IT is the central nervous system of practically every modern business on the planet. However, most of us have looked at IT primarily as a cost center, endlessly pursuing a lowered Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) through massive budget cuts, technology consolidation and the migration from siloed, analog systems to integrated, digital ones. This became the norm because most companies on average spend over 70 percent of their annual budget on operations and maintenance.

In other words, most of the actual IT budget is spent “keeping the lights on” while very little is used to hire new talent, improve processes and make new technology investments. Also, most IT shops were setup as walled gardens, enforcing a specific set of platforms, applications, desktops, displays, printers, etc. This may really sound bad, but for the time period we’re talking about, it was the best way to run IT. But times have changed.

The Fall of the IT Wall

IT is increasingly seeing new business and organizational pressures every day. If handling security, virus outbreaks, disaster recovery and application/desktop upgrades and migrations weren’t enough to deal with in this walled garden, then the consumerization of IT with apps, smartphones, tablets, wearable sensors etc. has created a whole new world of challenges.

Initially, most IT shops ignored and sometimes banned these technologies though a company-wide IT policy. While there are some definite security and productivity risks to consider and evaluate, some business units or line of businesses (LOBs) are now creating clearly visible, increased business value through the adoption of consumer, mobile and cloud technologies – be it tablets, Chromebooks, Pinterest boards, Instagram pages, Salesforce groups, Dropbox shared folders, etc.

For the most part, the wall has already fallen, whether we care to admit it or not. This has become evident by the large amount of apps, devices and cloud services that are being purchased directly by business units and individual employees. However, these can have short term gains, as security and compliance aren’t exactly a priority for non-IT folks. Many times, when an unsanctioned service becomes business critical, it has to be handed off to IT for security and integration, and that’s where things can get ugly.

Transformation is Necessary

The fall of the IT wall hasn’t exactly removed IT from existence (and it won’t), but a new bar of expectations has been set. IT now has to build collaborative and effective bridges to ensure that its constituents are optimally consuming IT services. We now have to provide a platform to continually enhance productivity, breed creativity, innovation and most importantly, derive strong, tangible business outcomes from every single technology investment.

This sure is a very different IT than we’re used to seeing and knowing, which is what makes this a challenging transition; one that will take many attempts, failures and most importantly, time.

Take Baby Steps

You can’t rush transformation, especially since so much cultural change is ahead of us. Here are just a few things we can do as we start our journey down this path.

  1. Get a seat at the executive table. If you haven’t already, make sure you have a well-respected voice at the executive table.
  2. Change executive perception. Work hard in making it clear how critical IT services are in keeping the business running and how it helps enable growth and competitive advantage. Develop a business outcome-based investment scorecard so executives clearly see the impact of every IT investment.
  3. Change company-wide perception. Integrate IT into each business unit. Hold weekly brainstorming sessions to understand each business unit’s needs and wants. Discuss potential system upgrades, new technologies, etc., that could positively or negatively impact each area. Ask each business unit to participate in early trials and pilots.
  4. Move from a culture of “No” to a culture of “Yes.” Many business units are going around traditional IT because they are so used to hearing “no” repeatedly over the years. While you can’t exactly say “yes” to every request, proper listening and being the voice of reason can immensely help strengthen the relationship and ultimately build trust. Expect some level of policy relaxation as well, because in order to be more agile and increase experimentation, you have to elevate risk.
  5. Automate and Orchestrate. Let me be clear here, there seems to be a big gap in most IT environments and this one is fairly simple to fix. We all have gobs of virtualization, converged network, storage and server solutions today. Now all we have to do is stop doing all the manual work associated with operating these environments, use the built-in tools or add new orchestration tools to automate as much as possible. And if you don’t want to go down this path or buy new software, consider moving some or all your applications to the cloud, if that makes the most sense for your organization.

So there you have it. IT is still here. IT still matters. But if IT doesn’t change to help the business adapt and innovate, the business units will (and have) take matters into their own hands. Quite simply put, disruptive markets and consumerization have created a need for a new and improved IT which will continue to be a strategic enablement weapon for any organization.

Let the transformation begin.

8 thoughts on “The Rise and Fall of IT (as we know it)

  • Thanks for your interesting article. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who feels that IT is overdue for a change. I’m a medical research actively engaged in high performance computing to accomplish much of my work. However, the support I receive from my central IT group is abysmal and my first year grad students know more about things ystem administration, Agile development, UNIX, SQL, amazon EC2, Hadoop, etc than does anyone in their sea of help desk drones or project managers. While I can’t speak for corporate IT, (although your article does outline some of those things), higher education IT is horribly broken and the CIOs are some of the least technically knowledgeable people I’ve met – BUT that is by design as most of them are recruited on a pre developed cost cutting agenda handed to them by the CFO. Unfortunately, for those of us who really need good technical support to win NIH grant funding, we are all alone. Campus IT has failed us and , in their more honest moments, they will say as much mostly because of the costs associated with change and hiring quality technical people. Also consider that many CIOs, (and CFOs), have a bonus structure that is in part funded by recovered costs from consolidations, layoffs, and reductions. Thus, it’s no surprise they want to streamline. So until CFOs change their tune then IT organizations will just be doing the absolute minimum. This brings into question the validity of having CIOs report to CFOs which became popular when the economy tanked. But it’s time for a change.

  • The statement “and the migration from siloed, analog systems to integrated, digital ones” shows that the author doesn’t know the meaning of the word “analog”. He probably doesn’t know much about the rest of what he’s saying either. This sort of rhetoric has been around for 20 years. Glad I’m retired.

  • “if it is not income producing it has no value” is the mantra of nearly all company cultures and so all service and support units are doomed to a lack of respect

  • I retired almost 10 years ago after nearly 30 years in IT. This article could have been written 10 years ago. Not much has changed. I spent my first 20 years on the inside of corporate IT and the last 10 in the business unit. The non traditional IT in the BU consistently outperformed the traditional IT by a factor of nearly ten to one in terms of cost of operation, cost and time of development, and deployment of business critical solutions, while traditional IT obsessed over platforms, consultant processes, and executive politics that were largely self-serving failures.
    What finally worked was when corporate IT took over all BU IT personnel, budgets and systems. Integration turned out to be less of a problem than the naysayers had predicted, and replacement of the BU systems a lot less cost desirable than believed. The BU IT leaders have become key players in the overall success of IT in the business. When IT focuses on embracing change and integration of “foreign” technologies, it becomes a valued partner in the business rather than an expensive roadblock to avoid.

  • Fred Bosick says:

    Want IT to change and innovate with the business? Stop being cheap and hiring rote memorization happy H-1B visa holders. And when you outsource, you’re, literally, taking some of the brains out and setting them in a foreign nation and hoping nobody squishes it.

  • IT people are some of the most arrogant workers in an organization. They think they know everything about information technology. New flash IT folks: you are not medical doctors who have studied hard for 12 years to earn a medical degree. OK, so you know a bit about technology. That’s nice. But, don’t let your egos get the best of you.

  • Charles U. Farley says:

    I am an IT professional who has been at it long enough to learn not to know everything. I really don’t have the stomach for what Medical Doctors do so I would never compare my Cracker Jack box credentials to those of an MD. I am however, smart enough to know that you cannot make a blanket statement about an entire Group of Professionals without sounding like a JACKASS!

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