The rise of the IT “super genius”

The future of the IT organization?

The successful IT professional of 2020 will interact with users more like the Apple Genius Bar consultant does today…

What a quote from Joe Jorczak of Oracle Corporation (posted by Andy Jankowski earlier this Spring)!

One theme of his comments was that user-generated applications would arise from the mishmash of technologies available today, combined with the plethora of distribution channels for distributed, single-purpose apps.

In that scenario, users exploit the “salad bar” metaphor I like to use so much. They take what they want from available enterprise services and leave the rest behind.

Only beyond simply leveraging a Service-Oriented Architecture, Andy is proposing they increasingly build their own apps on those services… and the experienced CIO will now be asking “How should we support these apps?”

From salad bar to genius bar

Now, enterprise architects have envisioned the great IT salad bar (or more likely their own analogy) for ages…

    • before web services
    • before Java
    • before CORBA
    • before DCE

I figure the notion of mix-and-match, integrated systems ought to go back to the dawn of the network itself, if not earlier…

Similarly, we have endured many phases of “user-generated” applications. There were a few vendors of “plain English” programming languages who predicted them when I was in high school back in 1984!

What does it take to be a genius?

So whether it happens this time around or not, my question is what would it take to make IT into the “genius bar” for supporting user-generated applications?

Let me post a few ideas, and then you can add your own so we can chat about them (not in any particular order):

Super Genius

  1. What services we can get from the outside world, especially (but not always) for free, we need to catalog, stay abreast of changes and make available to these “apps”
  2. The services that are special to our organizations MUST become service-oriented… to make use of a given feature, apps don’t want to have the whole ERP system tag along
  3. We must take on a customer service (even a “retail service”) perspective if we are not already working on it, and we have to put in place ways to measure “true” customer satisfaction
  4. We have to think very carefully about how much “control” we really need, while we also build in flexibility and fluidity to support enabling these apps to flourish
  5. We must reset our notions of security and confidentiality to lock down and protect what we must secure, while intentionally and strategically exposing what is really not that proprietary anyway
  6. We have to uproot the idea that we can “manage demand” from our management philosophy – the industry changes, customer expectations change, and demand simply “is”

To be clear, these are not suggestions I think every IT organization must follow… they are ones that I see as necessary if the genius bar is in our future. What else do you think will change if we increasingly see user-generated applications in the future? Can you envision new roles and even new management structures?

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Feel free to MAKE your own standards

Being ordinary isn’t bad, it’s just ordinary. In fact, ordinary (or normal) things make life easier for all of us. We know how to plug in a power cord, how to turn on the lights, and how to get to work every day… and we don’t have to invest a lot of time thinking about what is normal to us. In addition, every time we learn something new, like how to play a new sport, we practice so that it becomes natural (normal) to us as well.

My wife and I have an autistic son, and we have spent time over the last eleven years figuring out what “normal” was going to be like for our family, relative to what we hear other people’s “normal” lives are like. While every person has a different specific experience of life, I suspect welcoming any child into a family requires figuring out what the new normal is, autism or no.

Last week I came across a question posted on LinkedIn Answers by James McGovern asking why PaaS (platform-as-a-service) vendors are not working toward developing standards. While I appreciate many of the responses to James’ question, I was triggered particularly by Dan DeMaggio’s response. Dan gave a consistent response to others on the post, but added “feel free to MAKE standards that make development easier, and some of the PaaS-es may support them” [emphasis mine].

In my assessment, this is a powerful mood and posture for us to take, not only in PaaS but in many areas where technology compels us to move quickly and we nevertheless need to maintain our sanity as we go through cycles of innovation, maintenance and upgrade.

To produce consistency in the way we exploit a technology is to remember for-the-sake-of-what we are using it. To select a CRM platform, a productivity suite or any other technology without consideration for our intended use doesn’t make any sense… but the more deeply we can describe our intentions, the more consistently we can exploit our choices. To speak of whether something is effective requires first that we know our intentions.

The more fundamentally we know what we intend, the more we can identify consistent rules to exploit as technology continues to drift. Though we may outsource a process area or a technology stack, though we may shift to a subscription-based service or move apps out to portable devices, fundamentally our business continues to make widgets as before.

Where does the difference between fundamental and specific show up for you? Where can inventing standards simplify the way you view technology drift?