Rethinking the IT department

An interesting article in Wired bearing the apocalyptical title “The IT Department is dead. Long live the IT Department”, is based on interviews with the founders of four corporate software companies that are driven by a consumer software philosophy. While clearly biased, the article’s conclusion is beyond reproach: the majority of corporate IT departments require a complete overhaul.

Sadly, I have come across all too many IT departments staffed by characters that bear a marked resemblance to Mordac, the preventer of information services in the Dilbert comic strip: a no-can-do approach aimed at blocking any initiative that might improve things. Citing security risks, standardization, maintenance or cost, IT departments have become gatekeepers in some companies, seeing themselves as guardians of a set of rules written in stone that can, under no circumstances, be challenged.

But as we all know, technology changes, and it has changed radically over the last decade. Security is no longer about reinventing the wheel via systems that have to be built from scratch, instead they can be achieved using tools that have already proved their worth in the marketplace. What increasingly matters in the real world is the ability to adapt to the way each person wants to work, rather than forcing everybody into a one-size-fits-all system. Systems that do not adapt to the user simply end up being adapted by users to their own ends, with the concomitant risks, which while escaping the corporate stranglehold can create potentially bigger problems further down the line.

The fact of the matter is that for many years now, we have gotten our priorities all wrong. Yesterday’s machines were a scarce resource: rigid, unequivocal, inflexible, and based on unalterable methodologies that we had all been taught to follow by rote. We use today’s machines differently; as well as no longer being driven by the mantra of efficiency, they are to be found everywhere: at home, in our pockets, or in our briefcases. What’s more, they are varied and offer an infinite variety of possibilities that adapt to the way we want to work or live. In other words, there is no longer simply one way of doing things. In today’s companies, the priority must be people, the users, and not the restrictions supposedly imposed by systems or machines.

So, what do we want from our IT department? We want them to provide us with an informed overview of what is available in the market; we want access to state-of-the-art technology, rather than clinging to old ways of doing things that have long been supplanted, rather than falling victim to what IT guru Bruce Webster calls the Dead Sea effect.

The job of IT departments must be to see the potential in new tools to make life easier for our employees, and to inspire them to perform better, and within security restrictions that make sense, rather than the kind of conditions that might apply were we working at Fort Knox. We need to be able to know that when we ask our IT departments about a particular tool, they will already have downloaded it, installed it, and put it to the test. The IT crowd must be professionals, people who know more about what is going on than the average, reasonably well-informed user. Furthermore, they must have sufficient empathy to understand how the restrictions they impose impact on each and every employee in the company.

Does your IT department meet these criteria? If not, then it is probably inflicting considerable damage on your company at just about every level: productivity; morale; flexibility; costs; the ability to attract and retain talent; competitiveness… This is much more than a question of money; it is a way of thinking, of seeing the world.

(Entrada disponible en español aquí)