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Protect your enterprise from 'Superstar Syndrome'

Choosing between best-of-breed point solutions or a single platform enterprise solution should be a strategic decision. Sometimes, better beats best.

Money versus intelligence

Best Processes
with Greg Lenox

You manage a diverse set of elements, each with its own particular capabilities, aimed at achieving the goals of an organization. What's your strategy? Spend your money on individual best-of-breed components? Or do you look for a solution that emphasizes and optimizes the overall performance of the enterprise?

I'm referring, of course, to major league baseball teams.

To illustrate my point, let's consider what every IT manager can learn from Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland Athletics. As Michael Lewis explains in his book Moneyball, Beane had one of the smallest payrolls in the league. Yet he beat teams that spent twice as much and more on their players (more than $100 million!).

Conventional wisdom can be dumb

To make a long story short, Beane took a fresh look at what it took to win games. His analysis found inefficiencies in how teams were built. In his model, players who got on base contributed more to scoring than home run superstars. Beane shifted his strategy to recruit undervalued players and started winning. In IT, our high-priced superstars are called best-of-breed applications. They are the legacy of point decisions driven by the needs of an organization without significant regard to what that organization's processes connect to.

Through the cycle of decentralization/centralization and mergers and acquisitions, we wound up with hundreds of applications that don't talk to each other. Force fits among proprietary databases limit us to soda-straw pipes when what we want are high-pressure fire hoses. For example, if the world's greatest help desk chokes when passing a work order to tech services, the repair takes longer to complete -- and costs more -- than it should.

Step back and take a holistic view

There's nothing inherently wrong with superstars. But if you're like Billy Beane, you can't afford to pay for a bench full of them and then manage their prima donna whims. To win, you need a roster of players who will play well together.

This parallels what I've seen in many years of business process reengineering for the Fortune 100. The barriers between disparate best-of-breed applications have compromised enterprise performance.

The remedy is to keep the big picture in mind while drilling down to the right level of granularity. In IT service delivery, for example, there is an overall process –- enable the enterprise –- which is supported by interdependent processes, such as procurement, moves, adds, changes, support, maintenance and repair operation, etc. The handoffs among these processes must be free and transparent for any hope of success.

Choose performance over perfection

As an IT manager, you're in the hot seat for end-to-end operation. The line-of-business VPs don't care whose asset management software you're running. They want the phones to work. If you implement a single-platform enterprise solution, the integration piece works much, much better. Applications are informed and connected through a single or even shared databases that are updated in real time. So a help desk incident can trigger a work order that specifies the pickup point for the replacement network card that's correct for the PC, while a pick order with the same inventory number goes out to the warehouse, setting up an RMA, and so on.

When better beats best

The kicker here is that with a single-platform enterprise solution, things usually run better at the organization level, too. Chances are, the best-of-breed applications imposed choke points and workarounds that were taken for granted. Take them away, and the point processes work much more efficiently.

Unless you're plagued by an oversized budget, I encourage you to think in terms of a single-platform enterprise solution. Just ask Billy Beane. During the 2002 season, his superstar-free recruiting strategy enabled the Oakland A's to break a 50-year-old record for back-to-back wins in the American League.

Greg Lenox, an expert in the processes, methods and practices of IT operations for customer support, help desk, asset management, inventory management, telecommunications management and change management, is president and CEO of Entuition Inc., a maker of operations management solutions in the infrastructure logistics marketplace. At Entuition and in previous positions, he led several major re-engineering projects. His clients included SunTrust Banks, Citibank, Target, GlaxoSmithKline, Baxter Healthcare, Nations Bank, Wachovia Bank, First Union Bank, BB&T, CCNB, CNA Insurance and others.

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