The sweet smell of skunkworks projects

A good reseller helps IT managers accomplish what they need to do. A great reseller helps IT managers accomplish the things they’d like to do. The latter calls for an entirely different approach.

No matter how disciplined the IT department, no matter how much its budget has been cut, no matter what kind of workload and deadline pressures its team members face, I can guarantee you there are at least one or two projects simmering away that aren’t officially sanctioned or that senior management even knows about. They may not be projects that tie in directly to revenue, at least right away, and yet they aren’t necessarily IT-for-the-sake-of-IT projects, either. They are the unexpected mobile applications, the power-saving server configurations, the Web site revamp that in some way unleashes an IT staffer’s creativity, passion and sense of purpose.

Sometimes these are still called “skunkworks” projects, but that term is getting a little confusing given that so many end users in an organization have enough free Web tools and technology-savvy to do things without IT departments.

These are initiatives that allow technology professionals to occasionally transcend the day-to-day grunt work and get a little closer to innovation.

Not enough channel partners are aware of these activities, probably because they don’t ask. Which is too bad, because while they can’t offer the green light or authorization to pursue a skunkworks project, they can offer something almost as valuable: the capability to do it.

Recently my colleague J.D. Speedy at ComputerWorld Canada interviewed IDC executive director David McNally for a podcast where he discussed some of the major trends in 2012. He also talked about the key technologies he sees as valuable:

“The . . . thing I counsel CIOs and clients to look at is a really large tool set in open source and use these for experimentation more to understand what’s in the realm of possibility,” he said. “You may wind up buying a similar product, but the open source products are good for what we used to call skunkworks.”

If an IT manager has some breakthrough thinking on content management, for example, why not introduce them to Drupal first so they can test the waters? Similarly, those customers who have (so far) closed the door on moving to the cloud may be open to considering it as a sandbox for things that may only become mission-critical much later.

Here’s the thing: it’s only skunkworks until it starts creating real value. Which makes enabling the experimentation that leads to that point the ultimate value-added service.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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