitive advantage. And chief among those advantages are those that we’ve identified as ‘Web 2.0,’ the design of systems that harness network effects to get better the more people use them.”
“From hierarchy to Wirearchy,” Jon Husband, Wierarchy, June 2, 2004
We need at least one Canadian on this list, and why not Husband, who has been thinking through this thesis for more than 10 years? Even if the word “wierarchy” doesn’t catch on, his synthesis of several strands of knowledge management and its IT underpinnings remains relevant and critical:
“When software connects customers directly to business processes, and employees have ‘line-of-sight’ responsibility for making a clear contribution or directly impacting business results –when most of an organization’s strategy and value proposition is directly coded into its CRM, ERM and B2B applications, will the types of supervision and management we learned in the ’70’s and ’80’s continue to be effective? Things get done and results are achieved through connections and conversation. Wirearchy is generated by an open architecture of information, knowledge and focus, enabled by connected and converging technologies.”
Now it’s your turn. Tell us your picks for the best-ever enterprise IT blog posts. Or better yet, sign up for Blogging Idol 2010 and write a better one yourself.