Corporate IT's Darwinian Challenge

IT's erosion, and possible extinction, will not come from a destructive outside force, but rather from the inside.

We hear a lot of talk about the death of IT, or more commonly the "death of the IT service desk." But how informed are these opinions, and do they ultimately drive the right type of response?

The talk of extinction, in my experience, usually imagines a "death of the dinosaurs"-type ending for internal IT organizations, with a sudden fatal event -- like the assumed, dinosaur-killing meteor -- rather than a gradual, Darwinian-like "survival of the fittest" decline.

Stop looking for the meteor
Yes, IT outsourcing was en vogue during the first decade of the 21st century, but it failed to be a catastrophic, meteor-like event for corporate IT. Outsourcing was merely the first wakeup call for corporate IT groups that failed to deliver against business expectations around cost, quality, and innovation (and many would argue that outsourcing deals have failed to deliver against these, too). It was a symptom, rather than a cause, of IT's potential extinction.

[IT leaders need to overcome the myths that keep hurting IT's reputation. Read 3 Myths That Could Spoil IT's Future]

More recently, cloud computing was touted as the "corporate IT killer." The cloud can hurt as well as help corporate IT organizations, but both private and public (and hybrid) cloud scenarios still play a critical role for internal IT. So far, we've seen that, despite all the scary talk about shadow IT, the cloud has been beneficial to internal IT teams overall. So another meteor scare passes corporate IT by.

Instead, look to the danger within
If one looks at the publicly available statistics related to the corporate IT organization's "market share" of internal IT, it's hard not to see the drop in IT-created infrastructure and services in favor of line-of-business-sourced (shadow IT) cloud services, or the use of personal devices and cloud services.

This decline in market share is often coupled with disenchantment with corporate IT groups that have failed to adapt to the changing expectations of employees and customers.

So the real danger was never the meteor hurtling toward the internal IT organization. Instead it was, and continues to be, IT's inability to change itself as its ecosystem changes around it. In fact, it would probably not be too cheeky to say that IT's inability to see the need for change is an even bigger obstacle than its inability to change -- as it can't get to the latter without the former.

Being 'lucky' hasn't helped
Many corporate IT organizations have somewhat luckily weathered the storm due to the corporate demand for, and dependence on, technology. So while IT has maintained corporate purpose and has delivered against a subset of the total IT needs, it has paid too little attention to the disconnect between internal IT supply and demand, and the corporate IT organization's growing irrelevance.

Returning to my Darwinian idea of "survival of the fittest," this is really about evolution, rather than extinction. Corporate IT organizations should look past the first and scariest word in that phrase, "survival," to see the last word, "fittest." Why? Because the real need is not to focus on the avoidance of extinction but to undergo an evolution that will prevent immediate extinction and ensure long-term survival through "fitness for purpose."

Survival of the fittest-for-purpose
Corporate IT organizations in general are still viewed as the people who slow down business opportunity and change and say "no" far more than "yes."

Too many corporate IT organizations haven't evolved along with their ecosystem and, in my opinion, much of the necessary change starts with an evolution in thinking and purpose. For me, the following points are the required foundation to stop the gradual erosion, and ultimate extinction, of the corporate IT organization as we know it today.

1. Realize that corporate IT no longer has a monopoly over the technology used in the workplace (from personal use to SaaS applications and cloud service providers to outsourced services).

2. Understand that they no longer have the corporate status and power they had in the 1990s, and that they should stop acting like it's still 1999.

3. Consider whether their "no" responses are now heard as "Please find a third party to provide the technology you need."

4. Realize that employee and customer expectations have changed forever. Call it consumerization or something else, but the corporate IT game has to be upped considerably across services and apps, devices, speed of change, support, and business understanding.

5. Flip IT's design and delivery thinking, so that it starts with the customer use case, instead of the technological capability.

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