Corporate IT's Darwinian Challenge - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // Digital Business
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11/25/2014
08:35 AM
Sarah Lahav
Sarah Lahav
Commentary
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Corporate IT's Darwinian Challenge

IT organizations face a gradual erosion, and possible extinction, if they don't address the dangers within.

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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As SysAid Technologies' first employee, Sarah Lahav has remained a vital link between SysAid and its customers since 2003. She is the current CEO and the former VP of Customer Relations. The two positions have given her a hands-on role in evolving SysAid solutions to align ... View Full Bio
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tzubair
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tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
11/30/2014 | 4:11:44 AM
Re: Internal versus Cloud
"They could however take some time off and service the cloud based data their business is having because it really takes off the dead weight off the shoulders of any IT department."

@yalanand: I think it's all about how the IT department is structured. You do need technical people in your team to support the business users with day-to-day IT issues but you also need to have an applications team dedicated towards looking after internal and cloud-based apps. It is very essential to have the app team so that you can cater to future business requirements and not stay like a support function all the time.
tzubair
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tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
11/30/2014 | 4:26:27 AM
Re: Internal versus Cloud
"Well they should take them as business partners because most of their data is going into the cloud which can be managed ony by the IT partners."

@yalanand: When I meant that the IT department be known as "business partners", I meant that they should be treated like somebody who is involved in business decision making and had the capability to make strategic business decisions. In contrast to this, there are IT departments where the highest level of decision-making is confined to what brand of router to buy and what software to use. They don't drive the business through technology.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
12/1/2014 | 7:31:05 AM
Re: Internal versus Cloud
@tzubair, it flows downhill.  If the C level doesn't expect more from the IT team then they tend not to put that level of effort in as a whole but there is probably at least one member of the team who wants to be more than the PC repair team.  Even if it's their personal devices or pet projects many IT professionals go way beyond the scope of their workplace role, companies need to learn how to harness that for use inside the business.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
12/1/2014 | 11:50:05 AM
Re: Internal versus Cloud
@tzubair, in theory you should be right and sounds like you have been places that may be true. But my core expertise is ERP support. Whether it is on premise or from SaaS, one of the roles I've always had to fill is master knowledge keeper of how this type of software drives the business. Granted, almost all of my career has been for manufacturers with 40-100 office type people, not a big Fortune 1000 company. But I've met very few business people who even understood the processes across the entire business.

Now, if you are talking about specialty apps like CRM or SPC, I totally agree with you. They don't need my help. But being a developer also, one of things I bring is the ability to expand our core ERP system to perform those processes without having to buy these standalone packages. And then they are completely integrated.

What I think happens a lot in incompent or understaffed IT is they can not expand their core systems, either at all or in a timely fashion. So then users go buy Salesforce. Or Workday. Or some SPC software. etc, etc.

If you can run your business with separate packages which do not integrate, seems like this process might work fine. But doing what I do, not a place I ever worked, you don't need someone like me. I'm pretty flexible in my skills, my ability to create most anything. So which is more cost effective, paying me or buying all these packages and not having me? I think the answer is different on a case by case basis.
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