Modern Enterprise – Systems – People First, Systems Last

Teams of people, whether they are independent or part of a larger whole, rely on “Systems” to help them achieve their goals. The Systems that run these teams need not be Information Systems but it’s more than likely that unless the start-up is started in Amish country, it probably uses the Internet as a base “System,” upon which they integrate their smart phones, laptops, and maybe desktops at the very least. As a team’s complex goals become more clear and crystallized, specialized Information Systems or Software can help them scale to great heights.

A system is a set of interacting or interdependent components forming an integrated whole[1] or a set of elements (often called ‘components’ ) and relationships which are different from relationships of the set or its elements to other elements or sets. (Wikipedia)

In our research on “startups,” or companies with five or fewer people, to rampups, ¬†or companies with five to fifty people, there are two major polar groups of companies: those that use too many systems and don’t know how to organize them; and those that use too few because they don’t know enough about them. And although my continued evaluation and interviews with companies may place them into four quadrants, we still believe that there will two major groups. Much of this really depends on who you hire. Do you hire someone who knows Computer Science, or Information Systems?




The decisions that small teams make on technology for the development of their product ( CTO‘s responsibility ) and the technology that runs their company ( CIO’s responsibility ) are dependent on a variety of factors but there are some symptoms of choosing technology on an ad-hoc basis rather than from an entrepreneurial or strategic stand point.

  • Some of the decisions are “crowd sourced” as people join the team, they bring their baggage into the mix. Someone may like using Basecamp, while someone else may like using Asana. Keeping it “democratic” is generally a good practice until there are too many places where a company’s information resides.
  • Other decisions will be made by the first technologist in the startup team who is more inclined to chose, for better or for worse, one of the major categories of systems: open source, software as a service, commercial, or custom. Each of these types of software is good for what it’s good for, but not everything.
  • Decisions made on cost can be another way to limit potential candidates to a company’s system pool. This may end up saving money and time in the long run, but may stunt growth.

What does a new modern entrepreneur do? It may seem that they are damned if they don’t use the right technologies, and damned if they use too much. What’s an approach that can help them? Large organizations have evolved to understand the concepts of “Enterprise Architecture.” It is a real thing even if there are several civil and building architects that say otherwise. The complexities of large organizations require dedicated experts that marry the needs of the business’s processes to the current technology to help the organization thrive and grow. Entrepreneurial and Strategic thinking aren’t mutually exclusive, but it’s important to understand the difference.

  • Entrepreneurs tend to be “effectual” and create solutions to be effective from where they are to the possibilities of where they could be with what they have.
  • Strategists tend to be goal oriented and find the different ways to get to a solution that is predetermined. They focus on the outcome.

Contexts of Modern EnterpriseWhile wearing the entrepreneurial hat, it may be just right to get the company’s Products & Services started on a combination of Linode VMs, running Ruby on Rails with Couchbase with the source code on GitHub. What happens when employee number 20 joins? Are you going to be starting up VMs on a cloud service provider to run the latest copy of OrangeHRM to manage their employee records or are you going to bite the bullet and pay for the hosted version? Technology, and Information Systems are just tools. They are not the end-all-be-all of a company.

Companies are People. They share the workload or a set of Processes. These Processes can be coordinated better with Information or records. Information can efficiently gathered, moved, manipulated, and transformed with Systems. People First, Systems Last. Not the other way around. Being entrepreneurial and strategic about why you introduce a new Technology or System to your company will help save the clutter, the trouble, and the anxiety of dealing with information problems in the future. Most importantly, it’ll help you grow faster if you don’t have the baggage of 20 employees wanting to use 200 different systems.