Lately, over the past month, I've seen people compare ye olde enterprises to companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter. Let me dub them as old versus new (companies) for the remainder of this post.
Not surprisingly, the old get a beating when compared to the swiftness, ease and responsiveness the new react to (changing) business or consumer needs
Well, that ain't fair. There are a few reasons why old and new just can't be compared to eachother. Some of these reasons can be perceived as good, some of them as bad. The order of these next reasons is not necessarily one of importance or cause, but I feel good about it... (just kidding, it's the exact order and it'll be proven down the road too)
First, there's size. Moving an elephant takes careful planning, preparation, manpower, and aftercare; flicking a booger is easy as pie. I bought a new house a few years ago, and only renewed the walls, ceilings and floors where necessary - and spent 1,000 hours on that
Even if apparently simple it can take a lot of time
Second, there's history. It's far easier to invent new ways than changing old ones because someone always feels offended or has to be blamed when "the old ways" are rejected as, well, just old ways that don't work. History is big, goes back a long way (size in time): links to size. You might think it's OK to admit that something you built 5 years ago just doesn't scale anymore technically and / or functionally, but what about the implications?
Even if apparently simple it can be complex
Third, there's politics. There are a lot of people whose daily business it is to take care of their kingdom, and their kingdom alone. Politics drag along history, a lot of it, and a sizeable band. I've seen people who paperised fully digital flows to be able to intervene and take control. People knowingly and willingly not optimising systems or departments, or even crippling them, so they could prolong their self-created dependency of others on them. Those are just exaggerations of everyday politics we all suffer from in enterprises - but there's plenty of dead wood to stumble upon IRL. I say government, semi-government like insurance agencies, financial institutions, basically any oversized enterprise will almost thrive on politics
Even if apparently complex it can be complicated (different from complex)
Fourth, there's legacy. Legacy apps. Tons of them. With legacy applications come third parties that built them, sold them, maintain them, in short: are a stakeholder of some sort. With that comes politics, history, and enterprise size of course is redefined again.
I've seen apps in an enterprise that are little more than fileservers but annually cost 300K euro in license fees and another 200K in maintenance fees, of which documentation is almost absent. Like I always say (still have to write a blog post about it) there are three types of lock-in: tool or vendor lock-in, third-party lock-in, and the worst of all: knowledge lock-in. Not only do you fully rely on a tool or vendor for run, but also on a third party to maintain, and especially on their combined knowledge to find out what it actually is that you are running and how that works
Even if apparently complicated it can be overly complicated (because of scale)
Now, with that knowledge in hand, consider this quote by Marc Benioff (all quotes from TechCrunch by the way):
I quit my job at Oracle in 1999 because I couldn’t stop thinking about a simple question: “Why isn’t all enterprise software like Amazon.com?” Why couldn’t applications be run from a simple website, without software or hardware to install, and pricy consultants to hire?Marc was comparing an enterprise to a startup there. In stead of choosing the hard way (changing the enterprise), he abandoned Oracle, started his own company, and apparently wasn't too succesful for a while, now rephrasing that as:
That vision led to the founding of salesforce.com. But the enterprise world wasn’t ready for Amazon.com, or eBay, or Yahoo, or any of the innovative services that were changing the way consumers bought, sold, or communicatedSalesforce.com is showing enterprise fatique already, creating and hardcoding Chatter into their app in stead of simply linking in Twitter, Yammer, Facebook or any other social tool, and struggling with wriggling their behinds out of the beta. Announced November 18 for the year 2010, what's taking Salesforce.com so long? They haven't become an enterprise, have they?
Evolution overtakes us all, unless we're alert 24/7/365. The way of the dinosaur (yet another blog post waiting for me to build upon that with this): idea -> entrepreneur -> company -> enterprise -> multinational -> bureaucracy -> faceless bureaucratic institution -> extinction
Where do you or does your company stand in that "sequence"?