by Chris Noonan Sturm
The Internet has a reputation for libertarianism -- the old information wants to be free mentality. People who work in the Internet business, who really labor in the trenches and are passionate about what they do, are often a breed apart from others. At the risk of over-generalizing, Internet workers have:
- A start-up, innovate-all-the-time attitude. Anything is possible if you work long and hard enough.
- High standards: Do it fast but do it right and as professionally as possible, because anything you put up on the Net must compete in a crowded, public and competitive market space.
- A creative and problem-solving approach: You're doing something new, tackling projects and products never created before, so problems are to be expected. If your Internet initiatives experience no problems, you're not pushing the edge of the envelope.
- A team approach: Hierarchy can be an anathema in the everyday world of Internet workers who have to rely on each other to keep the project growing.
- Expectations of commitments of monetary investment: Internet projects are not cheap and are likely to cost more than expected -- especially if they are successful. The best sign of a project's success is for it to go over budget -- it's being forced to grow faster than expected to meet user demand.
- A rational sensibility. Internet workers do not question the value of the Net. Its value is ingrained so deeply that they can't fathom why anyone wouldn't see its value immediately. They will challenge authority and question management about its commitment to the Internet.
These folks can be an asset, but also a challenge to the status quo at a Fortune 1000. They have intellecutual and technical powers that, if harnessed, can take a company in directions it can't yet see. These people are new product developers -- and because they're riding the crest of the Internet wave, the Fortune 1000 can rely on them to help it adapt to something so fast moving it could never keep up, no matter how many consultants it hired. The team acts as an in-house consultancy on the Internet and how it can be applied to the corporation's goals.
The Internet industry and the high tech industry in general regularly hire staff on short-term contracts or as outside consultants. To a Fortune 1000, that's just a quick fix. Certainly a consultant can give a company's Internet initiative a jump start, but over the long term, it simply delays truly integrating the Internet way of work into the company. Because the company isn't sure how it can best use or benefit from the Internet over the long term, it must have internal staff to help it keep up to date on screaming fast Internet developments. Think of it as an internal Internet SWAT team and new product incubator.
This team must be comprised of full-time, regular employees because it is they who will best know the company's products, market, employees, audiences, communication style and culture. And once they see an opportunity and propose it to management, it is they who will be trusted to implement an Internet project in the style and professional manner befitting the company. Hiring regular Internet staff is all the more important because, sometimes, the advent of a serious Internet initiative can be perceived as a threat by corporate stakeholders in production, communications, and sometimes the MIS department.
The Internet and the MIS/IT department
The MIS or IT department of a large company -- those folks responsible for the company's computer hardware, software, network -- sometimes feels threatened by the creation of an in-house Internet department. In many companies, it was often the MIS department that first brought the Internet and its possibilities to the attention of management -- much to its credit.
They fought the good fight, but it's a misnomer to place a corporate Internet effort in the hands of the tech department alone. In fact, just as the mainframe to PC revolution brought computing power to the masses, -- demystifying them for the rest of us -- so does the networking revolution from local area network to global Internet demystify the power of networking for all of us. The network no longer is about only technology -- it's about business and communication. The MIS department is not familiar with corporate audiences, communication style, marketing/PR goals, nor in many cases is it involved in product production and distribution.
What MIS/IT will continue to be reponsible for is the integrity, efficiency, and scalability of the network -- intranet or extranet -- and bandwidth and security. But it will likely not set corporate Internet strategy or initiate Internet projects or products.
The setting of strategy and the creation and launch of Internet products will become the province of an Internet Team or Department that crosses disciplines and could reside within MIS/IT if given enough freedom. It will include content people, technical people, and marketing/pr people, among others. Their values -- to innovate all the time, to tackle the new, to challenge the status quo -- will provide the greatest value (and sometimes pain) to the organization as it makes new business using the Internet. It's a marriage of technology and entrepreneurship in the corporate structure.
Through the work of an Internet Department and MIS/IT, Internet technology will become so pervasive that in the best companies it will be diffused throughout the corporation. As employees become more Net savvy, they will see new possibilities to harness the Internet to serve company goals, making...
...innovation your business.