• 06/04/2015
    8:00 AM
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What IT Can Learn From Hollywood

The film industry has undergone a dramatic shift in how movies are made, and IT management can benefit from a similar transformation.

In the very early days of Hollywood, major movie studios owned every aspect of the filmmaking process, from contracts with stars down to the camera crew and catering arrangements. After a century of technological changes, economic shifts and legal battles over control, today's movie industry looks dramatically different. Now, the process starts with a producer finding independent contractors to handle screenwriting, editing, set design and the others tasks required to make the film. The producer then marshals these resources to finish the project on time and on budget.

IT executives can understand this shift from internal to outsourced project and process management all too well.

It wasn't long ago that a typical business application was handled in the same manner as the early days of movie studios. The CIO had a large captive staff, with analysts to design the requirements (the IT equivalent of screenwriters), programmers (actors and actresses), database analysts and system administrators (set designers) and quality assurance staff (editors). IT staff built and supported customized applications, had long tenures at their companies to support what they had created and knew what they would be working on for lengthy periods -- sometimes for years, sometimes for entire careers.

The paradigm shift brought about by the cloud, "as-a-service" offerings, and managed services has transformed IT's role to focus more on the management of an ecosystem than writing code, running cables and managing servers. The availability of services has enabled IT teams to be more agile and significantly more outcome-focused. That redirection marked a productivity leap for the old model of IT. The same group of IT staff could produce more by beginning with packaged solutions, rather than starting from scratch. And this was immensely successful for both the vendors and companies implementing these packages.

The Internet accelerated the pace of technological changes, much like Hollywood's swift evolution. Packaged applications in the 1980s from the likes of Oracle and SAP foreshadowed what was to come by making enterprise software developers more productive. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications came into existence, and new generations of integration platforms were launched to support both hosted and on-premises applications.

These new paradigms took those early productivity gains across the entire IT organization. New consulting firms and independent contractors began to thrive on building expertise in outsourced software. It's much easier to develop expertise and a practice when you don't need a Fortune 500 infrastructure just to have a sandbox for learning a product.

Fast forward to today, and the CIO's role looks similar to today's movie producer. For a given business need, the platform is more and more likely to be a SaaS application or running on PaaS or IaaS, just like filmmakers rent studios and shooting locations. Implementation and configuration are handled by specialized resources in the form of independent consultants or boutique firms focused on specific platforms. Education and end-user support may be handled by third-party groups with platform expertise as well.

The IT staff, minimized to a handful of highly effective resources (like assistant producers), are focused on truly understanding the business needs and how it operates. It must then ensure that IT meets those needs, assembling internal and external resources to create a complete portfolio of capabilities.

There are myriad benefits to this evolving landscape. Freed from managing the development of multiple business-specific applications, CIOs can focus their energies on finding the right applications to fit their organizational needs and budgets. Film studios have capitalized on outsourcing by producing more movies and greatly improving the amount of revenue they can generate from films. It's the same for IT departments. Less time spent creating solutions from scratch has resulted in more time working and applying solutions to streamline processes and support business goals.

It's an adjustment for IT organizations, but the new paradigm makes businesses more agile and more successful. And while end users (and modern moviegoers) may not be aware of any differences behind he scenes, the resources saved in development lead to better IT -- and better movies -- The across the board. 


Re: What IT Can Learn From Hollywood

Your analogy starts out strong here, Mike, but I don't think it quite reaches the finish line. Most industries have transformed since their inception, and IT is certainly no exception, but a 1:1 comparison seems odd for several reasons. The idea that outsourcing vs doing everything in-house is black-and-white that seems to be presented here is one such oddity: with the increasing complexity of the infrastructure that these SaaS and PaaS offerings sit on top of thanks to SDN, NFV, containers, and much more, there's still a huge demand for dedicated staff to integrate, manage, and support the hardware & software that sits in-house on your end. This goes hand-in-hand with outsourcing. Companies of all sizes report tons of trouble filling positions for cloud specialists, data scientists, and yes, still software developers, so IT is definitely not relegated to a straight managerial role just yet.

As for the need to integrate more directly with business needs, I agree wholeheartedly, but I'd say that's being more streamlined into a DevOps-style approach along with existing functions rather than replacing them. You said "and while end users (and modern moviegoers) may not be aware of any differences behind the scenes"... but I get the impression that most people do notice a difference. Modern movies are cited as being soulless, pandering cashgrabs that don't challenge people at all - and most don't think they're better. We wouldn't want IT to be like that, would we? The movie industry is certainly still big bucks, but in many ways it's also an example of a slow-moving, monolothic industry that hasn't changed enough, and is actually outpaced in profit margins/innovation by it's entertainment cousins in the game and home-streaming industries. Don't we want IT to be more like them?

Re: What IT Can Learn From Hollywood

The evolution of the economy and its current stage of progress are vital for a business to understand/measure in-order to remain profitable.

Back in the early days of coal mining, the market was in a state that coal mines had to produce, design and re-design stream engines. The market did not have any producers of stream engines. However, over time as the market matured, producers began to appear and a stream engine could be bought -- the coal mine just needed to hire the engineers that were capable of operating the engines.

The result is that as division of labor and specialization can make a business efficient, in the same way, utilizing a supply chain and partnering with strategic partners will also make a business efficient.