June 15, 2017

Build a Transparent Digital Workplace with a Lean IT Philosophy

4 minute read

IT systems are business systems, full-stop. As technology platforms mature, IT leaders should look for ways to improve the efficiency of their processes in the same way that a manufacturing or services business unit does. How we manage a supply chain can inform our strategy for optimizing our technology stacks and information management processes as well. This emerging philosophy of IT management has been branded “lean IT.”

Lean IT: What does it mean?

To understand lean IT, we first should examine the historical precedent in manufacturing. First defined in Toyota Quality Engineer John Krafcik’s 1988 MIT master’s thesis “Triumph of the Lean Production System,” lean manufacturing represented the diligent elimination of waste in production streams. By standardizing work among teams, minimizing inventory and process buffers, and widening the span of control compared to previous production facilities, Toyota created a manufacturing engine that was both highly efficient and highly adaptable.

The central idea to any lean initiative is that eliminating wasteful investment results in a more adaptive, more innovative business. A lean IT shop will consistently be working to identify opportunities to minimize cost so that those resources can be redeployed to create further value for a business.

Let’s take a look at two key issues IT organizations can assess to identify opportunities for waste reduction.


In-house custom development is expensive and risky. It depends on a lot of variables – how skilled your developers are, how many IT resources you have, your IT workload, and your department’s ability to deliver on schedule. When accounting for high-cost ECM and ERP systems, the knowledge required to develop such solutions also comes at a premium in the form of specialized labor costs.

And these are just the internal concerns. When developing a custom integration between systems, there are no guarantees. Any updates made to either system have the potential to break your integration, meaning additional investment in both maintenance, monitoring, and emergency contingencies.

Conversely, integrations that are sold as products benefit from vendor support, that vendor’s partner relationships with platform providers, and allow IT staff to simply configure an integration and monitor it with much less frequency. As Gimmal Founder Mike Alsup forecasts in his recent CMSWire article: “IT in the new age is akin to plumbing for water or electricians for electricity: it might be complex on the backend, but organizations don't want to think about it.

“Plug in and it works, except most of the work is done by cloud-based services and it is all wireless and William Gibson-ish. In the future, IT will handle administrative configuration and monitoring, not technology integration.” With the range of add-ons available for the Microsoft ecosystem, there is no reason to waste time and money on building something that has already been built countless times before.

Excess Inventory

One of the most effective ways an IT team can adopt a lean approach is reevaluating its investment in storage platforms. To do so effectively, your team must consider three things: the cost per GB per year, the features required to properly manage this information, and the long-term viability of your platform choice.

Take a look at your traditional ECM platforms. Legacy systems typically require upwards of $2,000/GB/yr in investment. These systems are highly specialized and therefore offer what have historically been unique features. As Office 365 and SharePoint mature, this is no longer true.

At a cost of pennies on the dollar, Office 365 now offers a more scalable and more mature solution for the storage of unstructured content. When looking to the future, we do not see traditional ECM systems as well-positioned to respond to this new competition.

Rationalizing Your Investment

Over the coming weeks, we’ll discuss how IT teams can prepare for their role in the future of business by simplifying information architecture, mapping value streams, and fostering a greater alignment with other business units.

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