02 September 2010

Agnostic Artists and Intelligent Integrators

Surely I'm not the only one to notice it. IT organizations are dividing themselves up into two groups. We're all aware of the standard solutions that the clouds are starting to provide, e.g. Google Docs and SalesForce.com, and a multitude of apps for smartphones. This gives us an interesting outsourcing challenge.

These solutions are provided by clever companies that do not know their individual customers. The market, yes; customers, no. I call them agnostic artists. Agnostic because they don't know their individual customers; artists because they make great products. If you buy one of these products it's up to you to fit it into your application landscape and provide the necessary interfacing with other systems. You've also got to monitor – particularly with smaller companies – the supplier's continuity. And whether their product isn't being overtaken by another agnostic artist's product. Another challenge is managing agnostic artists. You haven't got the classic customer-supplier relationship with contracts and service level agreements . Do you have a SLA with Google about use of Google Maps? Yes you have, you clicked on "I agree" didn't you? That's it. But it isn't what you're used to dealing with. And Google won't allow itself to be managed like you manage a regular supplier. The familiar 'command & control'  management paradigm won't work. 'Communicate & colloborate' will. For instance using Twitter to muster up other users of Google Maps and use community pressure. That'll work. The roles that I've just described – architect, interface manager, supplier manager, market monitor, contractor, coordinator – are part of the other kind of IT organization that I see. These I call them intelligent integrators. Where agnostic artists have a one to very many relationship with their clients, the intelligent integrators have one to one relationships. They're often slimmed down internal IT departments.

Now we have a fascinating sourcing dilemma: what part of this integration function do you want to do yourself and what part do you want to outsource? What's the validity of the old statement that you should own the 'what' and can outsource the 'how'?  In other words, are you prepared to let an external partner decide whether cloud computing is going to be used? Some things are too important to outsource but other things are too important to do yourself. So have a think about how important these choices are to you.

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