In the first of a series of short, insightful and incisive thought bullets, Dr Graeme Codrington suggests that a significant portion of your IT department should be shut down. Let your people purchase and manage their own technology, engage more effectively with your younger staff, take advantage of recent advances in IT – and save money at the same time. It’s just a thought…
One of corporate life’s little joys is the internal rivalry between different departments and line functions. We each think our area of the business is the most important, and is being hamstrung or misunderstood by all the others. But some departments seem to receive more than their fair share of derision (HR, Compliance and IT spring to mind). In some cases it’s undeserved, but I fear that in many companies IT is out of control.
I need to declare my interest in this topic. For much of the 1990s, I was involved in growing an IT startup company that offered solutions development and training. I wrote the exams to qualify as an MCSD (Microsoft Solutions Developer), and freelanced as a web designer and end user solutions developer (in VB, VBA and SQL if you’re interested). I was also involved in the early stages of developing CAATs (computer assisted auditing techniques) whilst an articled clerk at KPMG.
I do have both understanding and sympathy for IT departments, but I also think it’s time for a shake up. It’s not the people I am talking about – the issue is with the system itself. You might want to take a look at Harvard Business Review’s blog on eight things executives hate about IT, to see what I mean.
The first (and most important) change I’d recommend for the IT department relates to end user hardware supply and support. This is the bane of the IT department’s lives. The whizzkids in IT (assuming you have some) didn’t join the IT industry so they could hand out laptops and mobile phones, answer support calls on how to get a Blackberry to synch with the company’s mail server, or to handle the admin related to laptop repairs. We need to simply stop making this IT’s problem. IT should not have any responsibility for desktops, laptops, end user software, mobile phones or digital accessories.
We don’t supply people with clothes to wear at work – we just expect them to be suitably dressed (and even enforce dress code policies). We don’t supply our staff with watches, but we do expect them to be on time. We don’t send taxis to pick them up from home every day – we just expect them to get to and from work on their own. And if their car breaks down, it’s not our problem – they have to both get it fixed and still get to work on their own (and on time). So why do we supply people with mobile phones and laptops?
Your people should be given specifications and told to get their own equipment. They should insure it themselves and take out their own repair contracts if they want to. You might even consider taking the money you save by downsizing IT in this way and simply pay this out to each staff member to cover their costs. In fact, when we’ve done this as an exercise at clients, it has been obvious that the savings in IT costs are more than enough to give staff a cash payment to do it themselves. Everybody wins.
And don’t let IT tell you it can’t be done. Computers are more compatible than they’ve ever been, as is software. Cloud computing will improve this even more. This is both possible and desirable.
The second change relates to usage policies. Many companies restrict access to certain websites (such as social networking sites, YouTube, etc) and block emails being sent to competitors. Unless there is some genuine technical reason to do this (and the only one I can think of is bandwidth problems), it is ridiculous for IT to impose such draconian one-size-fits-all policies.
And, let’s be honest, in most companies, people get around these blockages anyway. People use their own Gmail accounts to send emails, requisition for a 3G dongle for their laptop so they can surf the web without going through the company gateway, or simply use one of the numerous mirror sites to get access to Facebook and other sites anyway. In other words, the policies don’t work at a technical level. The fact that most of them are ill conceived in the first place is a moot point.
The third issue is just a small bugbear of mine, but I’ll take the opportunity to put it out there: sort out your spam filters and spam procedures. Most company spam filters are much too stringent and block too many emails. Worse still, most do not inform the intended recipient that an email has been blocked. This creates a really bad impression for people struggling to communicate with a client or supplier.
For example, a large banking client of ours allows no emails with image attachments to go through its firewall. The problem is that outgoing emails from the bank convert the embedded bank logo into an image attachment. When you reply to the email the bank’s own logo gets attached to your reply and then gets blocked by their own email filter. How dumb is that?
Finally, I’d like to see the IT department reporting differently. The CIO can report to the Board and senior management on core IT infrastructure issues. But IT should also be directly accountable to whoever is responsible for branding, customer service and staff engagement. The branding and customer facing focus is obvious, as this is often where clients and customers interface with the company (websites, computer systems, call centres, etc).
The staff engagement issue is less obvious. Increasingly, we’re hearing that young talented people are completely frustrated by the IT policies, hardware and software they have to work with in their organizations. In some cases, this is becoming a deal breaker for them, and a reason to leave their current jobs. As the recession ends and talent becomes mobile again, you don’t want outdated and frustrating IT to be the reason your bright stars leave. Whoever is responsible for this needs to take IT much more seriously than they currently do.
