We've repeatedly heard about the supposed advantages of smaller companies, especially as related to IT. Once upon a time, it was clear that large enterprises had unparalleled access to technology. The very term "enterprise class" denoted high-grade technology that only the big guys could afford.
With the advent of cloud computing and the rise of small Internet companies that became overnight powerhouses, Big suddenly started to look like a disadvantage.
Those "enterprise class" applications and hardware that once looked like an impenetrable advantage started to look like overweight, overly expensive millstones around the neck in an age where a credit card and 20 minutes could get you access to capable, scalable services that require little to no IT staff. Saddled with these legacy costs, has the argument that "small is beautiful" finally been settled in favor of the small? I don't believe so.
Big Data is still the province of the Big
One of the major recent innovations in IT has been the introduction of Big Data-style analysis. Big Data by its very nature implies large scale, not only in terms of data, but technical capability. In the current market, even acquiring the right talent to perform Big Data analysis requires large budgets for data scientists and associated technical capabilities.
While smaller companies can be more nimble than the large, leveraging intelligence is increasingly allowing big companies to make targeted, deliberate moves while smaller companies move based more on intuition.
When I worked with my own firm, one capability that I always envied was a standing sales force. In smaller companies, sales may be a few dedicated staff, or a part-time responsibility of management or operations. While there are many negatives to an overweight or poorly-led sales force, one that's equipped with data and IT-driven operational tools is a potent force in the favor of the large.
There's an interesting dynamic in many IT services these days. The smallest companies with only a handful of employees can often garner preferential pricing on many cloud services, with most of the functionality available to the largest companies. Large companies have always had a purchasing advantage, with massive user counts and large IT budgets making a persuasive argument for aggressive discounting.
Oddly, companies in the middle are generally forced to pay full price for most cloud services; a company with a few dozen employees, hardly a large organization, pays more for their software than the smallest companies and billion-dollar behemoths.
The new Big
There is obviously room for both large and small organizations, and any blanket statement that a class of organizations is obsolete merely due to size should be regarded with skepticism. Having worked for everything from one person to 500,000 employee organizations, there are advantages and disadvantages to each. However, much recent press has written off large organizations, especially as large IT is seen as more of a handicap than an advantage.
However, Big IT is uniquely capable in areas like Big Data and supporting large organizational efforts that cannot be matched by smaller organizations. Rather than looking at your large IT organization as a hindrance or handicap, look at the capabilities uniquely available to large IT organizations, and leverage those to compete against companies of all sizes.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.