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The IT department in a ménage à trois

“You’re seeing someone else, aren’t you?”

You’ve had your suspicions for a while but now you know for certain. Your so-called partner in the business is dating Software as a Service floozies. Plural. As if even one wasn’t bad enough.

What’s wrong with me? Are my Configuration Items sagging? Do my Services look too big in this Catalog? Doesn’t he love me anymore?

This post explores the shift in relationships that commoditization of IT has triggered.

IT departments are under pressure from two sides. On the supply side from multiple external service providers that are encroaching into the IT departments’ space and eroding jobs. And on the demand side from the business that is claiming a more dominant role and is engaging external service providers directly, but that at the same time is struggling with their new responsibilities. This triangular relationship is disruptive. Do you ignore it and run the risk of being relegated to just keeping the legacy lights on? Or do you embrace it as an opportunity? But how can you reposition yourself to create optimal added value? And what competences do you need?

Once upon a time

It started off happily enough. The IT department seemed invincible. Incomprehensible but brilliant, they always knew what was good for the business. And the business trusted them. Until cracks started to appear. Projects failed to deliver. Costs rocketed. Functionality didn’t function. IT fell from its pedestal and became a fallen angel, retreating into a “Just tell us what you want” position, with the implicit message “and then it’s your fault when it goes wrong”. This monogamous but dysfunctional business – IT relationship typified many organizations.

D.I.V.O.R.C.E. was not an option. It was “for better, for worse”. And worse it was. “For richer, for poorer”. And poorer they were, the business.

Poorer than they had ever imagined.

Garden of IT

But into the Garden of IT came an apple. Defying the explicit edict of the IT department, the business took a bite out of the apple. And experienced freedom. IT as a commodity. Democratized devices. Abundant applications. Liberated data. Except the data in the IT department. Locked behind ID’s and passwords. Accessed by antiquated applications on elderly infrastructure. But the genie had escaped the bottle. The users – previously shackled by the Stockholm Syndrome and sympathizing with their captors – have seen the light and have seen the future. No longer will they be bamboozled by technobabble. Now it’s their turn. Invasion of the service snatchers

In the meantime, while some IT departments are still blissfully asleep, others have woken up to a nightmare. Not only are external service providers encroaching into their tradition domain, offering better, cheaper and faster services. But the business is starting to bypass the IT department and deal directly with these service snatchers. Plural, as if one wasn’t bad enough. The IT department is running the risk of being relegated to managing the infrastructure. At least, what is left of it.

Occupy IT

And to make things even worse, the users are revolting (well, IT people have always said that). There’s an undercurrent of discontent about the current IT regime and social media has made this painfully transparent. Even if a dictator’s benevolent, he’s still a dictator. Topple the IT dictators. Banish them to silicon valley. Prague Spring. Arab Spring. IT Spring. But with great power comes great responsibility and the business is struggling with this new role. And running risks. Often unconsciously. They’re on a steep learning curve. And there’s no turning back.

Ménage à trois

So what does the IT department make of this ménage à trois between the business, the IT department and multiple service snatchers? Think of the children and tolerate the infidelity? Make a scene? “You’re seeing someone else, aren’t you?” Or wallow in self-doubt – What’s wrong with me? Are my Configuration Items sagging? Do my Services look too big in this Catalog? Doesn’t he love me anymore?

Reinvent yourself

No, you weren’t expecting this and no, you probably don’t welcome it. But it’s happened and it’s called progress. If you work in an IT department, you have three main options.

  • If you want to continue doing IT service management as you always did, you’ve got to get out and work for an external services provider.
  • If you have feel for logistics and retail, stay in the IT department and develop the competences that will help the IT department fulfill an ‘IT Retail’ function. With increasing technological standardization, ‘IT Manufacturing’ has moved from the IT department to the external service providers.
  •  If you understand the business and get along well with business people (or ‘normal people’ as my wife likes to call them), jump the fence and move across to the business, where business and IT aremorphing into a new function.

Things will change, they might just change without you. So go reinvent yourself.

Posted in IT Service Mgmt.

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2 Responses

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  1. Larry Cooper says

    Interesting article – but not a new issue. The same thing happened during the great outsourcing binge in the late 90′s and early 2000′s. The sign that the business is unhappy is that they seek out their own experts in technology and IT. I was one of the ones sought out in such a scenario in 1997. The IT group did not see the issue – even when the company appointed the VP who had outsourced their manufacturing operations was appointed the CIO. Their view was to ask the question “what does he know about IT?” -= my response was to point out who hired me and maybe they should be asking the question “why did they do that?”. I also predicted they would be outsourced in 12-18 months – it only took 10.

    In an article I wrote on ITSM Portal (http://goo.gl/Xzz5YH) in March 2012 called “The Cloud Changes Everything – Service Management more important than ever” made essentially the same points.

    I would also add that IT folks need to stop seeing themselves as indispensable. Reminds me of Elbert Hubbard’s quote “The graveyards are full of people the world could not do without.” When you think your are the value chain as opposed to constantly evaluating what value you really provide and how you can do it better, you are very much indeed dispensable. It’s not all the fault of technological advances. The business groups have been ticked off for years – now they just have easier and more viable options to consider. Yep, they will likely make a few mistakes – some of them may even be costly. But likely no less costly that a continuation of the status quo.

    • Mark Smalley says

      Thanks for sharing that Larry. Love the bit at the end of your article about new IT roles: “business-minded techies and technology-literate business types will be equally eligible for these new posts: They can come from either side, but they’ve got to be individuals who want to continue lifelong learning and master all of it.”



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