Plan To Disrupt

Plan to Disrupt or Plan to be Disrupted.

You Might be Being Disrupted if…

Are You the One Being Disrupted?

TLDR; Companies cannot defend against disruption unless they can recognize where weaknesses lie.  
You might be disrupted if:

  • Your company is more than 20 years old
  • Your company has ever had a mainframe.
  • Your IT department reports to any other department (i.e. finance).
  • Your IT leadership has not done any actual IT work in the last 10 years 

A few years ago the local casino ran an advertising campaign for their poker room with the tag line “If you can’t see the fish at the table… You’re the fish.”  The business corollary (and tagline for this site)  Plan to disrupt or plan to be disrupted brings a dire warning to those that aren’t actively working to be disruptive.  Technology has changed the playing field so much that many companies do not even recognize the threat until it is woefully too late.  Kodak, Blockbuster, Montgomery Wards, all companies that did not recognize that they were going to be disrupted by technology.  Here is a list of telltale signs that might indicate your company is ripe for being disrupted.

... Your company is more than 20 years old

Companies that were established more than twenty years ago have proven their ability to gain competitive advantage in a traditional four point fashion.

  • Lower costs of manufacturing.
  • Differentiate by adding features.
  • Align with partners to further both companies interests.
  • Defend against newcomers by outdoing them in all aspects of the first three.

Newcomers to the marketspace have to survive tough odds because they are fighting a well established company in their own domain.  As a result, winning a competitive advantage was merely a game of improving what was already working in small increments.

Today companies do not have any corporate inertia to overcome as they start out.  New companies can gain competitive advantage in ways that are orthogonal to traditional old school formulas.  Essentially, technology has allowed newcomers to bring guns to a knife fight. It would have been unheard of to think of one of the world’s largest taxi company not having any vehicles (Uber) or one of the world’s largest retailer as not having stores or inventory (Alibaba). If a company is more than 20 years old, it needs to adopt a plan to disrupt and defend against new technology.


... Your company has ever owned a Main frame

While I do not mean specifically a mainframe I do pretty much include any large computing system made by  IBM, Burroughs, UNIVAC, NCR, Control Data, Honeywell, General Electric and RCA.  All of these

manufacturers made system that were used by businesses that were on the forefront of technology in the late 1900’s.  IT departments were formed, usually as part of a finance group, to support these systems. The primary goal of these IT departments was

  1. Keep the system running.
  2. Keep the scheduled jobs running.
  3. Facilitate the input and output of data within these systems.
  4. Feed the printers and deliver the reports.

Theses large computing systems did not really have the flexibility to write programs in any modern day fashion. Companies did not need programmers to use them, they just needed skilled super users that could

May I take your order please?

save and retrieve data.  If business has a use case to see what the inventory of a specific product is, IT will right a report.  If the use case is to see a list of all the west coast suppliers, IT will write another report.

This concept of “Business presents a use case and IT provides a solution” was the standard with mainframes. “Partnering with the business” literally meant writing whatever

queries the business requires. IT departments were not a first class citizen within the company, they were merely service providers with a particular skill set. The process became the corporate culture, and now many companies still think of their IT department as order takers and service providers.  Technology has changed. What technology can provide has changed.  Has your company changed the way they deal with technology?

You might be disrupted if...Your IT department reports to any other department

IT must be a first class citizen at the business roundtable. Technology is of such vital importance to the entire enterprise that its mission needs to be discrete and independent

from any particular group within the company. The history of how IT was introduced to a company, (see above) often means they are a part of or have common leadership with a finance group. In these cases, IT is also looked at as a cost center and nothing more. When IT services are needed by other parts of the company, they are doled out on a project by project basis, when they can be spared, returning to the finance group at the completion of the project leaving the responsibility of ownership to the group that needed the service in the first place. As a result, many business groups develop “Shadow IT” and have their own IT services within their group to work on their stuff with their priorities. Disjointed and chaotic often describe what corporate IT becomes when they are not an independent group.  Disjointed and chaotic are also words that could describe companies that have been disrupted.

... Your IT leadership has not done any actual IT work in the last 10 years

The irony of technology in the business place is that the people that have the most passion for technology, are the least likely to want to leave the technology to manage and vice versa.  Restated, anyone that wants to “Manage” in a technical arena, is probably not a good candidate for leading a company from a technical point of view.  Companies need their IT department to lead the fight to be disruptive. That leadership can only come from someone that has a true passion for technology. If your company’s IT executive (whatever the title) was chosen from a cadre of directors that were selected from a group of project managers, that were in turn coders that didn’t want to code or network engineers that didn’t want to update servers,  how much thought leadership and disruption can you expect from them?

... You recognize these traits and you do nothing



~Tal McMahon


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