My days are now full of IT transformational discussions. Dozens of conversations have become literally hundreds, and -- better yet -- more of our partners are seriously interested. All good.
More data points means -- of course -- more patterns observed: inherent mindsets and behaviors that inhibit any sort of serious IT transformation.
When I find them, I share them: realizing you have a problem is always part of the answer.
One aspect of the problem? IT people have an inherent engineering bent. They try to fix the entire problem -- all aspects -- as if IT production and consumption was a self-contained, optimally-designed system with full access to all the components and knobs.
Well, that's not how the real world usually works. You only control a small part of the equation. You're a cog in a much bigger machine. Trying to solve every problem holistically means that you'll probably end up solving no problems.
And I find myself getting into these "tough love" conversation more and more frequently.
I'm Not Going All Mushy On You
In the female-oriented self-help category, "Women Who Love Men Too Much" was a rather revolutionary book in its genre. It made the case that women who were experiencing a series of unsatisfying relationships really should be looking at their own behaviors as one of the root causes.
I've never read it (obviously), but a lot of my female friends have. And more than a few of my male friends as well :)
The case is simple: waiting for someone else to change to fit your model is frustrating at best. Instead, set boundaries and expectations. I do my part, you do yours, we all win.
When we step back and apply that thinking to the relationship between a traditional enterprise IT function and their stakeholders, you'll see the same pattern often emerge. The IT team is often frustrated at all sorts of issues, and it's often not hard to walk it back to the precise behavior by the IT function that originally caused the situation.
So, in no particular order, here are the most frequent non-productive "trying to do too much" behaviors I see.
#1 -- IT Thinks They're In Charge Of Controlling IT Consumption
The picture is painfully familiar. The CFO wants to reduce IT expenses. The CIO gets the mandate to cut costs. A pile of cost-reducing initiatives go into play (as always), plus a front-end rationing exercise around exactly what new business requests will be supported, and which ones deferred.
You're now in a very bad spot. You're now in charge of rationing IT to the business. That's not sustainable.
Sure, you can invest in IT transformation to reduce your cost-to-serve, become more efficient and agile, etc. That's the supply side. But to put an internal corporate support service in charge of rationing demand won't make you popular with business leaders.
In most companies, prioritizing expenses and investments is a finance job, not a functional one.
A simple example? Travel at EMC is a shared corporate service as well as an expense line that receives a lot of attention, as it should.
Our travel department's job is to provide the best (and most cost-efficient) service within guidelines. Never would I expect them to give me a tough time about wanting to take a business trip, or to say that they've decided that my business trip isn't that important, and I'll have to wait until next year.
If they did, I'd most likely take out my credit card and hide it as something else.
Someone in the business calls up IT with a mid-sized request: interesting, but not earth-shaking. If they get the runaround, I can easily predict the next phone call they'll make.
And IT people wonder why everyone is starting to use external services to get their work done :)
Bottom line: if IT attempts to ration consumption, smart people will inevitably find other ways to get the job done. IT is an expense. Finance is usually the people who watch the expense line.
Don't try and do their job for them -- unless you'd like your finance people to start making IT implementation decisions?
#2 -- IT Thinks They're In Charge Of Enforcing Security Policies
Actually, IT enables the security capability, if you think about it. Information security (in all of its aspects) is really business issue at the end of the day -- just like other forms of risk.
Sure, IT creates the capability to protect and monitor, implements established policies, and raises a notification when those policies aren't being followed, or there's a new risk to consider.
But I think there's a clear line between those important roles, and IT thinking of themselves of judge, jury and executioner.
As an example, if I (for some reason) decided to flagrantly flout EMC's established security policies -- and thus putting EMC's business at risk -- the IT team would likely raise a notification to either my manager, HR or perhaps our internal legal office, depending on what ill-advised thing I was doing.
Someone misbehaving is a business issue, and not necessarily an IT one.
#3 -- IT Thinks They Need To Build Everything Themselves
When technologies are relatively young and immature, there's a strong argument for best-of-breed complemented by the considerable investment to select, integrate, manage and support the resulting solution. That is, if there's a compelling business case.
But technologies don't stay immature for long; they ripen, integrate and become easier to consume in ever-increasing chunks. The problem is, the people doing the work might not realize (or like) the fact that the technology has matured, and it's time to adopt a new model.
I got to see this one up close and personal when I started pitching Vblock converged infrastructure. The people in charge got it; the people who had been making a career in hand-crafting the infrastructure didn't particularly like what they saw.
The same thing happened when integrated ERP replaced dozens of standalone back-office apps. Lots of examples where the industry has come up with a better way of doing things that inevitably cross traditional boundaries, and debate rages until the inevitable truth sinks in.
Old game over, new game has started -- time to move on.
