Let Logic Prevail
For the Air New Zealand/Ansett group, each product and section in IT became its own entity and a single IT project might have a budget of $100 million - probably more revenue than Kendall was making 10 years ago. Adams says when project budgets are so big you tend to get little quasi organisations within organisations. That tends to make everything more difficult, as teams worry more about administration than the project itself.
He says smaller IT shops usually better recognise the need to break problems down into more logical units. They also know that no one-size-fits-all policy can meet every need. For instance, Adams acted as quasi IT adviser to tiny Aero Pelican, part of the Ansett/Air New Zealand group, but never tried to apply solutions that suited Kendall (with revenues of $200 million) towards an organisation with a revenue of perhaps $10 million a year the way Ansett did to Kendall.
And he says smaller shops, like the smaller companies they work for, tend to be much more flexible about changing to suit the times. Much more so than at Ansett, IT at Kendall was seen as an integral part of the business by management, particularly once the organisation got its first female CEO.
"She recognised the basically parallel integration between anything IT and the way the business ran; I mean, there were not many parts of the business that IT didn't touch. And when she came on board she recognised this and made my position part of the executive management team," Adams says. "In a smaller organisation it's relatively easier to change those sorts of things. You don't have the organisational politics of this huge structure so they can come in and back those sorts of changes without any huge ramifications down the line."
Smaller organisations are also more resistant to fads and hype, he says, not to mention catch-all policies that take no account of individual realities. When large organisations were jumping on the outsourcing bandwagon, smaller ones were much more likely to be selective about when and where they outsourced. "Outsourcing is a great idea in certain areas and a stupid idea in others," says Adams. "So you don't have a policy of outsourcing everything, you have a policy of outsourcing where it benefits your particular business, and you have a policy of doing it in-house where it suits your particular business.
"When you get to a large organisation the policy seems to override the common sense. So, there's a policy that we're going to outsource all our desktop support, even if there is some specialist internal application that nobody out there who is an outsourcing company can provide. Because it's policy to outsource, they outsource it."
Small Companies, Big Opportunities
Small IT shops may not be able to attract staff on the basis of big and sexy projects, but they can reel them in by stressing the opportunity to develop new technical skills and to work closely with businesspeople. For example, Ash says Blockbuster is very big on cross-training and multiskilling, and finds this can lead to much greater employee satisfaction.
"It actually means the people you've got working for you are more satisfied so they're more challenged by their role and therefore tend to stay," he says. "But secondly what it does when you cross-skill people is that you tend to get fresh eyes on a particular subject or task. They may say: 'I know you do it like this, but why? Maybe we could do it this way.' We've had a number of issues come up where we've actually improved a process by having a fresh set of eyes looking at something. It was working okay before, but there's a better way of doing it."
And smaller shops often know how to save on consultants too. For instance Tomago Aluminium has reduced its consulting costs around SAP by forming a local network of SAP users. "As the Hunter [Valley, NSW] has a large number of manufacturing companies, we have a high degree of synergy in what we are trying to do with an ERP system," Cameron says. "Rather than ring a consultant for chargeable advice, we are trying to leverage off each other's experience. It is quite different to being part of the official SAP user group SAUG, which poses certain limitations of attendance due to our distance from Sydney.
"The group is still in early days and has long way to go to achieve regular information exchange, but is a good step forward," Cameron says.
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