Monday, June 16, 2008

The Concept of One & the Concept of Zero: Achieving More with Less


Information technology organizations in institutions, both private and public, are struggling to shift their energy and expenditures from Context to Core. Context activities are those that an institution requires but which do not distinguish it from its competitors. Core activities are those which, when improved, provide an institution with differential advantage. For a university, Core activities are those that improve teaching and learning, enhance the growth and quality of research, and attract talented students and faculty.

A typical IT enterprise spends 80% of its resources to run the operation (Context) and only 20% to improve it (Core). However, some leading-edge IT enterprises have been able to shift these percentages dramatically, pushing more resources into advancement by using IT Simplification to continually reduce the costs of operation. ASU believes IT Simplification involves the repeated application of two concepts: the Concept of One: Do it once. Do it right. Use it everywhere and the Concept of Zero: Don’t do it at all. Let someone bigger do it.1

University IT is often characterized by differences that make no distinction. Applying the Concept of One means identifying and eliminating such differences. The simplification that results from doing things one way and doing that one way well releases resources and energy that can be put toward advancing the institution.

Beyond the Concept of One is the Concept of Zero. ASU’s technology alliance strategy is an expression of this idea. When a university technology service can be replaced by one provided commercially, by a firm operating at a scale hundreds to thousands of times greater than the university can ever attain, efficiency and progress result. Large-scale technology services afford greater security, reliability, speed of innovation, and come at ever-lower cost. ASU believes such alliances are critical to maintaining an information environment that continues to meet ever-rising student and faculty expectations.

1The Concept of One was originally put forward by Hossein Eslambolchi, former CIO at AT&T and current President of AT&T Labs. Dr. Eslambolchi also formulated a Concept of Zero that differs from the one presented here, but the symmetry of expression was irresistible.