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4 ideas to steal from IT upstarts

Beth Stackpole | Dec. 13, 2013
When startups grow up, their IT must mature as well. Here's how four hot companies are choosing tech that's serious but not stodgy.

To get a three-person, three-week project approved inside a traditional IT organization takes longer than three weeks. Leigh McMullen, Gartner

Here, IT needs to play by a totally different set of rules, McMullen says, applying a startup mentality to establish lean teams and new development models. "This is a very different organization that employs different funding and governance models and operates at a different tempo," he explains.

"The things that are going to help the front office are typically smaller, not the big monolithic ERP system" — and IT typically doesn't have the ability to do little things, McMullen says. "To get a three-person, three-week project approved inside a traditional IT organization takes longer than three weeks. It's just not built to do that."

What else can enterprises learn from the young guns just now entering IT adolescence? Read on for ideas to steal from rising stars MongoDB, Square, Plum Organics and Alex and Ani.

Idea No. 1: SaaS speeds delivery
One near-universal way startups are injecting agility into their IT infrastructure is by ditching the monolithic enterprise application in favor of SaaS models, whether it's for back-office functions like order processing or front-office tasks like collaboration and brainstorming. Rather than building out a technology stack with discrete systems like ERP or CRM, today's startup firms are more focused on delivering cloud-based business capabilities that serve a particular purpose — for example, to help salespeople track leads or to facilitate collaboration among global team members.

"It's not just a cloud-first strategy, it's a capability strategy rather than an application focus," McMullen says. "Instead of procuring the best technology to deliver everything they need at once, they are focused on delivering what's good enough to get the mission done today. They are not hung up on the conventions of picking a platform and sticking to it."

We try to keep everything hosted and scalable as much as possible. Eliot Horowitz, MongoDB

While readily available cloud-based tools like Google Apps and Dropbox were the underpinnings of MongoDB's IT infrastructure, the firm stuck to the SaaS model as it branched out to enterprise functionality, Horowitz says. For example, the team uses Salesforce.com for CRM and is leveraging Cisco's Meraki cloud-based, managed Wi-Fi system to bring connectivity to its remote offices without having to staff up IT.

While Horowitz had initial concerns about the scalability of early SaaS tools, he says things have stabilized in the past five years and any risk associated with the cloud delivery model has dissipated. "We try to keep everything hosted and scalable as much as possible," he explains.

Under Horowitz's direction, the three-person IT team, in tandem with senior business leaders, created standard use and security policies. That allows business users to tap other SaaS tools at their discretion as long as they comply with the overall IT policies, Horowitz says.

 

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