As many of my colleagues and contacts know I have spent the last 10 years in the field of Change Management and have in the last year returned to the world of technology and project management. I have a number of observations on what has changed in that time and I want to discuss one of these in this blog. My observation is that traditional internal IT departments are fast losing their power base, relevance and influence. In the last half of my career I expect to see them replaced by smaller teams of specialists in digital strategy, strategic partnering and procurement facilitators and PMO experts.
In the early part of my career, the true change agents in organisations often lived in the IT Department – these were the people who led the charge to automate manual processes. This was the biggest form of change going in organisations. These IT Departments spent time convincing business colleagues to embrace change by adopting new technologies to reduce costs (particularly labour costs) and increase efficiency. Business Systems Analysts – those fantastic hybrids who could talk in two languages – ‘techo’ and ‘business’ became very fashionable. The IT Department often moved faster than many organisations could bear. Sometimes this resulted in high-profile and extremely costly IT disasters as user requirements grew out of control and resistance to change commonplace. Nevertheless, IT was where it was happening and there was much talk of IT Leaders gaining their seat at the top table.
Fast forward to today and a trifecta of events have caused the ‘IT Department as Change Leader’ scenario to be turned on its head.
The perfect storm includes;
- Off-shoring/outsourcing – used mainly to drive IT costs down
- Cloud computing – used mainly to take the management distraction of supporting IT infrastructure off the books of an organisation
- The growing sophistication of technology users who regularly bypass the IT Department to get what they need to support them to do their jobs
These three things have contributed to the internal IT Department often being totally left behind the change instead of ahead of it. But far worse than all three of these factors are the damaging observations and perceptions many share towards the modern internal IT department.
In the last six months I have heard countless times from frustrated Executives about how dealing with their IT Departments is like swimming in treacle or worse they are a total roadblock to delivering major business change. And the Executives response to this is to bypass them or berate them.
None of this is really fair of course, but it is a reality. So I am not saying that the IT Departments are totally to blame – we all know business leaders want things yesterday for half the cost and twice the functionality! We all know business leaders who do not understand the complexity of managing legacy systems and then refuse to invest in a technology refresh.
However I believe there are some attitudinal changes required from within internal IT Departments. Some thought bubbles on this include;
- Realise that the IT Department is a service provider and an enabler of business strategy. It is not bigger or more important than the organisation nor does the department exist as an end in itself. Sure IT can be a game changer but keep this in perspective.
- Find ways to say ‘yes’ instead of leading with a ‘no’ and then accompanying the ‘no’ with a diatribe on the complexity of a business change.
- IT Departments need to leverage the power of strategic partners in the market. IT should know how to engage with the right partners and then how to maximise their value to the organisation.
- Take more calculated risks in small pilot projects run that are using agile methods and do away with the mountains of artefacts and convoluted gating processes (an audit ‘trail’ is good and audit ‘highway’ is not!)
- Speak in plain English…..an old favourite of mine…yes there are still some IT Executives out there who continue to terrify Business Executives with IT jargon – a dangerous game – people fear what they don’t understand and will find ways to avoid or bypass the culprits.
All fairly motherhood stuff! Am I being too harsh? Are IT Departments convenient scapegoats? Will we see a swing back to bigger internal IT Departments? Interested in your thoughts. Please join the discussion.