While the Internet has led to sweeping changes in how we deal with information, who do we really have to thank for that?
The Internet hasn’t really changed business ideas. It has simply changed how we conduct business and how we gather and disseminate information. Credit for that goes to technologists—both IT professionals and developers.
When I was in grade school, I had an assignment that required some serious research. I went to a few libraries, used the card system, and found the answers to the vexing questions that stood between me and an “A.” The last question stumped me: “Where was the Beatles’ last concert in the United States?” I was wracked with tension. Then I remembered the public library had a cool program where you could call and ask the staff questions. They would look up the answer and call you back. I called, asked my question, and they called me back with the answer: San Francisco. Even without Google, I got the A.
Before eBay, I had been to auctions. Before Groupon, I saw the power of collective buying. Before Amazon, I feasted on as many books as I could devour. However, doing all that was admittedly much more difficult back before we had the Internet and all those services.
So while the Internet hasn’t invented business ideas, it has irrevocably changed the matrices of choice, delivery and speed—and it’s all because of IT. Yet IT is being ambushed by the “business” all the time. So let’s dissect those three key variables of choice, delivery and speed as Internet-led breakthroughs, and look at the role IT has played:
Choice and IT: Choice manifests itself in the availability of different products, services and experiences, and how they’re presented to citizens, consumers or companies. New companies and new services are led by IT. Think of a bank and its portfolio of new financial products. They’re just code—and that code is administered by IT.
Delivery and IT: FedEx was founded on the notion that information about a package is as important as the package itself. Similarly, in the Internet world, delivering a product, service or experience is likely virtual. IT is the driving force behind all this.
Speed and IT: Electrons move faster than trucks. End of story.
If I’ve even partially made my case, then you’ll agree that IT is behind much of the success of the Internet. Then why does the business press believe it has the right to define reality in this space?
There are two core factors at play. First, money creates the lexicon. The most lauded Internet companies are the ones that break the bank. In our culture, financial success implies brilliance. Thus, when we read about Internet-based ventures, we read largely about monetary success and little about technical creativity or creativity in the administration and management of technical staff.
The second factor is that the best IT is silent. In the case of great experiences, the proverbial “sausage machine” should be invisible. IT is often thought of as the sausage machine.
So what do we need to do to get our rightful thanks and claim credit for the technological wizardry that enables the magic of business? We need to discuss our creative breakthroughs in experiential terms. Not surprisingly, IT professionals tend to think through issues in technical terms. While this is sensible and good, it doesn’t commune with the common language. Instead of thinking about technology, think of the experiences your technical solutions offer the citizen and consumer.
Second, IT needs to make some noise. This doesn’t mean we need to make IT break here and there to make a point. It means tell the story in a loud voice. Tie everything you do to the core business of serving customers.
Denying that the Internet has revolutionized nearly every aspect of business is a fool’s errand. Exaggerating the “business leadership” that Internet entrepreneurs have provided is one as well.
And therein lies the rub. While new ideas are hard to find, new applications of existing ideas (applications that enhance choice, delivery and speed) are enabled daily by the Internet—and by the IT professionals who continue to keep it running.