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18 March 2008

Growing pains

By Andrew Clifford

Building an IT business from scratch is a long and challenging process. Seeing your products come to market and succeed is the most exciting and most rewarding part of all.

Like a lot of people who work in IT, I decided a few years ago to leave the sheltered life of a salaried employee, and strike out on my own.

I needed a strategy. The big opportunity that I saw, and still see, is the waste in large-scale IT. My interest in waste is not a moral campaign, it is simply good business. There is a lot of value locked up in IT waste, a lot more money there than anywhere else.

The second part of the strategy was to do more than just sell time, but to create things of value (products, business models, brands), and to trade from these.

Because this strategy involves creating things of value, we have had to spend time exploring and developing ideas and products. One of my main vehicles for this has been this newsletter. The self-imposed discipline of writing every week forces me to keep exploring ideas and pushing them forward.

The ideas have moved on. When I started, I had a few ideas: reducing unnecessary demand for IT, and looking more closely at how IT delivers value. But we have added more: the importance of a system view of IT, and the importance of managing the qualities of systems. I understand much better how these ideas fit with each other, how they fit with other ideas in IT, and how they can be used to cut waste out of IT.

Commercially, we have had to think of competition, and of marketing and sales.

The big issue with competition is how to compete with larger companies. Because our overheads are low, we can divert more of our time into developing ideas and products. By being focussed, we can do as much development as a business many times our size. We apply our own methods to our own products, which helps us create solutions at a fraction of the cost needed by other businesses.

Presenting our products in the marketplace has been the greatest challenge so far. Our ideas are unique, and our products new, and there is no defined market for us to play in. We have test marketed our products a number of times, and learnt from each time. We are making progress: we have gone from being ignored, to being interesting, to being credible.

The bulk of the exploration and development work is now done. We have a unique proposition: how business can save up to 40% of IT costs by unlocking their IT waste. We have a credible story to back up our claims, and the products and services to help our customers make these savings.

However compelling we believe them to be, opportunities, ideas and products are only part of the process. Our customers are faced with competing demands for their time. We have to grab their attention with compelling offers and follow through with effective processes. We can never take success for granted, which is what makes this part of the process so exciting, and ultimately so rewarding.

Do I miss my sheltered previous life? Not for a moment.

Next: Take quality off the critical path

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