Stay in Front of Me Where It’s Safe

StayInFrontInnovation in the enterprise often seems like the cruelest exhibit in the hall of oxymorons, despite the transforming technological landscape. Whether it’s Enterprise Content Management (ECM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) the patterns are all too familiar. Tech conscious C-level executives, increasingly overlay far-reaching abstract requirements over the usual implementation planning activities. The fact that innovation and cloud solutions are trending lately should be a surprise to exactly no one. In some ways it’s a bit of enterprise buzzword bingo. At the heart of it, however, is a sincere desire to architect forward-looking solutions using the best available technologies. But typical corporate solution planning methodology is dependent on case studies to justify certain technology choices. Here’s a pro-tip to all you wanna-be solution pioneers: you’re not going to find case studies to justify a truly innovative technology plan. You will have to dispense with the idea of the human shield, turned corporate style. Stay in front of me where it’s safe.

This truth will come as a shock to those well-versed in the way of enterprise level solution architecture. Planning technology implementation on that scale is not easy; potential failure modes are abundant and unsettling. Complicating the matter, few opportunities are truly green-field where the only limit is your imagination and available budget. In most cases, an existing technological legacy stands. It’s the archaeological signature of your predecessors, and your burden to overcome. Sure, you’d probably like to put a grenade to it, especially if it was based on some particularly bad assumptions, questionable process, or clunky old technology. It won’t be that easy. In the face of such adversity, the wise move methodically: carefully assessing the current state, understanding all the relevant use cases, planning targets in technology and process, developing robust requirements, and selecting technology only after careful consideration. But then, almost as an insult to the all the hard work, one final element of due diligence is required: the case study. It serves as a final justification, if only to satisfy risk management and assure the C-level that the sky will not fall. A case study tells you not only has someone attempted to solve a similar problem, but they were also successful. Or at least they appear successful. Because they’re exactly like your company, right? Right? I said stay in front!

Aside from the fact that case studies are little more than feel-good narratives of best practice, the underlying conundrum is classic chicken and egg, a closed circle. We know monkeys tend to follow practice, best or otherwise for good or ill. This presents a particular problem when it comes to transformative technology. Relevant example: everything is going plaid cloud. The C-level can see the word on the street, so that’s what they want to do – but only as soon as we have reliable examples of other companies going cloud. That way, we can rummage through their glorious artifacts of success (or alternatively charred remains) and elect to make only the right decisions and not forward decisions. It’s certainly the conservative call you’d expect in corporate circles, but that retards the technological transformation considerably. I’m having a hard time seeing very far without my glasses.

When it comes to the PLM and ERP spaces especially, we’re only in the beginning of a cloud technology transformation. Many considering innovative solutions that incorporate the cloud are unsure why established vendors are slow to offer exactly what they’re looking for, and/or are puzzled at the lack of relevant case studies. What part of innovative did you not understand? This point is not limited to just cloud – it’s just the current notable example. It’s always the case when technology transforms. How do you think all those ECM, PLM, or ERP that seem pretty standard today, came into being, anyway? The choices are pretty clear: move forward on an innovative vision, or wait patiently while everyone else does. Are there two teams, or what?