Why It's Time To Say Goodbye To IT - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // IT Strategy
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Why It's Time To Say Goodbye To IT

A modest proposal for eliminating IT and making something better.

11 Things Computer Users Will Never Experience Again
11 Things Computer Users Will Never Experience Again
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There's something wrong with IT.

I have personally observed this: I have spent a career turning around troubled IT organizations that somehow forgot that people come before technology. It's also clear even in popular non-technical media that something is wrong with IT. See The IT Crowd, Dilbert, and of course, Nicholas Carr's Does IT Matter?

There's something wrong with any department that seems to have a male dominance.

It suggests an elitism, an anti-collaborative stance. But that's IT-as-we-know-it. Even my department, which does pretty well compared to some, and has a history of significant female management, is only 37.5% female at the moment. Last I checked, females are 50% of the population, not 37.5%. We can and must do better.

Second, like a raging infection in the corporate body, IT is continually at war.

I'm tired of it already, and I'm sure you are, too. There's plenty of blame for the war to go around, of course: petty business leaders who are dismissive of anything "techie," especially when the techies come up with superior business process ideas than the business people; sociopath network engineers who dis the "l-users" at every turn; and managers who say that they prioritize technology and understand the value, but then cut funding, because "IT is really expensive."

Other offenders are security "experts" who decide that the best way for everyone to be secure is to set permissions so that people are completely unable to do their jobs, and finance and so-called business analysts who can barely use a spreadsheet yet call the help desk so that IT can spoon-feed them the most basic of operations and essentially do their jobs for them.

(Image: Wavebreakmedia/iStockphoto)

(Image: Wavebreakmedia/iStockphoto)

Yes. Plenty of blame. But the key here is that there is war going on. As with a dysfunctional relationship that needs to end before something really bad happens, I have a proposal: End it.

End IT as we know it. It's not working, folks. It's super-dysfunctional, and we all know it.

The dysfunction is caused by the traditional model of superhero IT which encourages learned helplessness on the part of employees. "Here's IT, to the rescue!" It's no wonder that people both resent and over-use IT: In extreme cases, we are still changing their diapers … I mean, their ink cartridges. Who in the world actually needs that bother in the 21st century?

[Want to know a big reason your IT department is so dysfunctional? See 5 Ways to Lose Your Best IT Talent.]

Now let me tell you what I think is working. Because I think that's where we need to go next.

Finding Hope

I am heartened by the amount of "we," not "war," that I have seen when organizations embark upon digital projects. These projects are all about collaboration. If the tech doesn't work, we're hosed. If the business process doesn't work, we're hosed. Everyone knows it, and we pull together to make it work. There's no culture of subservient help desks lurking, no techno-codependence. Everyone is responsible for their own stuff.

One of my organization's digital efforts targeted at collaboration led to a new organizational intranet on Labor Day. Let me tell you, this was not the "we" of IT.

It was the we of everybody.

It was the team of us: communications, IT, and departmental representatives who all believed in the business goals of better communication. This wasn't about a new tech project. This was about a new way for employees to communicate. The planning didn't involve some wonky ITIL model or a PMI framework. It involved a Business Model Canvas (BMC) that took collaboration and business needs more into account than it did technology.

The technology solved itself: the simplest tool set requiring the least customization that accomplished the goals in the BMC.

We allowed digital services to happen without IT codependence. Now employees are actually using it and benefiting.

That, my friends, is what I find exciting.

So, I invite you, in 2016 and beyond, to consider killing off IT. Of course, something needs to take its place. But instead of the customer-hostile, Mordac-the-Preventer-of-IT-Services, consider the "us means all of us, not just IT" model of digital services.

Digital services will necessarily be a huge change. We'll need our organization's best technologists. We'll need great communicators, awesome project managers, fantastic marketing pros, skilled negotiators, and the cream of our data scientists.

Sure, we'll need security and infrastructure folks, but a lot fewer of them (read: the collaborative, friendly ones), because we'll standardize and be using lots of pay-as-you-go cloud services for maximum flexibility. We can't have control freaks. No sociopaths are allowed who think that technology is only for technologists.

In reality, most organizations are not going to blow up IT today and rebuild digital services tomorrow. The chaos would be too great. But as leaders and business-friendly technologists, we can start the process. Just starting will be enough. Let's do it. Together.

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Jonathan Feldman is Chief Information Officer for the City of Asheville, North Carolina, where his business background and work as an InformationWeek columnist have helped him to innovate in government through better practices in business technology, process, and human ... View Full Bio
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User Rank: Ninja
12/26/2015 | 12:11:42 PM
While someone needs to be in charge of computers...
...I've doubted the benefits of computing centralization for close to two decades.  It makes sense to have a group of people to take charge of the common computing facilities, establish some common computing policies, and act as computer gurus for senior management; but would it really be wrong for each department to have its own computing staff directly accountable to the head of the department and attuned to the needs of that department?  Secretaries report directly to the managers they serve, not to a "Chief Clerical Officer" and the system has worked well for centuries.  Computing can't be quite that decentralized, but it doesn't have to be totally centralized either.
User Rank: Ninja
12/23/2015 | 11:52:28 AM
Re: A Rose by another name..
does that means IT will be under business? I think the transition will be slow because users are very used to going to one place for their tech questions.  If IT is eliminated, I'm afraid,;they will be confused as to where to go if they have an IT question.  May be subdivisions will be best, one for collaboration and another one for tech support
User Rank: Ninja
12/22/2015 | 1:07:59 PM
A Rose by another name..
While I agree many organizations don't integrate IT very well, too much "us versus them", the term describes a core set of skills which don't just go away. I don't see Marketing majors learning IT in school anytime soon.

And though I detest security as much as anyone, someone has to look at it with this horribly insecure infrastructure in use today. I just got done blasting my bank for changing policy to force online account password change every 90 days even though they have a two factor system in place. Talk about Mordac at work. But to pretend business people care is folly, they are the ones who implemented all this online stuff with tools which are inherently not secure.

But you are right on IT has to just be part of the business like all other departments.
User Rank: Ninja
12/22/2015 | 8:32:33 AM
Changing IT
While I agree with the bulk of this I think the gender comparisons are a poor measure of your team.  "Even my department, which does pretty well compared to some, and has a history of significant female management, is only 37.5% female at the moment. Last I checked, females are 50% of the population, not 37.5%. We can and must do better."  Walk down to your reception desk and see how many males are there... Step into HR and Accounting see how their mix is.  If women are not attracted to jobs in IT, I don't think trying to level out your IT staff according to gender makes much sense.  If you find someone who loves what they do and they do it well, you hire them regardless of age, sex, race, whatever, but I think trying to even things out just leads you to making hires based on stats not talent. 
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