Now It's Time for the Hybrid IT Worker

In an era when the glasshouse is gone it's time for a new work structure, with IT staff being stationed closer to the business users they support.

Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data

February 7, 2019

6 Min Read

“Hybrid IT” is a well-worn term, referring to the blend of in-house and cloud-based IT resources that enterprises routinely use. But little has been said about the emerging need for hybrid IT workers who can man the trenches in central IT, or in end user departments equally well—and must in all cases find ways to bridge the communication and political gaps between business users and IT.

The need to be a bridge builder between IT and end users couldn't be greater:

  • Shadow IT is expanding.

  • Citizen development is growing.

  • Vendors are knocking at the doors of user departments that have their own mini IT’s.

Meanwhile, business users continue to view IT as unresponsive and insensitive, as evidenced by a physician acquaintance of mine who recently shared her frustration with IT after she called an IT help desk to assist her with a new system.

“I was told to just read the FAQ notes and that I should be able to figure it out myself,” she said. “The response made me feel insignificant and angry. I thought to myself, “So if you think you are so good, let’s see how you do if you’re called upon to make a cancer diagnosis,” but I stopped short of doing that because it wasn’t a reaction I wanted to show.”

Maybe not. But there is a lot of user anxiety about IT response times and insensitivity to the business. This has been a major reason why shadow IT and citizen development have grown.

These trends and frustrations are also causing some CIOs to rethink IT deployment.

One result is the emergence of new organizational structures for IT that include more dotted line reporting relationships, the placement of IT pros in user areas, and even user departments forming their own "micro IT's." What are the pros and cons of these models?

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Model 1: Centralized IT, with IT in collaboration with super business users who perform para-IT functions in their departments. This is a traditional model of IT-end user collaboration with a long history.

End user departments evolve their own local IT “experts” who are there to write reports, do simple system tweaking, and talk the language of IT with IT. In turn, IT supports these super users, performing trouble shooting and problem resolution, and then building new systems at the point where more technical systems knowledge is required.  The plus for IT is that it retains control of the systems that employees are using, and can account for these systems in corporate asset management. The success of this model also depends upon a strong relationship between the user department “super user” and IT. However, end users still feel that they are at the mercy of IT and that they must wait for IT when it comes time for a new application or system. This delays users’ business time to market goals.

Model 2: Distributed IT staff, with IT business analysts assigned (and stationed in) end user areas. In this model, IT business analysts stationed in user departments take on the role of account executive. Although these analysts report to IT, they advocate to IT for their end users, work hand-in-hand with end users on defining business and system needs, and work with end users to bring IT resources to user projects so user business goals can be realized. The challenge here is in the business analysts’ loyalties. There will be a tendency not to “rock the IT boat” too much if the analysts report to IT. This could leave business users disappointed. This model can work well if IT leadership is truly committed to serving the business unit, and end users also buy in. If IT leadership is more technically than business oriented, this is not a good solution.

Model 3: Distributed IT analysts with dotted line reporting relationships to IT and the end business. To overcome the tendency of IT business analysts to ultimately defer to IT because they report there, some organizations have variation on Model 2 with the business analysts having a dotted line relationship to an end business manager. This has not worked extremely well, because the analyst still places more value in the straight line reporting relationship. One way that this model could work is if the end business manager and the IT manager each have equal weight in performance reviews, and co-conduct these reviews. Most companies have not tried this model because of the amount of coordination that would be required.

Model 4: Micro IT shops in end user areas. Out of frustration with IT, some users have started their own “mini IT’s” which have gone around corporate IT to contract with vendors for technology services, and to implement systems and networks on their own. In this environment, both shadow IT and citizen development have flourished. When users engage their own citizen developers who understand the business, they can quickly derive great benefits. On the flip side, the company doesn't know how much IT is in the organization, who has it, and if it’s secure, which can create grave risks. When end users go their own way, there is also the risk of not using IT investmentswisely or being able to integrate and leverage them throughout the company.

So what works?

With the expansion of edge computing, the Internet of Things, citizen development, and shadow IT, most CIOs recognize that now it is the time to rethink how IT engages with end users, and to develop new modes of operation.

Most will likely combine a number of techniques from the four models discussed above, with the result being a new “hybrid IT worker” who spans both the business and IT.

Here is what we know so far:

The historical notion of the IT “glass house,” with IT sequestered from end users, doesn’t work in today's environment of edge computing, IoT, and shadow IT.

IT analysts no longer can limit themselves to systems knowledge alone. They have to get out into the business and understand how the business works. Whether these analysts report to IT or the end business, they must develop effective communications, collaboration and negotiation skills with end users and with IT.

Security threats and the need to get fast ROI out of IT investments don’t leave much room for “runaway IT” where users make their own IT purchases without the company as a whole knowing that the investments have been made. Shadow IT is bound to continue, but what we ultimately will see is vendor management, technology integration and maintenance and IT security being centrally managed. To date, IT has been the best department to do this.

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About the Author(s)

Mary E. Shacklett

President of Transworld Data

Mary E. Shacklett is an internationally recognized technology commentator and President of Transworld Data, a marketing and technology services firm. Prior to founding her own company, she was Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturer in the semiconductor industry.

Mary has business experience in Europe, Japan, and the Pacific Rim. She has a BS degree from the University of Wisconsin and an MA from the University of Southern California, where she taught for several years. She is listed in Who's Who Worldwide and in Who's Who in the Computer Industry.

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