In one outsourcing deal I led at ICI, a 100-strong team of SAP project experts was transferred over to what is now Atos Origin. I was accused of losing ‘a jewel in the crown’, but it was quite the reverse – a team of SAP experts is rewarded through, and continually develops its expertise through, vigorous project implementation. Restrained within the corporate boundaries of ICI plc, they were a pride of hungry lions, always needing to be fed with the red meat of yet more SAP projects rather than the bland scraps of systems maintenance and continual improvement.
Under the aegis of Atos Origin, they could flex their muscles in a broader marketplace and I could access talent pools relevant to my needs as and when business needs dictated. My critics saw a technological world: ERP was the new software breakthrough, and SAP was its prophet. To me, it was the people, stupid.
A decade on, it is even clearer to me that the business of the IT industry is now first and foremost about people and not technology. People come with a wide diversity of innate competencies, trained skills and gained experience, and working out who is most fit for what purpose and building people processes and culture to sustainably deliver competitive value is the prime challenge for management.
Technology doesn’t self-innovate: the right kind of people in the right environment innovate technology. The engine room may be so automated that it will chunter on regardless, but a globally competitive Googleplex is a tribute to highly focused technological craftsmanship endlessly innovating and improving service capacity, quality and reliability along with a soaring asset productivity. As with the chemical industry, IT is now so all-pervasive that to remove applied IT would be to end society as we know it, and so in the endless sub-verticals and niches of our economy, highly focused application craftsmanship endlessly innovates and improves value-add in a great diversity of ways.
And so, when the sustainable competitiveness of businesses is to be strategically addressed, at the heart of the challenge is people. We may call it the Information Technology industry, but in reality – It’s the Humans, Stupid!