“Lean IT” Begins with the Application


Share on LinkedIn

James Carville, the democratic operative and self-styled “Ragin’ Cajun,” is famously credited with the rally cry that focused the Clinton campaign to an assured victory in 1992. “It’s the economy, stupid” was a remarkably simple and effective reminder of what mattered most and a cautionary statement against wayward thinking.

The phrase was so powerful in its simplicity that Clinton hung a sign as a constant reminder that overwrought strategies are often a distraction from the issues that matter.

IT leadership is experiencing a similar enlightenment these days as cost pressures and the rise of virtualization and cloud force a rethinking of IT’s relationship with infrastructure. After decades of building out increasingly complex layers of bloated infrastructure, it’s time for IT to issue a rally cry of its own: “It’s the application, stupid.”

The reality is that infrastructure has no inherent value—its value is directly related to its role in enabling an application that delivers value to the business. You can be sure that lines of business don’t care about infrastructure. Not even a little.

What they do care about are applications (and I won’t call you stupid).

So, why have most IT organizations become so focused on infrastructure?

We’ll take on that very question with “‘Lean IT’ Begins and Ends with the Application,” a webinar hosted by rPath and including Glenn O’Donnell of Forrester and Vic Nyman of BlueStripe Software. Be sure to join us on Wednesday, June 3 at 2pm ET.

The premise behind the discussion is that the convergence of three macro trends is forcing a shift from infrastructure to applications as the new context for IT. It’s not a shift that IT can prevent or delay because these trends, collectively, are a juggernaut:

Virtualization – is abstracting the application from hardware infrastructure and forcing a movement toward managing applications as self-contained systems.

Cloud computing – is forcing a shift to a more application-centric way of thinking, where self-contained systems can be deployed and managed anywhere.

Cost reduction mandates – are both driving these previous two trends, while also forcing IT organizations to find creative ways to do more with less through automation, consolidation and streamlined, lighter-weight approaches to IT. Yesterday’s high-overhead models are giving way to leaner approaches to delivering business value.

At rPath, this is all music to our ears. rPath automates the packaging, deployment and maintenance of self-contained systems that are ready to run in any physical, virtual or cloud-based environment. Our model begins with the application and binds to it only the infrastructure components it requires to run—no more, no less. It then delivers a self-contained system that is ready to deploy—in virtually any environment. All the dependencies between the components within the system are captured and managed under strong version control, which provides a basis for automating maintenance of the running systems—with absolutely no conflicts or collisions.

Unlike yesterday’s model to application delivery, this approach dramatically reduces the emphasis on infrastructure—instead focusing on applications.

As IT organizations look forward, they’re realizing that the old infrastructure-centric computing model must give way to an application-centric model, which is lightweight, low-overhead and more aligned to emerging computing models like virtualization and cloud. But while virtualization and cloud may be forcing the architectural shift, the more important factor is purely economic: Traditional infrastructure-centric computing models are no longer cost justifiable—particularly when leaner alternatives exist.

I can almost see the sign on the CIO’s wall.


  1. Jake

    If Lean starts with really understanding what customers value, then logically Lean IT should be all about understanding the jobs that users are trying to do and the business outcomes they are trying to achieve by doing them. How refreshing if instead of infrastructure, or even applications, Lean IT focussed on enabling users to do their work better than they can today. That means just enough technology, tools and applications to enable users to do their current work and the ikely changes in their work in the next three years. The technology, tools and applications will be obsolete by then anyway and will already have depreciated to zero dollar value anyway.

    In my time at Toyota Germany we trialled an expensive marketing campaigning application from Unica (Affinium). But its excessive cost, unnecessary complexity and the overwhelming lack of customer-centricity of the Unica company resulted in it being kicked out of Toyota and replaced with a simpler, more effective and cheaper solution based on off-the-shelf applications with simple middleware, that enabled campaigning jobs/outcomes to be done much more effectively. Lean IT in its truest form.

    Jobs are the future of Lean IT, not applications. That is still an IT-centric view, not a customer-centric one.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

    Interested in Customer Driven Innovation? Join the Customer Driven Innovation groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more.

