What the collapse of the newspaper industry can teach IT

Credit: Eric Kilby via Flickr

We've all seen what internet disruption has done to newspaper industry. Newspapers clearly failed to react to the changes going on around them, and the result has not been pretty. As an IT pro watching a similarly seismic shift going on in your department, you would be wise to use newspapers as a lesson.

Just how bad has it gotten for newspapers? According to recent Pew study, newspaper readership has been cut in half since 2000, when 47 percent of people surveyed had read a newspaper the day before. In the most recent survey, it was just 23 percent. And it's not just newspapers. Daily magazine readership has dropped from 26 percent to 18 percent in the same timeframe. It's fair to say that whatever your industry, it's not a trend you would like to see.

Reaction to disruption usually starts with disbelief, which typically manifests itself in belittling the disruptive influence. Newspapers didn't take the Web or Craigslist seriously, and later they failed to grasp just how important Google would become. For the most part, they never seemed to even try to understand the newer technologies, often blaming Google, for instance, for "stealing" their content, and have failed completely to take advantage of these changes to advance their business.

Sound familiar?

You'll often see a similar dynamic at play when you talk to some IT pros about the cloud, mobile and social.They will scoff at these technologies as consumer-grade. They will complain about security and lack of control. They will roll their eyes and tell you how they've seen all this before -- even though they haven't, at least not on this level.

The fact is that change is bubbling all around IT these days as consumerization sweeps over the enterprise, leaving IT pros with a clear choice. They can embrace the change and figure out how to make mobile, social and the cloud work for them, or they can get left in the dustbin with the newspaper pros who refused to see the change going on around them.

The thing is that newspapers had a long time to deal with their disruption, and still failed to react until long after the disruption had swept them aside. IT doesn't even have the luxury of time. The change is relentlessly marching through the enterprise, and if you fail to act, you are putting your company at risk. You need to understand that the balance of power has shifted and you are there to serve the needs of business, not the other way around.

Lest you think think this is pure hyperbole, the fact is that companies are being overrun by complexity -- and traditional enterprise applications with their multi-year upgrade cycles can't keep up with cloud-based ones that update regularly behind the scenes without disrupting your users. What's more, as the sheer amount of information grows across the enterprise, you can't build enough data centers to keep up with it all. There is no way to deal with this mushrooming amount of data without going to the cloud where you can scale to whatever heights your business requires -- and only pay for what for you use.

Meanwhile, whether you see it or not, you can't deny that your workforce is becoming increasingly mobile as smartphones deliver incredible computing power into your employee's pockets and purses. You need to find a way to get your enterprise content to them wherever they are regardless of the device they are on -- and face it, the days of handing out a company Blackberry are over. If you doubt it for a second, take a look at RIM's plunging market share numbers. You need to find ways to support a myriad of platforms and devices and deliver content to your users wherever they happen to be, regardless of the device -- and by the way, you're still responsible for managing these devices.

Finally, we have the social influence, which is hitting home in the enterprise in a variety of ways including internal social networking, external socializing with customers, supplier and partners and of course social media monitoring on the open web on sites like Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter because you don't just have to communicate with your customers wherever they may be -- although that's imperative -- just as importantly, you need to listen to what they are saying about you.

If you want an enterprise software poster child for this entire phenomenon under one roof, look no further than Salesforce.com, which has put together an entire package of social, mobile and cloud solutions. And before you scoff, realize that Salesforce.com has grown to be one of the top 5 software companies in the world. It's not some lightweight. It may not be best of class in every category, but it's beginning to check all of the boxes.

And it is growing to understand, what you need to grasp before you end up like the newspaper editors muttering to themselves and wondering how it all got past them. The world is shifting quickly, and it's time react now before you end up like them.

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