Internal IT: Your Days Are Numbered

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There’s a shift going on in IT these days. A movement towards cloud, or utility, computing. It’s still early in the marketing hype cycle, but the underlying ideas aren’t new at all. Let me tell you why.

My job as an infrastructure manager is to provide a computing service for my company. The ‘business’ is not about providing computing services. It’s usually something more prosaic, like moving things around (a transport company), selling some sort of product (a manufacturing company), or maybe providing some sort of service (cleaning windows).

None of those have anything much to do with IT per se. IT is used as an enabler: IT is where all the sales records are stored, customer details, order books, stock lists, all the financials for the company (profit and loss, accounts payable, etc., etc.), HR systems. You can do all of these things without a computer, but computers make it faster and more efficient than manual, paper-based systems… if you’re doing it right.

Then there are more IT related services that the business uses: websites, email, Twitter marketing, connections to electronic banking facilities. These don’t really have manual or paper replacements, and they’re more IT centric, but the technology isn’t the main point. Again, these things enable the business to sell more products, service more customers, and make more money.

None of this should be news to you.

Your Competition

If you’re a manager in the IT division within your company, you may think you have no competition. You’re a monopoly, and the business have to come to you when they want another server, or more storage, or a new website or application. They don’t have a choice, right?

Wrong.

Your competition as an IT manager is every single cloud service out there, plus all the outsourcers. Gmail. SalesForce.com. CSC, EDS/HP Consulting, IBM. They all want to take over the job of providing computing services to the business users who currently ‘have’ to use yours. If you do a crap enough job, that’s exactly what will happen.

The outsourcing binge of last decade was a manifestation of that. Business units, fed up with bad service and worse response times, figured that buying IT from a company that did IT as their main business had to be better. These companies dutifully told your business people that they could do your job better and cheaper.

It’s widely believed that outsourcing didn’t work in most cases. I disagree. A lot of things were badly handled, true, but that’s because the wrong things were outsourced. When the right things were outsourced, they stayed there, and companies continue to enjoy the better service and lower costs.

Business units have learned from their mistakes, or the mistakes of others, and this time they’re not going to outsource servers and networks. They’ll outsource the service they need done.

Sales team sick of the buggy, outdated, unstable CRM system you’ve taken 8 months to upgrade (with constant project slippages, outages, and pain)? SalesForce.com. Done.

Internal email sucks? Gmail. Done.

No internal chat application? Everyone’s already using GTalk, or AIM, or Twitter, or Facebook to get around you. IT Security is in the way.

It has never been easier for a business unit to take their computing needs away from internal IT and give their money to an external vendor. Yes, there are risks, but the business people don’t care as much about them as you do. They take risks to make money. And maybe they don’t think it’s as risky as you do? Maybe they think it’ll be worth it if they never have to deal with you again.

Thinking that this won’t happen at your company? Guess again.

They Hate You

Business hates IT. It’s full of strange people who speak weird languages about odd things that normal people don’t understand. Money? Easy enough. Products? Tangible, there’s one right now. Easy.

Your explanation for why they can’t have a new website next week? Unfathomable.

Again, it’s not a new idea that business people are generally frustrated by IT, and only tolerate you because they believe they have to have IT. You’re a cost centre, nothing more.

And if they believed they could replace you tomorrow with something better, what’s stopping them?

It’s IT’s Fault

If I was running IBM’s outsourcing division, and I lost a few big customers, would my managers blame my customers? Or me?

“They had totally unrealistic expectations! They wouldn’t give us the budget we needed! They just don’t understand us.”

I’m sorry?

If your business users, i.e. your customers, don’t like the service they’re getting, it’s your job to fix it. Sure, customers can be wrong sometimes. But if the business was about to lose a few major customers, would they sit around blaming the customers for their woes?

Do that, and you rapidly go out of business.

Unrealistic expectations? Who’s setting these expectations? Are you over-promising and under-delivering perhaps?

Not getting the budget I need? That’s like not charging more than cost price for your product. Why are you letting that happen?

They don’t understand us? I don’t understand how LCD televisions work, but I can still buy one and be happy with it.

Blaming the business is just finding excuses for your own lack of ability. Hardly the actions of a go-getter like you, are they?

Time For Change

If you want to do well in the IT game, you’re going to have to act more like a business, and less like a loose collection of techno wizards. The business want to buy a service, the same way they buy floorspace in a building, or warehouse space, or insurance. IT is no different, and if you think it is, sorry, you’re deluding yourself.

But it won’t matter, because your customers don’t think IT is different any more, and they’re actively looking for someone to replace you. Right now.

It’s going to take a radically new way of thinking to get you through this. Radical for IT that is, but as it turns out, it’s not actually all that radical an idea after all.

The good news is that the answers are already known.

Stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll share my vision for an IT division run less like a outdated anchor, weighing down the business, and more like a dynamic source of business value that the business will want to pay for.

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