#4 -- IT Thinks They Need To Produce All IT Services Internally
I've heard it before. Our industry is highly regulated. We prefer to own our own IT. That's not the way we do things. We're special/different/unique.
Well, unless you're truly exceptional, there's always a case that can be made that you focus your IT resources on things that differentiate the business, and hand off less-differentiated aspects to external providers who can do a better job at it than you can.
Hint: that line of thinking is not unique to IT -- that's how manufacturing people look at the world, finance people, legal people, marketing people, etc. etc. etc. Own the strategy, own the value-add, own the "secret sauce" -- and hand the rest off to someone who does a great job at it.
It's called "leverage".
What's the right mix between internal and external? There is no right and permanent answer, because the variables often keep changing.
For one thing, there's a world of great external IT services out there today, with more coming on line every week. There's also the unpredictable nature of the business world: what might have looked optimal in 2011 doesn't look so hot in 2012. In general, though, it's a safe prediction that -- overall -- more and more IT services will be consumed from external sources over time. There's just too much macro pressure to resist the inevitable.
Saying you're going 100% internal (or, occasionally, 100% external) takes all sorts of interesting (and potentially strategic) options off of the table without consideration.
And that's not how good business people think about things.
#5 -- IT Thinks Its Job Is To Make IT Decisions For Business People
Errr, often it's a business decision being made that involves IT, and not a classic "IT decision". IT provides services to the business, remember?
I'm very familiar with the rants on what's perceived as stupid decisions made around IT by business people. Well, I'd push back a bit. What have you done to improve the situation?
Maybe you'd agree with comedian Ron White when he says "you can't fix stupid", but I think you can do a whole lot to minimize its effects.
Look, most business people I meet are pretty smart. No, they aren't IT experts, you are. Educate them a bit, give them a few clear choices to make, and -- generally speaking -- they can figure out what's best to do given their scope of influence.
Yes, IT has a "big picture" perspective of the entire IT landscape -- and cares deeply about bad decisions that unfavorably impact their world -- but if you can articulate those concerns in a broader business perspective, so much the better.
During our IT transformation here at EMC, there was a distinct period where we had two separate IT consumption models: the old, familiar, project-oriented one -- and the new, shiny, off-the-service-catalog one. The old options become more and more painful and distasteful to consume; the new ones became increasingly attractive. Carrot and stick.
If you think there's a general lack of familiarity in your business around IT in general; well, that's an addressable issue. In my business, we're all on a steady regimen of training topics: how to give better presentations, working in the matrix, negotiating effectively, handling information securely, etc. etc.
If you think there's a gap in general IT knowledge by your business peers (and your company routinely invests in training), maybe there's a solution at hand.
In some sense, the formula is pretty simple: give people choices, educate them a bit, and give them strong incentives to make the, ahem, right choice. Do not take the decision-making power away from them; they'll ultimately rebel.
I just flashed back to my wife getting my kids to eat their vegetables -- would you like the peas first, or the carrots?
#6 -- IT Tries To Save The World -- By Itself
It's sad when you see that hunkered-down, embattled, us-vs-them mentality. I had one IT leader try to enlist my help in -- and I quote -- "trying to kill Amazon". People were flocking to external services, and he was justifiably concerned for all the right reasons.
Look, you're not going to "kill Amazon" -- or any other of the hundreds of external service providers out there. If people didn't want their services, they wouldn't exist.
Tough love time: people want an IT service, you're not delivering it, they're going elsewhere as a result. You shouldn't be surprised. But what to do about it?
Admit you've got a problem on your hands. Frame it as a business problem, and not a self-centered IT problem. Enlist the help of other business leaders in doing the right thing for the company.
By the way, there's a plethora of options to deliver similar services internally -- either produced on your own infrastructure, or brokered in externally.
But above all, own the relationship.
#7 -- IT Not Realizing Their Potential Strategic Value
You frequently encounter some pretty poor self-esteem in the IT ranks. It can seem like a never-ending treadmill of fire-fighting, late projects, problematic vendors, budget cuts, cranky users, poor morale, etc.
Where is the love?
Back to the mushy self-help book: the key is to realize and reinforce your true value -- even if it's not widely recognized. That's part of breaking the pattern of, well, unsatisfying relationships :)
My take? We're entering a digital economy.
All the new, cool business models are digital ones. We've clearly moved from using technology to simply automate old ways of doing business to doing business entirely new ways: social, mobile, analytical, etc. Put differently, it's hard to imagine *any* meaningful business initiative today that doesn't have a significant IT component.
It's right there, if you look for it.
For those of us in IT, we sort of have a personal choice to make.
Do we see ourselves as order-takers, project managers and deep tech experts? Or do we see ourselves helping our businesses to thrive in this new digital world?
The choice is yours.