The IT department is integral to most businesses and vital for their success and smooth operation. But most IT departments have too much power, manage too many things, and do not provide adequate support for the businesses they serve. It is in their best interests as well as the best interests of the company to sort this out sooner rather than later. The steps above will not solve everything, but they’re a good start. This is not a fully worked out IT policy review. It’s just a thought.
Dr Graeme Codrington is a future trends analyst with TomorrowToday, a strategy consultancy he co-founded. He is an author, researcher, keynote presenter and expert on the new world of work. He can be contacted at [email protected]
Graeme …We’ve had this converstaion before.. dont understand most of the IT terms you refer to.. Cannot possibly compare a watch or a car to computer .. not to most boomers who have some ITsavvy but who need immediate available support in the office now ..on the other end of a phone text or e mail .. we are learning .. but prioritise time differenly are quite demanding ,in a friendly way of course and are used to assistance .. Think that will be the case for a while say the next 50 years while we still run the world !!!
Dori, you Boomers are fantastic! I love it.
You make a good point. However, most people in corporates have real frustration with the lack of support from in house IT for exactly these types of issues. Why not outsource it? Just go for “rent a nerd” instead of waiting for the grumpy souls from the IT basement to help you out.
Of course, if you have brilliant in house IT, then just ignore me.
Interesting viewpoint – I think it makes a lot of sense. And I’m not just saying that because Facebook is blocked at my workplace! 🙂
Funny we were just talking about this at a breakfast this morning. Main point was that the wrong “gate Keepers” were holding the IT keys, and trying to hold back the technology tsunami.
I completely agree with the sentiment you express, and for the record own my own laptop. To me, the only real IT jobs required are those developing and maintaining big systems, with a skeleton crew on th infrastructure (in large companies). I also have a huge concern about classifying people who assist you with Word as being IT people, and wanting IT premium pay.
However, we need to be careful of one or two things before wee throw out the baby with the bathwater. One is fairly easy to manage – and is around the common standards, and security requirements that we all want in place before that “other idiot” logs onto our systems, loses files, and infects it with viruses. This can be managed, but will require some discipline in setting up the “minimum standards” required per laptop.
The bigger concern though is around privacy issues. Already one can run a gauntlet when trying to manage appropriate computer usage in the workplace, or to ensure your IP isn’t downloaded and carried off the premises. I had to assist a client develop a complete computer usage policy because he had evidence that a very senior employee had ripped off his database and client-base in their final week before leaving the company, and when he went and looked at their laptop to be sure, got into all sorts of legal trouble as he was breaking privacy rules (albeit it was his equipment in the first place). He should apparently have obtained a court order (anton pillar) before doing so. The policy we put in place resolved that going forward.
However, if we are going to own our own laptops, and be responsible for our own technology, it becomes very hard to institute policies allowing access to stored information on private machines, and limiting browsing to sites unlikely to carry viruses, etc. With your background you probably have far more insight than I do on the subject and I would love to hear you comment.
I would love to see you expand on this subject, and grow it going forward. In principle, you have a supporter in me.
Graeme, an interesting idea and one that we have been playing around with for a while… as a small consulting company we have considered including a technology allowance in our salary package which can be used at the discretion of each individual as long as they have a reliable laptop, voice and data communications. An example of alternative use could be an iPod and Audible subscription to make commuting hours more productive. Our first step in this direction has been to provide a technology allowance to ensure reliable voice and data communications.
When it comes to corporates there are 2 issues that they attempt to solve through the introduction of restrictive IT policies, which as you point out tend to increase IT’s involvement in ‘supporting’ the day-to-day business operations. The first is a perceived loss of productivity and the second is the protection of data assets and digital I.P. I have noticed that in their attempts to solve these problems some of our corporate clients become more and more restrictive but less and less productive. My view is that the first problem can be solved through recruiting the right type of people and managing them right. The protection of data and information assets cannot be addressed effectively through restrictive measures that try to keep data within the boundaries of an organisation. As corporate IT boundaries become more and more blurred with the use of cloud based services the challenge to secure data is only going to be greater. Corporates are going to have to secure data and digital I.P. at its source – the data layer. The effectiveness of this is largely a people management issue – making sure that the right people have access to the right data and retain them through effective management.
