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What IT Can Learn From Hollywood

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.