Is it time to disband the IT department?

The customers of information technology, which is now almost everyone, are not receiving the level of service they need or are paying for. Good service is creative, technical solutions to fast-arriving business opportunities.

Too often IT departments say, “We have to write a business case, a project plan, a cost analysis and a scoping study before we can start. This will cost you money and, by the way, we won’t have anyone available for three months.”

More and more the customers are becoming educated and skilled with the tools of the trade – databases, HTML, Web programming – and going out on their own. Or they are hiring consultants and burying the costs in other budgets. As an IT manager or director, you have likely stumbled across these skunkwork projects and may fear that you have hit only the tip of the iceberg.

You should consider each of these rogue projects a personal and professional failure. Since the ’70s the IT department has built itself into a silo with barriers to keep the customers out so that the techies can imprint the organization with its own vision of how the business should be using computer technology.

With the advent of PCs in the ’80s, customers have been building working prototypes, proving the concept to the IT department, and then forcing it to support and maintain the system. I have seen situations where IT vice-presidents have expressed true anger when these situations cropped up. What were they angry about? That the clients had more vision? If you are angry with clients coming up with effective computer solutions, what makes you happy – preventing clients from being technically creative?

Perhaps this is what started the trend toward outsourcing. I wonder, have companies embraced outsourcing to save money – an assertion I have yet to find convincing – or because they hate their IT departments?

With outsourcing I have noticed a number of common themes. Everyone starts hating the outsourcing company. A rogue IT department forms because it’s so difficult to obtain a fast response from the outsourcing company. A CIO group appears that hires one manager for every manager the outsourcing company assigns to the client account. Departments become confused as to who they go to for help and IT skills.

The next logical step is to disband the IT department completely. Ditch the CIO, ditch the project offices and integrate the customer needs with the technological skill. Normally, this would lead to anarchy because the marketing department would go to un-networked Macs with interesting colours that make “ping” noises at odd intervals. The heavy equipment departments would return to green IBM screens; they go fast. In my idealized world each department would be required to have a representative on a corporate standards council that sets all the obvious technical standards. The level of detail would be to set networking standards, PC standards and refresh periods, basic software standards and so forth. In addition they should set up internal user groups for technology skill transfer. The CFO should own this council since they would need to spend a lot of money.

The CFO should also realize that there is no such thing as an IT project. Even the infrastructure projects – e.g. setting up an intranet – is not an IT project; it’s for the business to stay competitive. If you think about an intranet, it is simply file and process sharing. The technical solution could be delivered on a mainframe, but the intranet tools are cheaper and faster to implement. Money and competitiveness are the drivers for a project. All projects in organization have IT components.

Therefore, move all the programmers and analysts into departments. They become marketing analysts, financial analysts, etc., but all with the sub-title “specializing in computer systems.”

Once the IT department is gone, a person needing an update to a program or additional functions will hear, “Sure, I can do that; how do you want it prioritized with the other initiatives in the department? Or should I go hire help?”

Ford is an independent consultant in Vancouver and can be reached at [email protected]

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