Beyond Chaos Monkey
The modern day operations, pioneered by Netflix and other modern enterprises, taught us the concept of Chaos Monkey for operations to stay ahead of potential problems and to add resiliency to the underlying infrastructure. As organizations moved to a more distributed infrastructure underneath with the uncertainty (and lack of visibility) in the underlying cloud infrastructure, the Chaos Monkey approach gained traction and it is now part of many modern enterprise toolkits today. This post is not about Chaos Monkey but about using the same proactive approach to prepare the IT for disruptive changes impacting the core business. As we evolve in our modern enterprise journey where technology drives the underlying plumbing needed for most business, any potential threat or disruption is also related to the evolution of the underlying technology. IT, as the provider of the necessary technology needed for innovation in any modern enterprise, should be prepared for this change. They are responsible for enabling the necessary infrastructure to meet the needs of rapidly changing business landscape.
Enterprise IT is still a cost center
Traditionally, IT has been trained to ensure constancy and stability. The chaos monkey approach and the tools available today has helped IT prepare themselves for uncertainty and change. But their focus is still on managing the uncertainty and enabling the developers with their current needs than looking ahead to the emerging technologies that could reshape their business. Most organizations spend on R&D to explore newer business opportunities and on innovation directly related to their core product/business. Seldom do they focus on innovation at the plumbing level (IT infrastructure) and how it can help their organizations innovate even more rapidly. In other words, most IT organizations are still reactive to the fast changing business landscape than being proactive in enabling 10X innovations inside their organizations. This is the reason why 10X disruptions usually come from the startups than the innovation labs of large organizations. This is exactly why Amazon, Google and startups are innovating the underlying plumbing than enterprise IT. In today’s world, marginalization of enterprise IT is happening because they are still a cost center and not the innovation machine. The marketing messages of enterprise vendors are not helping them either. Most of the messages tell organizations to focus on their core businesses and treat the underlying IT infrastructure as a cost center for the core business. This has lead to a situation where enterprise IT relies totally on the technology vendors than focussing on any innovation. If there is any talk in the industry about the marginalization of IT, the root cause is this legacy thinking.
Mad Scientist Approach To Modern Enterprise
There are plenty of people who dismiss any suggestion that IT should play a more proactive role in enabling innovation. But the reality today is that either IT plays a more proactive role as an enabler of innovation or it risks marginalization by cloud services going up the stack. This is where CIOs should think about setting up a core innovation team under IT whose mandate is to innovate on the underlying plumbing. They should be tasked with 10X innovation than incremental patch works. They should be working with the organizations R&D, engineering and IT teams responsible for keeping the lights on, to not only come up with strategies for innovating at the plumbing level but also find ways to inject these innovations into the core IT infrastructure so that their developers can explore newer ways to innovate than just following the industry trends. Think of how AWS was born out of Amazon’s necessity to out innovate their competitors. Every enterprise IT should aspire to have their own XWS so that their developers can bring disruptive innovations and, maybe, their own XWS can start adding to the organization’s financial bottom line one day, just like how AWS did.
I agree that Mad Scientist is a cliche and I myself hate the term. But I am using it to describe this major shift needed in enterprise IT thinking, innovation at the 10X scale than smaller iterations. Instead of thinking about using containers from virtual machines, the core innovation team should be replacing the mainframes in their plumbing with a technology that leapfrogs even serverless abstractions. The innovation team should lead the organizations to skip generations in the underlying plumbing so that their core business is well ahead of their competitors. We are fast nearing the end of incremental innovations and the underlying plumbing in your organization should be flexible enough (think composability, no lock-in at the architectural level, portable APIs, etc) to change rapidly to meet 10X innovations. On top of it, the IT innovation team should evolve the underlying infrastructure much faster than the rest of the industry. It is not easy and there are no magic pills but as a Modern Enterprise CIO, you need to change your thinking now.
I am not arguing that you should not take advantage of innovations by technology vendors but, rather, asking you to innovate on top of their innovations. Think of how Netflix took advantage of AWS but innovated on top. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.