Is It Time To Change The IT Department?

Is it time for CIOs to change the IT department?
Is it time for CIOs to change the IT department?
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I suspect that one thing that a CIO does not spend a great deal of time thinking about is completely restructuring the IT department. However, perhaps we should. Let’s face it, the way that your IT department was set up was established years ago. You know, back when computers were a precious commodity and there needed to be a special department dedicated to acquiring, installing, and maintaining them. Now that computers have spread throughout the company, perhaps a new approach to IT is called for.

What’s Wrong With The IT Department?

I think that every CIO can agree that no IT department should be an island. Despite our mission, which often talks about driving company wide innovation and digital transformation, CIOs, as heads of these departments, are frequently reduced to running what could be called an island. Take a look at any organization’s structure, and you are very likely to see a rectangular box labeled IT, with its own management hierarchy and budget. However, here’s the sad fact: CIOs are now realizing that having an IT department is exactly what will prevent companies from being innovative, agile, customer-focused and digitally transformed.

Why is this? It turns out that IT departments are for a bygone era and are ill-suited to the demands of our digital-first world. Everyone loves to complain about the IT department – blaming the people in them and their leaders for living in their own worlds, and for being unresponsive to business needs. It turns out that our complaints are misguided. The problem really isn’t with the people or the leaders. Instead, the issue is with the whole idea of IT departments in the first place, which sets up IT to fail. The encouraging news is there are also a small number of CIO pioneers who are in the process of ditching their IT departments. And their examples can offer models for other CIOs looking to do the same.

To understand how we all got here, it might help to remember why IT departments came into being. Originally they were known as the “computer department”. Back then they had a strictly back-office function, making sure the organization’s computers kept running. That made sense when there was there were two worlds: business and technology. Today, while the IT department may have a chic new name, the idea of corralling all staff with knowledge and expertise deemed necessary to manage IT into one organizational unit no longer really makes sense. Leaving all of the company’s IT decisions and activities to a department that is figuratively and sometimes physically far from the so-called core business is simply a recipe for disaster.

A New Way Of Doing IT

It turns out that there is a better way. Companies can move to get rid of their IT departments and instead make IT part of every business unit. The leadership team needs to work from a design premise to realize value from IT as opposed to one focused on managing IT. While this might seem like a subtle shift, it really represents a profound shift. Of course, if a company has its own data centers, on-site servers and software, they will need specialists to manage all this tech. Back in the day this was the original objective of the IT department. But with the arrival of cloud computing and other technology innovations, having hardware or software physically on the premises is actually no longer necessary.

By setting up a structure that organizes employee groups around missions such as business banking, payments and marketplace, a company is able to embed technology know-how in each of these areas. CIOs can ask themselves a simple question: how do we harness the capability of technology to achieve our particular goals? In doing so, this can free them to use technology in whatever way works best for them. This autonomy/accountability combination gives each employee a strong sense of ownership and motivation. Teams will have the resources they need, and while this can sometimes result in redundancy, it is something a company has to be prepared to accept. With this type of organization nobody has to wait for the IT department to approve their request.

It’s important to note with this type of organization this doesn’t mean anybody can do anything when it comes to technology. Decentralizing technology also requires that there be at least some centralization. You can think of this as defining guardrails – everybody has to use the same security protocols and software-programming languages, and conform to a prescribed architectural blueprint when building digital products and solutions. However, within those guardrails, your employees have the scope to do whatever is necessary to get the job done. The goal is to create “freedom within a framework,” giving your staff the canvas and the paint but leaving it up to them to decide what they choose to paint and how they go about doing it.

What All Of This Means For You

Just in case you didn’t think that you had enough big issues to deal with, it turns out that there is yet another 600 pound gorilla in the room: should your company even have an IT department. Most CIOs would scoff at this idea, of course every company needs an IT department. Or do they? Let’s face it, the idea of creating an IT department is something that was dreamed up a long time ago and a great deal has changed since then. Perhaps now is the time for CIOs to be taking a look at their IT department in order to determine if it really needs to continue to exist.

If CIOs are not careful, their IT department can be considered to be an island within their firm. The idea of having an IT department is an old idea whose time may have come and gone. IT departments were created back when the company’s computers were all centralized and needed to be managed. With today’s distributed computing environment, IT departments with their centralized resources don’t make as much sense any more. These is now a better way. Companies can make their IT department be a part of every department in the company. Each department can choose to use technology in a way that best allows them to meet their goals. There will have to be limits. Standardization will need to be implemented in order to make sure that there is not chaos. However, even within these limits teams can innovate.

Considering breaking up the IT department is a big idea. What the role of the CIO would be in a new organization like this is not well defined. However, moving all of the IT assets closer to where the business is being done seems like it makes really good sense. CIOs need to consider this new idea and determine if it makes sense for their company. If it does, then they will need to start to take steps to make sure that IT resources can be placed where they need to go. The future is looking like it is going to be very different than things are today!

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: Who would multiple IT departments coordinate among themselves?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

CIOs understand that new technologies are coming at us all of the time. When we discover a new technology that we believe will benefit our company (think “Zoom”), we want to introduce it to the company as quickly as possible. However, that is where a lot of us end up going wrong. We need to understand that the introduction of a new technology means change and almost nobody likes change. What that means is that we need to be careful and make sure that we don’t make mistakes in how we go about introducing new technology into the workplace.