Ending the Era of the IT "No"
Transforming the role of organizational IT from "Rule Police" to "Business Partner"
If I think back to the year 2005, I can clearly remember an incident that had one of my co-workers in deep trouble. We were employed by a large financial services organization - and it had very strict rules about the software that one could use on firm-owned computers. This gentleman - an IT engineer - had manually installed Skype on his PC to compare the quality and features to those of our enterprise communications solutions. This infraction was considered an "actionable offense" - and one that almost cost him his job. IT departments took their role as "rule police" very seriously, and "no" meant NO - regardless of any legitimate needs or excuses.
During my career I've spent over three decades working with organizations of all sizes. Early on, I experienced the formation of IT departments out of necessity - to deal with managing the explosion of devices and systems changing the workplace. In the middle of my career I witnessed and worked with mature, fully entrenched IT departments like the one I described in the incident above. And now, in today's world, what I am experiencing is a major transformation.
Ten years ago, the idea that users couldn't have the capabilities they needed on a daily basis was plausible. Today however, users experience advances in things like collaboration and cloud computing in their personal lives and on their personal devices all the time. They won't accept a "no" when they know better. The power - and in many cases the budgets - have shifted from the IT teams to the individual users and business units within organizations. Where in the past, a firm's IT team could get away with responses like "no" and "because we say so," in today's world every "no" from IT is just an app store download away from becoming part of what is referred to as Shadow IT. This dynamic has forever changed the role of the CIO and the IT department. Instead of just managing what they feel is a best practices ecosystem, they now need to manage a bimodal environment. According to Gartner, 75% of IT organizations will be living in such a bimodal structure by 2017.
In order to adapt, technology leaders and their teams now need to see themselves as partners with the lines of business. Instead of focusing on technology-first solutions - listening to manufacturers first and looking to apply their suggested products - a much greater focus needs to be placed on listening to end users first, and then meeting their precise needs.
This means the role of internal communications - something that technology teams have traditionally been very poor at - will become tremendously important. Once they feel they've been heard, lines of business can be steered toward solutions that find the best compromise between things important to the user (features and simplicity) and things important to the technology team (security, manageability and scalability.) The compromises have to be out in the open - treating the users like the important partners they are.
With regards to unified communications & collaboration, the most important thing for IT departments to remember is to ensure they remain innovative whilst delivering quality solutions that provide greater flexibility and ease of use. Now is the ideal time for IT departments to perform a top to bottom assessment of their collaboration technologies and supporting infrastructure. The key questions to ask include:
- Are all of our communications & collaboration technologies under a single, unified governance that develops and implements unified strategies?
- Were our tools selected to meet the unique blend of our organization's specific use cases, or were they just arbitrarily selected from one of our technology or purchasing manager's favorite vendors?
- Have we achieved the correct balance between supporting the actual business needs of our users, and maintaining the security and integrity of our client records and intellectual property? Too far in one direction is a risk, too far in the other will just force our teams to use unsanctioned but readily-available solutions and take us further down the bimodal path.
- Are most of our systems easy-to-use and scalable to deploy, or are we purchasing custom integrations with complex user interfaces that then require expensive, on-site support teams to manage and operate?
So, when today's user wants to download consumer tools like Skype, instead of being the rule police, IT teams have another option. They can say things like, "Here's an enterprise-class voice and video service that can call anything and offers all the capabilities of Skype - but it's a better solution for the business because it's procured centrally, at the right price, it's secure and it's managed properly." The secret is that users probably don't actually care about Skype, DropBox, or any other consumer-focused tool. They simply want the outcome that the tool provides. And they want to know they've been heard.
By David Danto, Principal Consultant, AV, Multimedia, Telepresence, UC, Video, Dimension Data Enterprise Services