What IT Needs To Change To Survive

A week ago I interviewed for a position at a major Life Insurance/Financial Services company in Seoul. The CIO asked me a lot of strategy-oriented questions. I was thrilled to be able to field this one:

"With all the changes in the technology, how does IT have to change to continue to be relevant?"

This question is really important. In fact, its one of the reasons that I have questioned whether or not IT is a good place to be developing one's career these days. This is not a good time for IT leaders to have their heads in the sand. I will mention a few things that are driving changes to IT's way of life, and provide some solutions for forward-thinking IT leaders.

1. Disruptive technologies. It used to be Internet access, then VPN, then Blackberries. Now it is smart phones, tablets, BYOD, social network apps, and smart work. By and large, IT hates new stuff. We are still trying to work out the kinks in our old stuff and figure out how were going to get to the next rev. The problem is that companies need the new stuff in order to compete for customers and employees. In the near future our service catalogs will be out of date by the time we can finish negotiating them. If ITILv4 is yet more static IT operations models, it will be DOA. Think about it--we hate deploying a new service just to have everyone complain because their needs have shifted. Soon that could happen to our entire service catalog. How long can we wait to think about that? What are we going to do about it?

2. The Cloud. Pretty much everything we do internally today exists in one form or another in the cloud. This means that our companies, or even individual business units, are starting to have a choice. How many more upgrades to your Financial System before your department decides they just want to  have it hosted? When will Engineering decide to use hosted resources that can be provisioned on demand? When will our companies decide to evaluate alternatives to our corporate email systems? As more people move to smart phones, tablets, and whatever comes after them, do we think we will be providing the voice and video conferencing infrastructure for our companies? Do we think we will be able to prevent SVPs from shopping our services in the cloud? Would we want to prevent them from doing so? Can we match the level of provisioning time, customer support, mobility, and disaster recovery that the cloud offers? Check out this story on a company that replaced most of IT with cloud-sourced services.

3. The new workforce. The new workforce is not going to be located where we would like them to be located. They will not want to use the tools we tell them to use. They are highly accustomed to the world of technology addressing their whims, and they are very fast at finding what they want. They do not care what the IT management has to say about it, nor should they.

4. New IT recruits. The people that we hire over the next decade will be increasingly dismayed with "old-fashioned" IT. Many of them will have come from start-ups or from hip companies that know how to move fast. They don't want a ride in our Oldsmobile.


First of all, IT leaders have to understand that they are becoming one source for IT solutions, not the source. Most of our companies are already using salesforce.com and have HR applications hosted who-knows-where. Many of our employees use Skype for video conferencing. Email is beginning to fall. Even MS Office is experiencing daylight raids from the cloud. Companies are beginning to embrace choice. IT is only one choice, and our menu is shrinking. They're not coming to our restaurant for cold Chinese food when they can order it delivered from a specialty place with the noodles still steaming.

If we understand that we have become an option, then we need to learn to do two things:

1. Get to know the BUs. We need to know what the BUs want as soon as they do, if not before. (We should be doing this anyway. See this post.) Many of us lack the relationships necessary to do so, which is why we always complain about "being the last to know." In the future, if IT is too busy managing its service catalog to know that a BU has an important need, it will be too late. If we don't build the relationships we won't be providing the services. Period.

2. KnowOwn the options. In the future, much of our value will be in understanding external offerings and knowing which ones to recommend to our BUs. A CIO or IT Director who can't speak the language of cloud-based applications will not survive. But knowing what's out there and how to put it together effectively will be invaluable.

3. Only do what you do best. Focus on where we can knock the ball out of the park. We may be able to reduce our operations overhead and apply more resources to strategic initiatives.  Maybe we're breaking our necks to deliver mediocre satisfaction for a given application. Shouldn't we just let it go? Think about this: the next time the company is complaining about that app, rather than saying we need more people to manage it, why not have a great cloud option in our back pocket?

4. Think "service." How are we doing at onboarding new employees? How useful is the training that we're providing on new applications? Do we provide service with a smile? Or to the contrary, do we wait for new employees to ask us where their laptops are, constantly invoke the "no" doctrine for new "gadgets," and resent that we aren't appreciated? Do we strive to delight our internal customers, or do we believe that a good SLA report means that they should be satisfied? How does that compare to the way the cloud treats them?

The IT paradigm of 5 years ago is becoming out-dated. In 5 more years it will be old-fashioned. Many of us are still clinging to it. We have to change if we are to continue to be relevant.

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