This week we showcase a practical example of company culture change. Marianne Kolding is vice president of IDC’s European Services Research group, based in London. IDC is amongst the biggest research and analysis companies focusing on the IT sector. About five years ago, Marianne introduced a monthly conference call. It made a big difference.
“IDC was started in 1964 by Pat McGovern,” says Marianne. “He realised it would be a good idea to start counting mainframe computers to see what the adoption rate of this new-fangled technology was.” McGovern was also the brains behind IT-related publications such as Computer World and the For Dummies series of books.
IDC now employs around a thousand analysts in offices all round the world. The analysts report on different parts of the IT sector, from the technical aspects of research and development, to end-user adoption. Marianne runs a team based across Europe. “We look at the part of the IT sector that’s to do with people,” she explains. “The services market, the consultants who help design what the next IT implementation should look like, the people who help implement and run the technology. The big outsourcing deals. For instance, a lot of the banks have got very old core IT systems that are quite cumbersome because they’re based on old technology. They’re looking at how they can upgrade those to more modern technology that might be easier to handle, and may also open up some other opportunities for what they can do next.
“And, sometimes it’s too much to try and use the internal IT department. They might be too busy, or might not have the right skills. Or it might be too big a job, which would be easier to outsource to an external provider.”
Helping clients take an idea to market
IDC’s customer base is wide-ranging. “The IT community use our services,” says Marianne, “because they want to understand what opportunities are out there. What is the extent of their addressable market? How much money can they make in different segments of that market? What are their competitors doing? What should they be doing differently? What are their customers looking for?
They also come to us sometimes for help figuring out how they best take a fantastic new idea to market. What’s the messaging they need to apply to get it across to their customer base?”
IDC’s customers also include investment banks – “They want to understand exactly where the market is going before they put their money behind a specific company” – and technology users. “They come to us when they want to understand what to do about a new technology. ‘Is it a fad? A hype? Should we do something about it? Which vendors do we choose? How do we best put an RFP – a Request For Proposal – together, so we make sure we get the right people in front of us to try and offer a solution?’”
Technological complexity, cross-functional implementation & culture change
It was the increasing complexity of both new technologies and the cross-functional ways in which they are applied that sparked the culture change within IDC.
“About five years ago, in my team we decided that we hadn’t really got our arms around one of the key current themes in IT: the Internet of Things (IoT). So I gave one of the guys in my team – he’s a very networky guy – the role of trying to corral together our colleagues that might have an interest in the area for monthly conference calls to talk it over.” Having found this approach very useful in addressing the Internet of Things (IoT), they applied it to their research into cloud computing, where it also proved highly effective.
“It became clear very quickly that this was actually a very good model. So we formalised it.”
While Marianne’s team is responsible for research into services, others focus on different elements of the IT sector. Hardware, for example.
Culture change: from parallel working to networking
“The teams used to run almost in parallel with each other without getting together. But we realised that for some of the themes in the sector – the cloud, digital transformation, big data and, even, security for example – we needed to get a good holistic view of what was going on, to form a point of view that hangs together across technology areas and services and to provide our customers with the insight they need. This mean bringing people together in a new way.”
The company has retained the same formal structure: teams whose specific responsibilities mirror the different elements of the IT sector; but added theme-focused groups they call “practices”.
“In these practices,” Marianne explains, “we bring our analysts from different domains together to make sure that we all have the full perspective. Members of a practice discuss its theme and arrive at what IDC’s position is on it.”
More integrated, more innovative, more revenue streams
The introduction of practices has changed IDC’s culture. “We’re a lot more fluid than we were,” Marianne says, “More innovative. It’s not a finished process, but we’re a lot further along.”
Significantly, the practices have now become part of IDC’s creative process. “We start a new practice when we think there is a new theme around which we need to bring the analysts together,” Marianne explains. “Then we start building products around it, so rather than just being a talking shop it becomes something that we can take to market. For example, our big data practice has led to a report series that our customers subscribe to. It’s proving very popular indeed.”
The company were careful to make membership of practices optional. “We wanted it to be something people could do, not something they had to do,” Marianne says, “Now everybody is in at least one practice.” This universal take-up is, she thinks, down to the skills and qualities analysts require. “You need to be curious,” she explains. “To like being challenged every day. To like learning every day.” Good analysts don’t want to miss out on any opportunity to learn more about their domain.
Along with new revenue streams, IDC’s culture change has brought other benefits that ultimately contribute to the company’s bottom line. “We are a very spread-out organisation – we have analysts all across Europe. Some of them have a specific country focus, which meant they could become a little bit isolated. And now they are included in the practices, we have the benefit of them being involved. The organisation has a more integrated feel to it. People know each other and work with each other.”
“You now hear analysts saying things like ‘ooh – actually, I think that somebody told me that they were working on something similar the other day.’ It’s made it much easier to pick up the phone and get in contact.”
Marianne Kolding is vice president of IDC’s European Services Research group, based in London. She leads the team responsible for IDC’s European research on consulting, application services, outsourcing, infrastructure services, cloud services, and the competitive landscape for the services industry.
Her research responsibilities cover a wide variety of topics, but current hot research areas are focused on strategic changes in the services market and ICT skills demand. She is the executive sponsor for IDC’s European Digital Transformation practice as well as part of IDC’s Global Sourcing research team. She is often engaged in custom projects on a variety of subjects and frequently takes on speaking engagements, both for IDC conferences and seminars and on behalf of clients.
Marianne has been in the IT research industry for more than 20 years. Prior to this, she held various positions with IBM. She has a master’s degree in international marketing and international trade from Aarhus Business School in Denmark. Her background and experience ensure a wide understanding of issues affecting the IT services marketplace, its players, and its customers.