Enterprises Embrace Inflexibility Instead Of Change

At the AIIM Conference this week in Orlando, it struck me that companies are remarkably inflexible when it comes to adopting new technologies, but the crowd at AIIM wasn’t alone. Perhaps nothing exemplifies this better than the brouhaha over the Windows Start button, a feature which, by the way, dates back to Window 95 — as in 1995.

After 18 years, do you think it’s possible that we could have the imagination to think of a new way of working? Apparently not. Preston Gralla writing on Computerworld was particularly adamant, stating he wanted the Start button back now! You could almost hear him stomping his foot.

But Microsoft customers aren’t just inflexible around a minor change like the Start button; they also have issues with the cloud. Microsoft bought Yammer, a cloud-based enterprise social and collaboration tool, in June, 2012 for a cool $1.2 billion, but many Microsoft customers couldn’t deal with a cloud-based tool of any kind so for about a year, they delivered SharePoint Social on premises and Yammer in the cloud in tandem as part of the latest release of SharePoint. This year they finally put an end to it, and if you’re a SharePoint 2013 customer and you want social, you’ll just have to suck it up and go to the cloud version.

This isn’t just about Microsoft customers, though, because they are far from the only ones. As I moved around AIIM this week, I heard people tip-toeing around the cloud, either deathly afraid of it, or, at most, barely tolerating it. To be fair, these were records managers and this is an area of the enterprise that has been particularly slow to adopt change. But these folks were the living embodiment of cloud FUD.

It wasn’t until the last day when 451 Research analyst Alan Pelz-Sharpe finally gave the audience an opposing viewpoint, telling them, “Don’t tell me the cloud is insecure. You can hire a hacker for $50 to break into your system. They spend hundreds of millions of dollars making their cloud secure.”

I get that change is hard and companies have been burned in the past by chasing the latest computing craze. The data center is littered with bad ERP, CRM and content management installations. But the thing is, this is much more than a craze.

As Dion Hinchcliffe, co-author (with Peter Kim) of Social Business by Design, who followed Pelz-Sharpe as a speaker said, “You can’t chase fashion, but there is no doubt high impact technology is affecting business in so many ways.”

He’s right. This is different because it’s more than the technology flavor of the month. It’s a fundamental change in the way we do business, and companies have to get a grip. Either that or they’ll get left behind by smaller, faster and more agile competitors born in the age of the cloud and mobile who will simply run you over while you’re forming your committee to study the problem.

It’s worth noting that Pelz-Sharpe followed his admonition by saying, “Cloud adoption is a slow burn, not a quick switch.” Indeed, and I don’t hear anyone suggesting you should shutter your private data center and move lock, stock and barrel to the cloud tomorrow. But you have to take the first step at some point, and maybe Microsoft, by forcing its users to adopt Yammer as a cloud-based social tool, is taking the correct approach.

Once they see the sky hasn’t fallen by using the cloud, perhaps companies can begin to test other approaches.

On Twitter today, CITEworld editor Matt Rosoff perhaps put it best when he tweeted: “Execution is hard. You make bets and lose some. Talent recruiting and retention is brutal. Management structure gets ossified.”

But all the more, in the face of these challenges, enterprises cannot afford to sit still and hunker down. They have to start shifting to new ways of working. As Hinchcliffe said, “All of this has significant competitive implications,” and, as such, inflexibility is no longer an option.

Image by Flickr user Jasmine Kaloudis under a CC BY-ND 2.0 license