About every other decade, IT goes into decline. The 1980s was the first time I witnessed this; PCs, client/server solutions and outsourcing became the craze. IT recovered, embracing the changes. Now, a little more than 20 years later, we have BYOD and Web services doing much the same thing.
In both cases, IT was perceived to be too expensive and too hard to work with, so users moved to displace or replace this functionality with something else. So far, IT has recovered every time. But look at what used to be peer functions, like telephony and fleet services, and you'll see that these are gone, having been outsourced, eliminated or absorbed by another group. Survival is by no means certain.
The seeming disconnect between users and IT isn't causing the problem; that's just a symptom. The problem is that technology changes user perceptions more quickly than IT can anticipate. To fix that, you need analytics and marketing communications.
EMC Sets Example for Using Analytics to Track Customer Needs
A conversation with an EMC executive several months ago got me thinking about this. EMC met with a big client and, on a lark, briefed the firm about customer analytics process inside EMC (using Greenplum). EMC monitor its customers closely and knows what's working and what isn't. EMC also know which customers are the most loyal and valuable — and which ones it would rather let a competitor take off its hands, since it's not worth the trouble despite the revenue its generates.
The customer, a huge multinational, got upset — not because it was being monitored but because EMC hadn't offered the solution so it could do the same thing to its customers. The end result: Stronger, more satisfied customers and higher profits, thanks to greater customer retention and more sales to every customer.
In addition, analytics helps EMC decide where to spend its money, as it points to expenditures that a customer will prioritize over ones it doesn't care about. EMC's customer wanted this advantage for themselves, too. Given this power, I'm surprised that the process remains relatively unique to EMC and a few powerful customers who convinced EMC to share it.
IT Should Know What Users Want
IT seems to forget that it doesn't exist to serve itself but, rather, to serve line employees. (To be fair, this is true of virtually every staff function from time to time.) In effect, IT is an internal solutions provider that must leverage its intimacy with end users to their advantage against the economy of scale that a service provider such as Amazon Web Services can offer.
As with an external vendor, if IT's customers see it as an obstacle to getting something done, or they take its services for granted, it can be made redundant &mash; and it isn't as if IT can look for new customers. When this happens, a ton of the IT folks end up looking for new jobs.
If IT monitored its users as EMC monitors its customers, then it would know long before it's replaced or downsized that it has a problem and would be able to prioritize its own solution and present it as an alternative to being replaced by an outside service. Applying such a program of data capture and analytics to the behavior of line employees, the customers of IT, could prevent the kind of disconnect that makes IT cyclically redundant.
Do You Want Apple or Amazon Dictating Your IT Policy?
IT's inability to do this has triggered the decline of PCs and the push to BYOD, which largely benefits Apple, and more consumer-driven services, which has helped AWS achieve incredible growth. These two companies are taking over IT policy. Every time they do, IT becomes less relevant.
Yes, IT can embrace these disruptive products and services and recover this time. But how about the next time? And how about avoiding all the drama in the first place? Users went from hating tablets to loving them quickly, and AWS cut through IT services like a hot knife through butter. With the right analytics, IT would have seen this coming and been far more prepared to deal with it strategically, rather than play Whack-a-Mole.
You are increasingly being asked to deploy analytics on your firm's customers. Consider using it on your IT department's customers, too, to ensure that IT remains strong and relevant. If you have EMC as a vendor, as a start I suggest a briefing on how the company knows what you want.
Rob Enderle is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. Previously, he was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group. Prior to that he worked for IBM and held positions in Internal Audit, Competitive Analysis, Marketing, Finance and Security. Currently, Enderle writes on emerging technology, security and Linux for a variety of publications and appears on national news TV shows that include CNBC, FOX, Bloomberg and NPR.