What IT can learn from Netflix: Avoid the organizational 'House of Cards'


cards resized 600With the latest season of "House of Cards' recently released, many viewers' eyes turned to Netflix to see what Frank Underwood - the man of dubious morals and questionable political practices - would do next. Kevin Spacey's character does present a lot to talk about, but it is the delivery model of the show that is interesting from a business context. TV industry observers are still debating whether releasing every episode of a season and letting viewers "binge watch" is a good move in the long term. However, the record high viewership numbers the show has brought in so far seem to indicate that it is positive - at least in the short term. 

Perhaps even more significant is what the binge watching trend represents: A cultural shift in the way content, IT resources and software features are accessed. In a business environment, the most obvious parallel is cloud computing, but what is more important than any specific technology is the way organizations and their IT teams operate. Below are three components that IT services must enable to meet these new demands.

1. On-demand
The most obvious component of the show's success is its on-demand nature, a trait Netflix has built itself upon and enhanced over the years. It's important to realize that this element has also emerged in organizational settings, causing friction between users and IT departments. For example, a cloud user survey performed by Softchoice recently showcased poor data security practices among Millenials. It isn't that people in their 20s just don't know how to create a good password or never realize that company policy says they should get IT approval for new software. Instead, IT is fighting against the perception that the department reacts too slowly to business needs

"Finding an app that makes one's daily job responsibilities easier is perceived as more important than running that download decision by IT," the report stated. "Unprotected email exchanges and meddling into old accounts becomes personally justifiable by this 'I need it now' attitude." 

The onus is on IT to create a flexible operating model that can deliver IT services and software to match users' requirements as they evolve. As Softchoice revealed, this is already happening within some organizations. Forty-six percent of respondents said their IT departments provide more secure and equivalent alternatives when they find employees using unsanctioned software. The strategy does not have to be cloud-centric, but it does need to provide clear value to users and it has to be able to deliver that value quickly.

2. Scalable
The revolutionary element of "House of Cards" is the release of an entire season at once. It goes against the traditional schedule of TV viewership, which staggers episodes over a lengthy period of time. What Netflix has really created with its strategy is scalable entertainment. Whenever a viewer's appetite for media rises, he or she can easily "scale" consumption of the show to match - at least until the season is over. The same value comes when businesses can adequately expand IT resources to fulfill their needs.

The challenge here is to streamline provisioning enough that companies can gain access to new features and infrastructure quickly without jumping the gun on proper vendor vetting. In this case, it helps to start off at a high level, so business leaders clearly understand what resources their organizations need to achieve overarching goals. For example, the National Institute of Standards and Technology recently published a cybersecurity framework for protecting critical infrastructure that was highly criticized for being too vague. Even so, IDG News Service's Joab Jackson highlighted praise for the framework, noting that it gave non-technical decision makers a better and standardized way to evaluate resource allocation for IT security.

The problem with frameworks that delve into specifics is that they will not be valuable for every use case, even within a single organization. Such strategies must be comprehensive enough to be applied across departments. From there, business or IT leaders can iron out the details as they relate to specific issues.

3. One size does not fit all
One of the other problems with traditional TV viewership is that the one-size-fits-all approach is quickly fading. Netflix subscribers can watch an episode each week, several episodes a day or view an entire season in one night. Additionally, the largest networks now offer online streaming for their most popular shows, with many making several episodes available at once. Users have the choice of when and how much content to watch. 

Organizations have been shifting away from one-size-fits-all IT for some time now, but such a migration in perception is valuable outside of the realm of servers and data. In a recent TED Talk, Harvard Institute fellow Alexander Wissner-Gross even argued that maximizing the number of future possible outcomes is the foundational element for intelligent behavior.

"Is there a single equation for intelligence? And the answer, I believe, is yes," Wissner-Gross said.

Organizations cannot budget or plan for every possible outcome, but they can enact strategies that help them maximize their chances of succeeding across numerous potential ones. Furthermore, IT can play a vital role in helping their businesses become more intelligent. However, decision makers must work to build a foundation of flexibility or risk creating a house of cards that simply falls apart beneath the weight of users' and customers' expectations.

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