    Further Reading:

    Graham Hill, Piloting is Critical for Successful CRM Technology Implementation

  2. I’ve worked in IT sales for over 20 years, and I am the first to say that when it comes to pushing technology at the expense of understanding how people work and what outcomes they require, we’re guilty as charged. But the practice is pervasive.

    One comment underscores how easy it is to lose sight of what matters, ending up with the result Graham describes at Toyota: When I taught a college course called Strategic Uses of Information Technology, one student remarked about our case study by saying “our goal is to get a PC on the desk of every worker.” That student had a long career in the US Government, but he could have worked in private industry and developed the same myopia.

    The goal isn’t to get every worker a desktop, or infrastructure, or servers, or applications. It’s to enable them to share information, to get answers when and how they need them, and to become more productive. Unfortunately, I’ve seen more IT projects slide off the rails when outcomes are forgotten and the “goal” becomes something that by itself doesn’t really offer value.

    IT vendors who help clients keep outcomes in clear focus provide a valuable and needed service.

  3. Graham,

    I seriously doubt that Steve Jobs took an it’s-all-about-the-job approach in driving Apple Mac designs and innovations like the iPod, iTunes and the iPhone. No pun intended.

    What “jobs” are the iPhone users trying to accomplish that are different from the jobs of non-iPhone users?

    It seems to me that there is still a place in this world for innovators that are willing to dream big and try something new, without necessarily driving everything based on customer research.

    Frankly, the really big hits in the market don’t seem to be about customers’ jobs at all, but rather about enjoyment, fitting in, and feeling good.

    Do people really want to do “jobs” or to enjoy life?

    Bob Thompson, CustomerThink Corp.
    Blog: Unconventional Wisdom

  4. Bob

    I am pleased that you raised Apple and in particular, the iPhone. It provides the perfect opportunity to show how jobs/outcomes thinking already pervades much of what we recognise as excellence in experience design today.

    The iPhone is much more than just a mobile telephone. Its sub-standard technology means that it would have to be to have done anywhere near as well as it has done in the market. Initially, the iPhone was successful because it was the first handset that was designed with usability in mind, particularly Internet usability. Even though Apple’s iPhone team may not have talked about jobs/outcomes, they most certainly had them in mind in designing such a highly usable interface. Today, the user interface has been copied by other handset makers and is no longer truly unique. What currently makes it unique is the iPhone applications store. Currently, the store offers over 35,000 applications, which have been downloaded over 1 Billion times to-date. If you look at the applications and how they are communcated in advertising, they all describe simple customer jobs that each application does extremely well. For example some of the top selling applications are:

    • Facebook: Job = ‘Stay connected with your network’
    • Shazam: Job = ‘Find out what song is playing’
    • Things: Job = ‘Manage tasks and get things done’
    • Yelp: Job = ‘Read reviews of places near you’
    • Fieldrunners: Job = ‘Play a game of tactical strategy’
    • The list is endless…take a look for yourself at the Apple iPhone webpage

    Part of the common confusion about jobs is that they do not only include functional jobs like Facebook’s ‘stay connected with your network’. They also include ’emotional jobs’ that descibe how the customers want to feel about themself, such as ‘be proud of having the latest technology’ and ‘social jobs’ that descibe how they want others to see them, such as ‘be seen as a technology trend setter’. These emotional and social jobs are often just as important as the functional jobs, such as, where they involve discretionary expenditure and particularly, luxury items. See the Harvard Business Review article by Tony Ulwick on What is Outcome-driven Innovation? for further details of jobs/outcomes thinking.

    Whether you or I like the jobs/outcomes thinking is immaterial. The fact is that it does provide a provem way to describe what customers value, better than the best alternatives currently avialable. Knowing what jobs/outcomes customers want to achieve in no way constrains innovators creativity in coming up with superior solutions to help customers get them done. It also provides a proven way to decrease the acknowledged failure rate for idea-driven inventions of 80% for newly introduced products and 60% for reintroduced ones. In contrast, outcome-driven innovation has an acknowledged success rate of 80%. I know which number I and the vast majority of innovators would prefer.

    Like you, I want to live life as much as I want to do value-added work. Jobs/outcomes thinking provides innovators with a tool to understand both.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

    Interested in Customer Driven Innovation? Join the Customer Driven Innovation groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here