Graeme, you’ve hit a sizeable nail on the head … and I don’t say that because we have the same surname. I am a very early Boomer and I agree that we must let the IT boffins do what they do best.
A word to Dorianne: if she thinks Boomers will still be in chrage in 50 years’ time, she’d better wake up and smell the coffee! We’re not even in charge now!!!
Graeme, as much as I like the principle of giving people choice and responsibility, I don’t think that letting people purchase and manage their own IT is practical.
All startups begin by managing their own IT, and if they’re anything like us they move as quickly as possible to getting a user hardware and software support contract. In fact we’ve got two: a helpdesk contract for day-to-day problems (“I can’t print”) and another for complex problems and projects. No matter how much you like reinstalling windows after a software or virus meltdown, it is extremely time consuming. IT expertise is available quite cheaply and for most staff you’re probably better off having standby PCs/laptops and leaving the IT experts to fix the problems. Another point to illustrate is freelance workers, who are usually responsible for their own IT, and I sometimes get so frustrated at their own self-inflicted IT problems that I offer them a laptop that is under our control and support.
Another very good reason to have shared IT support is that if you don’t, one of the brightest and keenest members of your team will inevitably become known as the IT guy, and it will be the death of his career, at least for as long as he falls into that trap. I know because in my first job I was caught in that position and had to threaten to resign before it was resolved.
And that’s aside from all the IP and risk issues mentioned above. Plus as soon as a business reaches any level of complexity, some bespoke software will be needed (CRM, finance, accounts, design), and that will need support.
I do think this will all change once all data and software is held remotely, and PCs and portable devices become dumb terminals with no local data. I guess that the main remaining barrier is ultra-fast mobile and fixed line connection speeds that make remote processing invisible to the user. I’m hoping that day comes soon.
Nice points, Tim. If you can create an IT department such as you have described, then it’s worth keeping. However, that is not the reality in most corporates. I wonder if paradoxically, corporates should NOT have one, and small to mid size companies should?
PS – if you enjoyed this article, you might also be interested in one I wrote recently on how social media has the potential to change how we structure our businesses: http://www.connectioneconomy.com/2010/03/04/when-social-media-grows-up%E2%80%A6-it-will-change-everything/
Graeme, your article is intended to be provocative, but I am not convinced that the points you make constitute a good start or that you are being practical.
You state that IT is integral to most businesses– I would suggest that most should read all. Also, in how many businesses is one person (the whoever in your article) responsible for branding, customer service AND staff engagement? I would be impractical for the CIO to report directly to this “whoever” and to the board in respect of core IT infrastructural issues (he would be torn the shreds by competing interests).. Surely, the responsibility for core IT infrastructural issues dictates that the CIO has to report to the CEO?
How would you respond if I were to suggest that the role of the CIO is to source, implement and maintain the systems architecture necessary to support the core competencies of an organisation? Probably an old-fashioned point of view?
I have been asked to write a longer version of this article for the IOD Directorship magazine, and will flesh it out a bit more – and be slightly more practical. But, yes, it’s mainly intended to provoke thought about the role of IT.
However, I am serious that I think IT should go the way of Quality Control. Once a major, and very powerful, department, it is not gone and integrated into line functions. Quality is everyone’s problem. Well, so is IT.
I don’t mean the management of the core IT infrastructure and dedicated software that runs the business. But end-user IT should be a line function, not a seperate department.
In terms of the reporting lines I was talking about, I actually meant that IT should report to different people. They should report to HR because IT policies are beginning to be a deal breaker for talented people – and HR should take this seriously. They should report to branding because the way they manage their IT systems has brand implications. And they should report to customer services for the same reason. IT should be much more people focussed, and supportive of the strategies of the business. Is that level of matrix reporting impractical? Maybe – but it’s still better than the current state of play in many businesses.
Finally, I am happy with your definition of the CIO’s job. I’d add something though that would indicate that it is meant to be proactive/strategic, rather than the current very reactive approach many IT leaders take. BUT, my issue is not with the systems architecture – it is with the end user support and equipment side of IT’s job. It shouldn’t be their job. It’s like making marketing/branding be in charge of customer service dress code. Or making logistics be in charge of getting staff to the office on time. Or making the FD responsible for the menu in the canteen (it does have financial implications, after all). It’s a throwback to an older era when people needed hand holding when it came to technology. I know some people still do, but they need to get a life and get sorted. It’s the 21st century, and if you still don’t know how to synchronise your phone or protect your computer from viruses, you shouldn’t be allowed out in public anyway. Sure, a transition period would be needed, but people will never take the step until they’re forced to. I’m suggesting it’s time we force them to.
