Content Ain't King, Neither is Elvis
Most of us remember the admonishment from the heady days of the 1990’s Internet craze that “content is King.” Like most trite bits of purported wisdom from those days it has since been disproved, and in its debunking lies a lesson for savvy CIOs.
It is difficult to think of an industry more tied to content than the big media players. Their entire existence revolves around content, and they spend their time recruiting new artists, producing and marketing new content, and getting it into the hands of consumers. For decades, these companies fought to stay on the cutting edge of consumer tastes, and match their content accordingly. However, they completely missed one dramatic shift: that consumers cared not just about the content, but how it is delivered, as well.
With cheap storage and fast network connections, the world of media distribution was turned on its head almost overnight. One of the biggest groups of content consumers, college- and high school-age people, suddenly were given the ability to share music and video rapidly. Why go to a music store and battle your peers to grab the latest hot CD when you could be listening to the song on your laptop in a minute—and have your own mixed CD in a few minutes more?
Not only was this a dramatically more convenient distribution channel, but since it was not supported by the content companies, it was also free, albeit illegal. Now, nearly a decade after the rise and fall of Napster, in many cases, it is still easier to find content through “unorthodox” distribution channels than those sanctioned by the media companies. Restrictions and limited selections make content acquisition a hassle; even for those with money in hand and a willingness to pay for convenience and unrestricted use. In many areas, the media companies remain ignorant that the distribution method is part of the media experience. Making distribution both effective and simple is a product many consumers are willing to pay for.
So how does this apply to corporate IT? Like the media industry, for too long we have been focused on content rather than a holistic experience. While the latest James Bond film is probably a bit more of a compelling “experience” than a CRM deployment, the failings of the media industry are quite illustrative of some of the challenges facing CIOs.
Apple Strikes Back
Just as iPods came to be the bane of many media executives lives, each tiny white box representing thousands of dollars of pirated music, the iPhone has become loathed by many a CIO. No longer content to use corporate-mandated devices and follow the rules, everyone from C-suite peers to mailroom clerks are showing up with iPhones. And the more tech-savvy are doing their best to circumvent IT policy and use the devices on the corporate network.
Just as there is no perfect approach to combating media piracy, there is no perfect approach to the influx of devices and software that workers are increasingly bringing into their corporations. All the IT policy restrictions in the world will be about as effective as media company’s efforts to stem piracy through cheeky anti-piracy commercials. Your user community has made the shift and is focused on the experience of their interactions with corporate IT, policy be dammed. Have you made that shift, too?
IT is an Experience
While you do not generally get a nice big bin of popcorn when you arrive at work (and thankfully the floors are a bit less sticky—or should be!) IT too shares a key dimension with the media industry in that the products and services IT delivers are part of a larger experience. Like media, we tend to forget that IT is more than content. If you don’t believe this assertion, page through your nearest IT rag, or look through the annuals of your failed projects and you are sure to find an IT project that was technically complete, but ended up unsuccessful. It doesn't matter that the code was top notch and the hardware first-rate, something as simple as a change in the business environment or the whims of end users rendered the project irrelevant.
CIOs can learn from the media industry’s mistakes by looking not only at the content they are delivering (and that content could be anything from a shiny new VoIP phone system to a massive ERP package), but at how it is being distributed and how their end-users expect to interact with the content. For example, if you are implementing a new business intelligence package, don’t focus on all the wonderful data you will have locked up in the package, focus on the streamlined ways users can interact with the data. You are in fact giving “power to the people” by letting them pull data and slice and dice it on their terms.
For a large systems implementation like a CRM package, look at how the sales force’s daily lives will change based on the required interactions with the system, and develop a plan to compensate reps for their adoption of the new way of doing business. In short, look at corporate IT as providing a complete experience, not dumping technology on unsuspecting victims.
Looking at IT in this manner unifies formerly disparate areas like change management and process improvement. When content is no longer king and the end-user experience paramount, things like process tweaks become key to IT success rather than an afterthought at the 11th hour. In essence, your IT activities are aiming squarely for a successful end-user experience, rather than technically successful endeavors that become overall failures due to an extreme focus on content.
Patrick Gray is the founder and president of Prevoyance Group, and author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology. Prevoyance Group provides strategic IT consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.