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9 October 2007

The rise of true eBusiness

By Andrew Clifford

eBusiness is not about selling products on the Internet or automating supplier links. True eBusiness goes much deeper and can only occur when the paraphernalia of IT is swept away.

Over the past few weeks we have been considering a possible future scenario for IT, in which IT architecture is radically simplified, and much of traditional IT is dismantled.

In this scenario, IT is closely aligned to organisational structures. IT is easier and cheaper than currently, and IT management is included as part of general business management.

Some might see this as negative because it removes some opportunities to achieve more value with IT. Although there will be some loss (not least to our careers), the compensating gain is greater.

One model for this new scenario is that IT will be thought of like we currently think of staff. To be called a "manager", you should be able to manage staff. Managers delegate responsibility to staff, but retain control of and accountability for their actions. Managers define and control the working relationships between their team and other teams. Our view of IT will be the same: every manager should be able to manage the IT in their area. Managers choose what to delegate to the IT. They retain control and accountability. They define and control interactions between their IT and other parts of the business, whether IT-to-human relationships or IT-to-IT relationships.

IT will merge into the general background of business, like accounts, HR and facilities. IT change will be part of business change, and IT decisions will neither lead nor constrain business decisions.

In this new scenario, there will be opportunities for businesses to explore and profit from new business models, to restructure and profit more from IT. These new business models will not be thought of as IT innovations. They will be thought of as the natural evolution of business. Different business will try different approaches. There will be winners, and losers, and cross-fertilisation of ideas. Those who change their business models to gain the most value from IT will be more profitable and more nimble, and out compete those stuck in the old ways and those who have taken wrong turns. True, deep, eBusiness will evolve when we stop thinking of it as something separate from normal business.

For this evolution to progress, we must take the brakes off IT. We must stop the drain on resources and motivation that comes from massive, failed projects. We must halt and reverse the decline into legacy. We must give control of IT to business.

These problems are largely caused by the architectures we have adopted. Although there are good engineering reasons for the architectures, the business cost of them, and the opportunities from changing them, are huge. If we want to really gain the benefits of IT, we have to sweep away the paraphernalia that makes IT so complicated, and let IT merge into general business management.

Remember that this is just a hypothesis. As the final part of this series, next week I want to summarise the counter arguments to the hypothesis and see whether, on balance, this is what we should pursue.

Next: In defence of complexity - part 1

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