A great follow up article from the HBR blog: http://blogs.hbr.org/hbr/cramm/2010/04/the-change-management-challeng.html
Yesterday, a CIO said to me: “It’s time to increase the IT-smarts of the rest of the business. They are demanding more direct control and they are ready for it.” …
This CIO, and any CIO or IT leader interested in fostering IT-smarts, should consider this research as they define their change program. To jump start this definition, here are eight steps that I believe are critical to creating an IT-smart enterprise:
1. Assess current performance
2. Make sure the IT house is in order
3. Focus where the pain is worth the gain
4. Tell a good story
5. Target people who like to change
6. Use action-based versus classroom learning
7. Deliver tools that empower self-sufficiency
8. Incentivize the right behaviors
Another good read has just been posted at Inc magazine’s Blog: http://www.inc.com/tech-blog/no-respect-for-it.html
Some extracts from it, and the pieces it references:
A global study by Princeton consultants BlessingWhite (August 2008) finds that fewer than one in four information technology department employees are fully engaged in their work. Of the eight staff areas studied for levels of employee engagement, the IT function ranks last across the globe.
The State of Employee Engagement 2008 study suggested that the “Top Factors Influencing Increased Job Contribution of IT Employees:
* Development opportunities and training 27%
* Greater clarity about what the organization needs me to do, and why 20%
* Regular, specific feedback about how I’m doing 20%
* More resources 12%
* A coach or mentor other than my manager 9%
* Better communication with my manager 6%
* A better relationship with my coworkers 5%
Is IT a profit center or a cost center? Who cares?
I have seen several organizations that use such a convoluted chargeback model that managing it literally takes several weeks of top-level staff’s time each year. In the name of making IT look like it makes money, reams of spreadsheets and internal paper passing are instituted, almost universally to the chagrin of other business units that must deal with the mess. Not to mention there is the lackluster internal PR that is generated when IT comes to other business unit managers with an unrealistically high internal chargeback rate, spouting off about IT pulling in its share of corporate profits one moment, then telling the exec that he is forced to pay above-market rates and jump through accounting hoops to facilitate this so-called profit.
At the end of the day, the accounting treatment of what IT endeavors to accomplish matters far less than its actual results. A profitability mind-set can be a wonderful thing, as long as it considers profitability for the entire corporation, not the amount of money it can transfer from one internal account to another. Partnering with other business units with the needs of the paying external customer will create real monetary value for the organization and free IT from convoluted arguments used to justify its existence. A focus on true profitability for the organization as a whole will likely generate far different results, both in terms of the projects IT focuses on and its execution, than mindlessly worshiping the internal “customer.”
Arguably, the only true profit in any organization is generated when the external customer gives cash to the organization in exchange for a good or service. If IT truly wants to deliver profit, focusing its efforts on making this interaction as effective, efficient, and, yes, profitable as possible is the right path. Leave the debates about accounting gyrations to the bean counters.
Here are some articles on this same topic by people in the IT industry. All good reading:
Being more on the younger side of your readership – this is already happening to companies that don’t have the legacy of old school IT and old school worker mentality. (In my experience most staff under 25 can set up a PC, plug in a projector and connect to a network drive.)
I consulted to a European company where the IT Department only allowed Nokia handsets because of “security policies”. By the time the IT department woke up to the fact that people would spend their own money to buy a non-Nokia device (the company provided a free Nokia each year) the “Bright young things” had already been using iPhone users for 2 years and convinced the MD to buy one. By the time the MD used the iPhone it brought a whole set of applications and expectations…
This is not limited to Apple devices although I see the Macbook Air and iPad as being devices that are going to drive similar change to what I witnessed with the iPhone.
I see this happening with other good technology solutions where “bright young things” have no hesitation to spend money on tools that make their work better. They do not rely on the IT Department to find solutions for them.
I do however feel that the traditional corporates will take a much longer time to adapt as there is still such a technology barrier and still a need to call IT to get the printer to work. I like the idea of giving the business departments more responsibility for their technology choices.
It will be an interesting path ahead to keep the IT Department motivated and delivering great service in the best interest of the company, finding solutions and not hiding behind excuses.
Erwin, thanks for your feedback. I’m thrilled to hear that things I predict will happen have, in fact, already happened :-).
Thanks for your insights.