December 19, 2018

People at big companies have it hard.

Startups get to start from a clean sheet of paper. No, there's not much money, and yes, it's an uphill slog.

But the ability to mold a business precisely to the economic environment of today is such a huge advantage. This is especially true in technology, where the weight of legacy absolutely kills mature businesses.

This came up the other day talking to some friends. We were talking about self checkout lines at supermarkets, and why so many companies have had a hard time rolling them out. To me, it's obvious: huge deployments like that are the most difficult technology projects, period, full stop. You're working on a revenue-critical system, with high availability requirements, in an environment with tons of legacy, designed for the operating environment of 20 years ago. You aren't going to get the best people because none of them want to work doing IT at a grocery store.

But perhaps the biggest obstacle—and it took me a long time to realize this—is that technology just isn't a C-level priority at most of these places. The execs are worried about cost containment, operations, all sorts of things. But not technology.

Meanwhile Jeff Bezos, in his own words:

IT is so high leverage. You don’t want to imagine a competitor whose IT department is more nimble than yours. Every company has a list of technology projects that the business would like to see implemented as soon as possible. The painful reality is that tough triage decisions are always made, and many projects never get done. Even those that get resourced are often delivered late or with incomplete functionality. If an IT department can figure out how to deliver a larger number of business-enabling technology projects faster, they’ll be creating significant and real value for their organization.

Birth and death are so important. People get set in their ways. Sometimes the only way to effect real change, is to change who's in charge. Sometimes that means one business has to fail so another can succeed.

But this is the only way to ensure customer satisfaction, in the long term.

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