Corporate IT's Darwinian Challenge - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // Digital Business
08:35 AM
Sarah Lahav
Sarah Lahav

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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User Rank: Ninja
11/26/2014 | 7:31:31 AM
Re: Internal versus Cloud
@TerryB, this is what I wonder as well.  Most people see IT as the PC on their desk and the servers running applications but this is just part of what a corporate IT group should be doing.  That being said from the article " Instead it was, and continues to be, IT's inability to change itself as its ecosystem changes around it. "  this does continue to be a problem in some companies.  Eventually IT groups can get too big to get out of their own way.   I turned down a position with a very large company about 10 years ago because through the hiring process I could see how painful it was going to be to get anything done.  There are still groups out there who think of hardware as appliances and you just use them until they give out.  The age of a more nimble IT group is here and if you're not able to move near the speed of consumer based solutions then you're going to get push back from everyone that depends on you.  
User Rank: Ninja
11/26/2014 | 5:43:19 AM
Re: Corporate IT's Darwinian Challenge
Thanks for this, Sarah. The popular expression about seeing the forest for the trees seems very applicable here. It's somewhat forgivable for an IT pro who has his head in his work to forget that these broad concepts are apart of his job, and that they're not scary ghost-of-christmas-future-style possible outcomes, but rather key opportunities for growth. That's why I think your point as well TerryB's compelling counterpoint can go hand-in-hand together; There's a difference between heady concepts and the reality of day-to-day IT operations, but not necessarily a mismatch.

There's a lot of talk about tech spending and projects slipping away from IT into other parts of the business - marketing, "shadow IT", and the introduction of 'digital' officers. Many people seem to think that's a bad thing. My thought is that IT can't possibly expand to incorporate any and all technology activities in the business, but that it should have a hand in all of it. if you want to be a part of all that, then be a part of it! Why can't IT leaders put their name in to be that chief digital officer? On the other end, routine services won't just dissapear, and staff will always need to exist for helpdesk-like roles. What we currently think of as 'IT' may diversift and even split into multiple departments, but there's no reason to view that negatively.
User Rank: Ninja
11/25/2014 | 1:18:44 PM
Internal versus Cloud
I read these types of articles and it's tough to get my head around what exactly is getting replaced. Our Corp level services include firewall, proxy server/internet/gateway filtering, circuit management, VPN gateways, company external website, company internal intranet, antivirus, Active Directory and email (Lotus Notes).

I'm leaving out Windows desktop and server implementations, since those are what you (at least I) think about when you think cloud.

Then you get to more local business unit level where ERP (back office thru shop floor), PCL/MES systems (think Wonderware, and the integration to ERP), printer support, network device support and cell/mobile support come in.

Just exactly how are users implementing their own "shadow IT" to replace that? I have not met many business users who are even aware of this stuff, they think big business should work as simply as their home ISP and their iPhone does.

Even if all this was "in the cloud", how many internal IT do you need to coordinate all this? These are the reasons I think this cloud stuff is mostly hype. For small business, I get it. For a $100 million+ multi-unit, global entity, not so much. Not every business is an internet company that needs elastic, fast growing storage and large scale peak capacity scaling. How many, if any, business to business manufacturers need the cloud, now or ever?

User Rank: Author
11/25/2014 | 10:43:03 AM
Good tips
But if your IT group is just accepting these realities now, you're behind the curve.
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