Why CIOs should be horticulturists, not big game hunters

banish waste

Editor’s note: This blog post was originally published on cio.com.

Question: How do you eat an elephant?

I first heard this amusing question 10 years ago from an enterprise content management (ECM) expert, Byron Aulick. He posed this conundrum in an educational video series while addressing the formidable challenge of rolling out an ECM solution as a standard across an entire enterprise.

The answer he gave? One bite at a time (of course!).

While this analogy helped explain how a massive, seemingly overwhelming ECM project should be approached (one small, manageable step at a time), it still left two important questions in my mind, all but begging for an answer:

1. Who actually wants to eat an elephant anyway?

2. How long would that even take?

Unfortunately, this analogy likened the task of rolling out an ECM solution across an entire enterprise to that of a big game hunter, wrestling a gargantuan animal to the ground and then taking part in the unappetizing, heart-burn causing, time-consuming and ultimately overwhelming experience of eating it. (Ugh, I’m not enjoying this mental picture one bit.)

Now, I know this was not Byron’s point. He was one of the earliest educators of ECM technologies and was certainly not trying to scare people off. His illustration simply addressed the reality many faced while approaching huge, enterprise-wide IT projects.

“Enterprise” doesn’t have to mean “Elephant”

For ECM in particular, the concept already sounds mammoth because it contains the word “enterprise.” In this context, Byron was right. The challenge of finding, buying and implementing one system that meets the needs of every department, every process and every user – all while enforcing content standardization within a centralized system – is a big, overwhelming elephant of a project. For many organizations that simply don’t have the time or desire to “eat an elephant” like this, it’s too overwhelming.

So, should the idea behind finding one content management system for the enterprise be something that should be left alone and effectively put out to pasture?

Absolutely not.

Today, there’s an ever-increasing desire amongst CIOs to control application sprawl, minimize information silos and consolidate IT systems. I’d argue that the very idea of investing in a single, comprehensive system is more relevant and appealing than ever. Instead of viewing this as a behemoth-like challenge, let’s frame it with a much better question.

How does your garden grow?

My father-in-law is a keen gardener and maintains a plot about the size of a tennis court. From this one location, he grows a fantastic range of plants that produce delicious food: Sweetcorn, chilies, tomatoes, strawberries, potatoes, peas, radishes, lettuce, cilantro, zucchini (coriander and courgettes, respectively, if you are British like me), runner beans and so many more I can’t even recall.

He grows more than our family could ever eat, so my in-laws give most of it away. Their friends and family all have different favorites. I, for one, load up on sweetcorn, coriander and courgettes, but don’t particularly like peas or eat a lot of potatoes. Other friends with different tastes come by and load up on peas, potatoes and the like.

Why am I now talking about plants instead of elephants?

Meeting an abundance of tastes and needs – with one solution

Because the huge variety of food available in the plant world is a good way to think about the different solution and application requirements across an enterprise. CIOs and IT leaders need to stop thinking of themselves as big game hunters and more like horticulturists. Instead of hunting for and forcing the same, unappetizing elephant-like system down everyone’s throats, the horticulturist CIO delivers a variety of appetizing solutions to the different areas of the organization, meeting the abundance of tastes and needs.

But, how does an IT leader accomplish this without buying hundreds of different, disconnected, niche applications, off the shelf?

One day, as a newly married man, I walked into my in-laws house to make dinner, carrying a bag of potatoes I’d just bought off the shelf in the store. My father-in-law looked at me with a look of disgust on his face and said, “What are those?! You know we already have those growing right outside, right?! What a waste!” and then stomped off. I was pretty embarrassed.

You see, he doesn’t buy things off the shelf. He’s a true horticulturist who had already done the ground work, invested his time and effort into his garden to grow everything he could need. That’s his strategy and I had inadvertently trampled all over it (and his pride).

What do gardens have to do with enterprise software?

A lot, as it turns out! Forward-thinking organizations think beyond what’s available “off the shelf” and grow their own solutions. In this case, the “garden” is a software platform on which solutions can be easily configured and cultivated, where all the groundwork and infrastructure for creating these applications has already been done.

I’m NOT saying, “Build applications from scratch with custom code.” This would be akin to taking a sledgehammer to break new ground every time you wanted a potato. Today’s low-code, ready-made platforms allow the rapid creation of solutions and applications that can meet your exact specifications.

OnBase by Hyland is one such platform, built on a very secure bedrock that includes the rich, fertile features of ECM, case management, business process management, mobile, capture, enterprise integrations and cloud technologies. Using this platform, many organizations – across all industries and around the globe – meet their diverse needs by creating an eco-system of content-enabled, inter-connected applications that all share the same security protocols and document repository.

If the concept of ECM was previously unappetizing to you, you can put the Alka-Seltzer away and stop eyeing up Dumbo. Invest in a rich software platform, start planting ideas and you’ll have your very own cornucopia of applications before you know it.

Would you like to read about an example? Check out this case study.

Glenn Gibson is Director, Global Technology Evangelist at Hyland. With 20 years working in the IT industry, he’s collected several certifications over the years as a VMware Certified Professional, Citrix Certified Administrator and Microsoft Certified Professional. As a self-proclaimed “presentation junkie”, he is very passionate about everything that goes along with public speaking, and has picked up a few awards along the way too. A native of Scotland, his passions outside of work include all things Scottish; kilts, bagpipes, whisky, (real) football and is often heard beating a drum or two in his spare time.
Glenn Gibson

Glenn Gibson

Glenn Gibson is Director, Global Technology Evangelist at Hyland. With 20 years working in the IT industry, he’s collected several certifications over the years as a VMware Certified Professional, Citrix... read more about: Glenn Gibson