IS Guerrilla

In the Internet age, we’ve come to expect everything faster than we did before, and value is one of them — if our investments aren’t producing double-digit returns, we lose patience

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Don’t just speed: speed to value

Until recently, “speed” and “value” were two words you wouldn’t often see linked in the same document, let alone the same sentence.

Speed generally speaking, meant a compromise in order to get something or somewhere quickly. Compromising control: speed kills. Compromising quality: fast food. Compromising integrity: making a fast buck.

“Value” was a word we associated with things that appreciated over time, things with the air of age and respectability to them, like classic paintings, trust funds and antique furniture. Think of value investing as the idea of looking for growth over the long term, being patient, waiting for assets to appreciate.

In the Internet age, we’ve come to expect everything faster than we did before, and value is one of them – if our investments aren’t producing double-digit returns, we lose patience with our investment strategy. If we’re talented IT professionals and we’re not getting rich quickly, we figure we must be doing something wrong, especially since the media tells us that this new economy is minting millionaires as fast as Internet IPOs can be pushed out the door.

Nortel Networks talks about speed to value in terms of reducing time to market — the implication being that the opportunity to earn value is really only out there for those who get to the market first.

The most effective users of Internet technology seem to have caught on to this speed to value thinking too: you’ve heard it said that the Web operates without rules. It’s not true, there are three rules: get there first; get known (the whole branding thing), and fix as you go.

Whether Jeff Bezos realized it or not when he launched, his business model was all about these three rules. Amazon may not have been (and may not be now) the best on-line retailing operation in the game, but it did get there first, and it did capture the value that mindshare and a brand name bring in today’s market, and it does represent a service offering that’s been fixed on the go. Do you remember the first versions of the Amazon Web site? They weren’t really very good, but they were out there, and everybody knew it.

The practical implications of speed to value for the IT community is best summed up in a practice that Internet publisher Chuck Martin calls “launch and learn.”

In the book Cyber Rules, Thomas Siebel and Pat House make the point succinctly: “In the computer world, you simply can’t wait until everything’s perfect…assume that things will go wrong, and catch them before they do. The “launch and learn” principle may not be conservative, but it’s not reckless either.”

Even if you’re not an Internet type (in IT, aren’t we all Internet types now?), the tendency that’s emerged in the last few years to prototype IT products is another example of speed to value thinking. “Let’s build a straw dog and see if it hunts” one of my bosses (with a penchant for mixed metaphors) used to say. “Get a prototype in the hands of our clients fast,” he’d say, “and see if they can see value in it.”

Speed to value also means understanding of the downside of delay. We’ve heard that any IT project that doesn’t deliver real business value inside six months is dead from the start, and we instinctively know this to be true — the world changes way too fast to think otherwise.

Experience tells me that modern business executives have, in general, the attention span of a gnat — if you can’t demonstrate value quickly, you’ve lost their interest.

Speed to value is a sentiment that warms the heart of an IT Guerrilla. Think about the guerrilla manifesto: Get in fast, hit hard, and if you need to, get out quickly. If that isn’t speed to value, I don’t know what is.

Hanley is an IS professional living in Calgary. He can be reached at [email protected].

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