Posted by: Greg Ness | September 3, 2009

IT and Culture: Where Does your Team Stand?

During a lunch with Peter Coffee last May at Interop Peter made a comment that really stuck with me.  He said that tech marketers are essentially anthropologists. 


Our conversation wandered around a bit, from our upcoming Interop panel on cloud computing to the advantages of various approaches to cloud; yet his comment really stuck as I navigated through Interop briefings and single malts before heading to San Diego for the Future in Review Infrastructure 2.0 panel.


How true.  Tech marketers are indeed like anthropologists. Well said, Peter.


In many ways the evolution of technology parallels the evolution of culture.  Some cultures stress continuity and tradition as a survival or success strategy while others emphasize innovation and risk taking.  Individuals with different capabilities are often rewarded differently based on culture and incentive.


Chances are you can recognize the telltale signs of which culture is predominant in your IT shop.  If continuity is stressed chances are you’re in a culture that is less confident about its ability to innovate and prefers the comfort of the status quo.  The mantra: let others take the risk.


If your shop is perpetually testing new technologies chances are you’re in a shop that prides itself on being strategic to the organization it’s supporting.  It will test new technologies relentlessly then deploy where the business case and risk/reward merit.  It delivers strategic benefits to the organization.


Most IT shops are perhaps somewhere in between with multiple distinct cultures within a single IT department.  Some pros are incented toward continuity yet others innovation. 


Out of that give and take between innovation and continuity come two basic kinds of IT service, the strategic and the commoditized.  While each has a purpose, one has more promise than the other in terms of high paying skilled jobs and strategic advantage for the enterprise (or even nation) making the investment.


Much of the dialogue on cloud computing has been caught up in public versus private and foggy xAAS definition games.  Yet I think the real distinguishing factor is essentially strategic versus tactical.  Private clouds will tend to be strategic while public clouds will tend to be tactical.  Strategic clouds add value; tactical clouds offer generic cost savings.


It makes sense for commodity applications to shift to the public cloud.  With the rise of netbooks, the proliferation of endpoints and virtualization’s mobility promise, there seems a time ahead where manually managed networks become obsolete ala the telephone operator with switchboard.


This was discussed in The Three Horsemen we’re about to see the obsolescence of the manually managed network.  Forrester’s O’Donnell recently published a paper on the need for IT automation.


It might be worth asking your team if they’ve embraced automation around DNS/DHCP or IP address management, or if they’re still using spreadsheets and scripts and committees.  If they aren’t embracing automation then perhaps the wrong incentives are in place.  You’ll also have answered the IT culture question.


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