Fighting IT’s “The Grass Is Greener” Syndrome

When an IT department lets a business leave its core market to seek higher profits, the company can stall.
When an IT department lets a business leave its core market to seek higher profits, the company can stall.

Businesses and IT departments can be going along just fine when all of a sudden, the business goes into what is called a “stall”. Just like being in an airplane that goes into a stall, this is by no means a good thing! When a business goes into a stall, more often than not it won’t recover. The most dangerous part about a stall is that you don’t see them coming – everything is fine until it isn’t. We’ve talked about some different causes of stalls including having a premium product; however, there’s another reason and the IT department plays a big role in this one.

Most companies have a small set of products or markets that they currently serve. If the company is successful, then they are probably doing a good job. The IT department has probably become optimized to support both the products and the teams that are serving these markets. All is good. Then the “… grass is greener on the other side of the fence…” syndrome strikes senior management and they decide to take the company in a new direction in order to pursue more profitable markets. Of course what this means is that you need to abandon the core markets that are currently serving you so well. By doing this you won’t be able to exploit any future growth that occurs in your existing markets.

Now lets be honest here, these kinds of right hand turns made by businesses rarely show up all that dramatically – at first. Instead they have a habit of sneaking in from the sides as purchases of other companies or top down mandated growth initiatives in brand new areas of business that seem to have nothing to do with the company’s current customers, or products, or partners (can anyone say “Ebay buys Skype?”).

If you are looking for proof that this kind of abandonment of successful markets still goes on in today’s modern business environment, just open the paper and see all of the articles that are talking about public companies being bought out by private equity firms. Clearly something went terribly wrong and outsiders were able to step in. In almost every case when this kind of takeover happens, the new owners of the firm will implement a strategy for returning to what originally made the company successful and growing the core again.

Why do companies and their IT departments make these mistakes? There are two primary reasons. The first is that the company mistakenly believes that their core market(s) has become saturated. This belief is due in part to the information that the senior management is receiving from the IT department. It’s the CIO’s responsibility to evaluate the data that his/her department is producing and understand what it is saying. Just because it looks like a market is all tapped out, does not necessarily mean that it is so. Instead, this is when the CIO needs to work closely with the marketing team to find different ways to measure the market.

The second cause of a firm leaving a successful market is because they feel that there are operational impediments in their core business model. This happens when senior management just despairs of being able to solve business problems that are currently confronting the company. Instead of trying to solve them, they instead decide to move to other markets which won’t have the same problems. Once again, the CIO and the IT department play a big role in this decision. There should be no business problems that the IT department can’t help the rest of the company come to grips with. Whether it’s tracking sales and who is buying products more closely or collecting data on how the competition is doing, the IT department can help to create solutions to almost any business problem.

Leaving a successful market is never a good idea. IT staff should be on the alert whenever they start to hear the word “mature” being used to describe the company’s business situation. IT has a role to play in making sure that the company sticks with markets and customers that will serve it for a long time.

Have you ever worked for a firm that left it’s successful market in search of greener pastures? How did this all turn out in the end? Has a IT department in which you worked ever been able to stop a company from making a bad business direction decision? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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