Thursday, April 22, 2010

Architects, IT Shops, and Dairy Farms

We learned the other day that Marc Pincus, the guy who's company created Farmville is worth like 5 billion dollars.  This is understandable as I would be willing to pay half that much to keep his stupid updates off Facebook.  I like my friends and all, but I am not the least bit concerned with their electronic chickens, theoretical crop sales, or the disposition of their little lost digital sheep.

It did get me to thinking about farms, though.

I am not a Dairy Farmer, nor do I play one on TV.  My first-hand experience with the Dairy business begins and ends at the local grocery store, or more specifically, with that one chilly isle that has the milk, cheese, and frozen Snickers.  I can only imagine the effort it takes to get fresh, cold, sanitized milk to the mega-munchie complex day after day.  Consider what is important to a dairy farmer:
  • cows
  • milking machines
  • grass
  • hay balers
  • combines
If you don't recognize the last two entries they are machines important in the task of feeding the first item. So, cows it would seem, are very important to dairy farmers.  Now let's say you are a foreman of a dairyopolis, responsible for critical functions such as barn door locks, weather vane grease, and fence posts.  This puts you in the same relative position as a typical IT group - not actually part of the business, but still important to the success of the business.

Furthermore let's say you need to replace a rotted, broken fence post as a result of 'bugs.'  Being a college edumacated up and coming go-getter, you decide to ask the CEO for funding to replace the post.  But - because you are looking after the business, you approach your cows-are-everything-to-us CEO carefully.

You explain that you need funding to replace the fence post, but before he says yes, he should really consider letting you buy a Fencepost 3000.  While a large wooden dowel-rod would suffice, the Fencepost 3000 installs faster, goes deeper, and can support any kind of fence including barbed wire, wooden planks, chain links, and even lightly buttered truffles.  Furthermore, Fencepost 3000 is in the Gartner Magic Quadrant, and while the upfront price is more than the aforementioned pine stick, it can also be used as a flotation device, a kayak, or ballast for a hot air balloon.

Seriously?  Seriously - you'd sound like a loon.  From the CEO's perspective his business is based on cows, milk, food, more food, and transportation.  True, keeping his cows on the ranch is important, but why would he move from a reliable, industry acceptable, time-tested solution to one that does not generate any revenue, produce more milk, or harvest any additional food?

Sometimes I think we sound like fence-geeks to the Farmville CxOs and lose all credibility for two reasons.  First, however great our 'Fencepost 3000s' are, they are never going to increase market share.  Secondly, while the 3000 might, over time, reduce some costs - focusing on that element merely reinforces the notion that IT is a cost center, and suggests that your value to the company is based on how cheap you can do the job.  This is bad.

As architects our value should be based on designing solutions which provide more business capabilities.  Appreciate your FP3000 for all its technical splendor, but keep focused on what is really important - producing more milk, milk products, milk services, better milk, faster milk, customizable milk, and dare I say it - greener milk!

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