Corporate IT Done 'Lite'

CIOs are turning to cheap, lightweight tools to get the job done fast.

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In comparison, "with software from smaller vendors, it can take 20% to 40% less time to implement, and if it works, it could save you between three and eight times as much," Barron adds.

The catch, of course, is that it doesn't always work. But even failing seems to be cheaper than going with the big guys.

For example, CPS Energy bought a $250,000 business process modeling application that Barron says would have cost about $3 million had he purchased a similar system from SAP or Oracle Corp. Although it was a well-designed piece of software, the lower-cost package didn't work out because it didn't easily interface with CPS Energy's installed MQSeries middleware and would have cost another $250,000 to customize.

"In the end, it didn't work the way we needed it to work, but it cost $500,000, not $3 million," Barron says.

But lower cost is just one of many reasons users cite for turning to smaller, lighter, less-expensive technologies. Much of the newer, consumer-oriented Web 2.0 technology is also faster and far more effective in fostering communication and collaboration, which is a primary goal for organizations with increasingly dispersed workforces. The U.S. Department of Defense, for example, has adopted both Web-based chat and wikis as standard communication tools, even in battle.

"We have tactical war commanders who use small chat rooms on the battlefield, and we're leveraging wikis to enable us to more quickly develop shared intelligence on a particular situation or event," says Dave Mihelcic, chief technology officer at the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA).

Mihelcic says the DOD also has "free and ready access" to Intellipedia, an online system for collaborative data sharing that was developed and is used by the U.S. intelligence community. The system consists of multiple wikis used by individuals with appropriate clearances from more than a dozen agencies and national security organizations, including combatant commands.

"Before, we were using e-mail and PowerPoint, and you know the limitations of those technologies," Mihelcic says. "With a wiki, it takes seconds to get knowledge online."

"By providing collaboration on an enterprise level, we can also communicate across organizational boundaries," adds Rebecca Harris, head of global information grid enterprise services at DISA. "It provides us with a way to invite in, at a moment's notice, unanticipated users to help with problem resolution. It really is a different way of providing a traditional capability."

The overall goal is to "crush the hierarchy of information in the DOD," says John Garing, DISA's CIO and director for strategic planning. "The DOD has a chain of command, and information traditionally has had to go up through the chain of command, and decisions flow back down. Now, senior leaders want information to flow very quickly."

Garing says DISA IT personnel have visited Google Inc. several times to learn how the company handles product development. "They do things in small teams and bites and constant beta testing," he says. "They can add things to the network quickly, and if they're not a hit, they can kill them fast. We also need to be able to move things quickly before they get to be monolithic programs."

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