One of the innovation challenges in a big company is trying to work within the gravity well of the major revenue generating offerings while needing to obtain hardware, software and services that probably shouldn’t co-exist with those important offerings. You can’t spin up a Facebook app server in the same network topology as TurboTax! You probably can’t order RFID hardware from the same vendors you use for your blade servers and laptop computers.
But you can’t just step outside of the gravity well – there are good reasons for the existence of procurement and hardware exception approval processes.
There are times you can bypass it for small or temporary things, and just act like a startup and put it on your corporate credit card. But then the money might not show up in the proper place on various reports, giving the accounting department a real headache, or you clicked “Agree to terms” when you checked out, but those terms are actually not acceptable to your company.
So you have to work with them and initiate your purchase and exception requests through the system. If it’s a great system, then everything flows smoothly, suppliers are found for your stuff, the prices are the best available, and there’s no email back and forth to resolve problems.
You probably haven’t encountered that nirvana yet. Instead, your odd hardware request can’t be fulfilled, so you start on a journey of discovering the people involved in A) getting a proper request created and B) getting the money to the supplier. There is a huge amount of institutional knowledge inside the heads of people who have been around for a while, and especially in functional groups in a big company. You want to spin up a data center server? Talk to this guy. You need to install non-standard hardware? You’ll need her to grant an exception. Want to order from a new vendor? Talk to these people, oh, and maybe that guy has a locally-stored Word document you’ll need to send to the new vendor.
If you have been in the innovative space for as long as I have, you’ve definitely encountered these scenarios! And I hope that, like me, you’ve documented them for future pioneers. I’ve owned several new, unexplored “routes”, including Intuit Labs, Intuit Experimental Hosting, internal wikis and blogs. Those routes are filled with people who need to know, need to approve, or otherwise have some sort of gating role. Using Intuit QuickBase, I created processes that delight the developers and other folks who are using them.
Bottom line: it’s okay to have knowledge tied up with a PERSON, but you need to create a PROCESS that will get to that person and let them document the knowledge that they provide.