Last week I gave a few suggestions for business people to get a better understanding of what makes their IT colleagues tick, and how to get along better. This week I want to tackle the IT department.
I have worked with a dozen or more IT departments (for a decent period of time) over the last 20 years:
- IT companies, big, medium and tiny
- Local Government
- Government agencies
- Financial services
As you can imagine, some have been more effective than others. Out of the dozen, I would class three of them as being well-integrated and aligned with the aims of their organisation. The other 75% are doing ok, I don’t think any have been a total disaster. They deliver complex projects with moderate success and just one or two skeletons in the cupboard. They do “good enough”.
And that’s a problem for the CIO, because as I outlined in an earlier post, it is becoming increasingly easy for business people to find their own IT solutions that are “good enough” …and they can do it quicker and cheaper than through a formal IT project and all its baggage. If an enthusiastic graduate in a marketing team can knock-up a salesforce.com CRM system in a few weeks for a fairly small monthly fee, no commitment and no capital outlay, why do they need an IT project that will deliver something a bit better but 2 years and £3m later?
Unless CIOs start swiftly delivering IT projects that glitter with value to the business then the IT department will become the business world’s new dinosaur.
Easy eh? …so how?
We need to review why a business has got an IT department – what is it’s purpose in today’s world?
- Should it keep the business at the leading edge of technology, or in the mainstream?
- Is it here to enforce standards, or support the business needs?
- Should it actively seek and promote ways in which technology can give the business a competitive advantage, or simply respond to requests from the business?
- Should it own and host the servers and IT infrastructure, or should it manage the infrastructure through specialist partners?
- Should it manage and deliver all projects that involve technology, or is the business better placed to take responsibility?
Answers to these questions (and others) will vary between organisations of course. Is the purpose of your IT department the same as it was a few years ago, or have things evolved?
Then we can ask (for starters):
- Does the business agree with this purpose?
- How well it is fulfilling that purpose today – does the business agree?
- What mindset and skills do the IT staff need to fulfill that purpose – what is the gap?
- What barriers exist between IT and the business, and how can they be removed?
So how does your IT department measure up …and what are you doing about it?
The most common shortcoming
There is something that every CIO needs to drive into the mindsets of the staff in the IT dept. Something that will help the IT staff be much more productive and projects much more successful. Something that will massively improve the reputation of the IT dept.
It is simple. It outstrips all project methodologies I know and increases staff value many times over. And it is FREE!
…but of course there is a catch, and it’s one that can vex those CIOs who have become disproportionately fixated on their CMMI levels. So I’m sorry, but the catch is there is no certificate to give your staff. They’ll just have to make do with becoming really good at their job.
Here it is:
- If you work for an insurance company – you are not in IT. Learn about insurance and what innovations your competitors are introducing.
- If you work for a local authority – you are not in IT. Learn about the services your council provides and how councils are changing.
- If you work for Tesco – you are not in IT. Learn about retail.
- If you work for an IT company – ok, you are in IT! Learn about your customers and how they use technology.
…then figure out how your IT skills can help your company do its business (that you now understand) better.
This may seem unfair on the IT community. As pointed out in a comment on an earlier post, the business expects IT to understand everything it does. Can you imagine in a Local Authority what this must be like – IT needs to know about social care, planning regulations, streetlights, parking tickets, council tax, housing, education, etc. We would not expect social care staff to know about parking tickets, or an insurance underwriter to understand online marketing strategy, or a supermarket fishmonger to know the ins and outs of baking.
It is unfair – but it’s real, it is necessary, so let’s deal with it. Lets not pretend that our IT guys are doing the very best they can to understand the business – they need CIO leadership to shift their focus and start valuing the gaining of business knowledge as much as they do the accumulation of IT certificates (honestly the Scouts/Guides have tougher criteria for awarding badges.)
Businesses need IT, but they need IT staff that talk their language and understand their challenges. This cannot be done from within the walls of a central IT dept. IT staff have to live and work amongst the business to appreciate their problems, and they should specialise in a business area or two rather than trying to understand everything.
Face it – if the internal IT staff don’t understand the business challenges and work hand-in-hand with the business to solve them, then a third party specialist will be only too happy to step in. So why does your business have an IT department?
Next week: What will be left for the IT dept to do?