Remember when the IT department was the group that saved your bacon time and again? Computer crashes that everyone was convinced wiped out precious corporate data turned into miraculous recoveries. Critical applications that suddenly stopped working were just as suddenly revived. Even the ill-conceived, snarky "reply all" email that was deleted before corporate-wide distribution. Windows upgrades, network upgrades, database upgrades, everything upgrades were handled with aplomb.
What happened? We all know that the demands for IT have moved out of Fix It mode and into Innovation. Businesses need a new kind of IT hero. But when we asked 382 business pros--a mix of IT and non-IT people--about how IT is perceived in their companies, we were shocked by what we found in both the responses and the emotional comments that accompanied them.
The data shows a disparity between how IT views its performance (not bad) and how non-IT pros view it (not good). For example, asked if their companies' business users are at least moderately happy with the quality, timeliness, and cost of IT projects, two-thirds of the IT pros who responded to our survey said yes, but just half of non-IT pros said so. Asked if IT is foremost a support or maintenance organization (as opposed to the innovation engine it might want to be), 39% of IT pros agreed, but 54% of non-IT pros agreed. Again and again, the data shows a disturbing gap between IT's perception of itself as reasonably innovative and effective, and non-IT's lukewarm view.
As powerful as the data is, the free-form responses we received--and we got dozens of them--cast an even harsher light.
First, let's hear from the IT side, which had plenty of hero stories to relay.
"We brought 18 divisions (companies) under the same networks, interfacing at all levels from the top to the bottom. Wow, what a hurdle; these were all separate companies that were bought by my company. A major task."
Answered another: "We recently upgraded all our servers and desktops to virtualization and cloud computing. We needed more available space and were running out of room in our data center and server room. We also wanted a better way to control our storage and have better security. Our team of IT workers worked on this project day and night and weekends to make this project a success in a timely fashion with hardly any downtime or customer complaints."
Yet for every success story from the IT pros who responded to our survey, there were as many cutting comments describing the IT staff--even from IT pros themselves.
"Here, IT is seen as a drag on innovation. The user perception of IT is very low and generally this perception is ignored by senior IT management as not being of importance," said one respondent.
Said another: "Unfortunately, IT in our business is seen as a roadblock--users want to use personal devices, social networks, cloud services, etc.--and we often prevent that entirely or provide poor internal substitutes. We can't ever seem to coordinate upgrades on time. When I tell people what versions of Office, Web browsers, etc., I have to support, it's embarrassing!"
One sentence seems to sum up the scores of comments we received: "We are seen as a slow and bureaucratic organization."
The data puts an exclamation point on that last point: 57% of IT pros consider their organizations to be distributed, agile, and flexible; just 29% of non-IT pros do.