Digital disrupters do it differently

A small group of up-and-coming IT service providers are disrupting the traditional ITO market by helping their clients grow, rather than focusing on reducing cost — while making the world a better place, to boot.

square peg round hole
Credit: Pixabay

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo.”

For those of you old enough to remember the "Think different" advertising campaign created by Apple in the late ‘90s, you may recall that this quote coincided with the resurgence of Apple as a consumer product juggernaut. Steve Jobs, as the newly minted CEO, greenlighted the “Think different” slogan as a way to announce that Apple was back.

Although it may not seem apropos to compare a company that has literally changed the world to a set of IT service providers with revenues that, combined, would be a rounding error to an Apple accountant, in some ways their aspirations are just as big. And that’s exactly what makes them so formidable.

These plucky upstarts are not thinking about squeezing out 10% growth by doing things better, faster or cheaper than their much larger competitors. Nor are they using their diminutive size to provide a more personalized experience for their clients. Rather, they are attacking this like Apple or Google would: They want to change the world.

You don’t make the world a better place by running someone’s infrastructure cheaper. You do it by creating technology that changes the lives of your clients’ customers, all while making the lives your employees better. And that is exactly what these digital disrupters are doing, much to the consternation of their much larger western and India heritage competition.

The skeptic in you may be wondering what’s actually different from the dozens of other IT service providers you’ve encountered over the years. Here are a few of the differences:

  • They focus on growth. These firms are laser-focused on helping their clients grow the top line through the digitization of existing products and services, and by rethinking entire business models. The justification in hiring them is not how much cost they’ll take out for a specific function, but how to avoid having the entire business being Uberized.
  • They focus their efforts on front- and middle-office transformation. You’ll find the digital disrupters working with the chief marketing officer, the chief transformation officer and client P&L leaders just as often as with IT. Running legacy infrastructure and apps at a lower price point is not what they’re chasing. Don’t be surprised if they decline this work, even if it means missing out on a transformation opportunity. They know what they are good at, and they stick to their knitting.
  • They know your business vertical better than you do. These companies deeply understand a small and specific set of industry verticals, which today consists primarily of financial services, telecommunications, manufacturing and retail. They go deep rather than wide. They are not trying to be everything to everyone.
  • They hire rock stars. The disrupters focus on hiring two kinds of people: millennial-age software engineers and seasoned Gen Xers who have deep experience in transformation and innovation, usually with a consumer products bent. All are strong in design, data or both. They are whip-smart, driven by innovation and sharing knowledge, and they treat their clients like royalty.   
  • They look like software companies. Significant research and development budgets represent the lifeblood of these organizations. That’s because they are focused on building reusable software platforms they can take into clients to rapidly get a prototype product out the door — often in 12 weeks or less. Making your best engineers nonbillable in order to build platforms that can then sell services is a complex operational task that takes a massive commitment from management. Digital disrupters embed this commitment into their operating model.
  • They weave the golden rule into the DNA of the company. While we’re all taught at an early age to treat others as we’d like to be treated, this rule, unfortunately, tends to get forgotten in the cutthroat world of enterprise technology. These companies are finding ways to do good, all while producing very strong financial results. This is led from the very top. These companies genuinely want to make the lives of their clients and employees better.

Do all digital troublemakers share all of these characteristics? No. But a large percentage of them do. What is common among all of them is that they have no respect for the status quo.

And that’s what has traditional IT services leaders looking over their shoulder.

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