With employees across the company empowered with greater access to technology, the tech expertise inside your business is no longer limited to the IT department. In many businesses, Sales and Marketing, HR and Finance are leading the discussions, with Line of Business (LOB) specific insight into the cloud solutions that can help drive their departments forward.
Yet many companies are struggling to accommodate the often competing views of LOB executives and the IT department, and in some cases there’s a battle for control. With non-IT departments often having a clearer picture than the IT team of the technology that can improve the way they work, how should companies factor in the views of all parties while maintaining IT’s control of technical processes?
We asked a number of experts to get a picture of how these issues are tackled in the real world.
“Quite often businesses adopt cloud services outside the IT function whether is it Sales using Salesforce or HR using LinkedIn for recruitment, or general staff using Dropbox,” said UK-based Information Security Expert Dave Whitelegg. “The traditional internal-facing IT department can be quickly left behind by buy-and-go cloud service adoption.”
“Cloud computing is really a new generation of outsourcing,” added James Governor, analyst and co-founder of technology industry analyst firm RedMonk. “IT has no choice but to work closely with departments. Lines of business are under massive pressure, notably from new, hyper-capitalised competitors, and as pressure increases so do ‘digital innovation initiatives’. LOBs are driving digital, and without them IT has no role to play in the modern company.”
Greg Ferro, a UK-based freelance Network Architect and Engineer who blogs at Ethereal Mind, said that in many companies, IT departments have been hamstrung by a lack of resources, and so it’s natural that people in other parts of the business have taken a bigger role in the purchase process for technologies that support new ways of working.
“The greatest challenge is that companies have been deprecating their IT staff for more than a decade in the pursuit of cost reduction,” he said. “Lacking time and resources to develop new skills and perform opportunity research, IT lacks insight. The pervasive under-resourcing in IT also means that supporting business units to locate cloud services isn't possible. Business teams looking to the cloud will make their own decisions without suitable IT input or control and take their chances.”
Line of business units are already using cloud, both formally and informally,” said Paul Miller, from business consultancy Cloud of Data. “The challenge for IT is to deliver a compelling set of services that these units will choose to use and want to use. That might be an internally managed private cloud, or it might simply be removing the drudgery from managing public cloud resources and cloud spend. IT, increasingly, is a provider of services and capabilities rather than servers. The trick is to ensure that those services and capabilities are the ones that line of business units want and need, allowing IT to be seen as delivering value rather than simply enforcing (important but often unpopular) rules and policies.”
KEEPING ‘IT’ TOGETHER
The general consensus is that IT needs to be at the centre of any discussions about cloud investments, regardless of whether the expertise in how these services will be used is held elsewhere in the company.
The danger is that many LOB executives may not have the required skills to lead discussions over technology purchases.
“Just because someone almost perfectly understands his iPhone and can use a SaaS application, he does not have the skills to purchase and implement key IT processes,” warned Rene Buest, Senior Analyst and Cloud Practice Lead at Crisp Research.
This is particularly the case when there are business critical factors to consider, such as security.
“Cloud data security concerns should be addressed by IT carrying out due diligence and risk assessments with the cloud service provider, an approach often neglected when business departments decide to go commando and adopt loud services on their own,” said Whitelegg.
However, he added that the onus should be on IT to move with the times and make sure solutions put forward by LOBs are properly considered.
“The IT function definitely needs to come down from the ivory towers, stop saying no and tune into the addressing the business requirements and the benefits cloud services can provide.”
What is clear is that IT and LOB need to work together on cloud investments.
“A high-performing IT organisation should constantly work with and across the organisation, communicating and collaborating to understand their business-critical issues and where they can leverage the best technology including cloud solutions to assist their resolve,” Christian McMahon, CIO at three25, a technology business consultancy in the UK.
Dale Vile, Research Director at IT analyst firm Freeform Dynamics, said that sometimes all that’s needed is a ‘light touch’ from IT to make sure that nothing obvious has been missed. At other times it makes sense for IT to be more involved, or even to lead the implementation.
“The key point to bear in mind is that IT teams are very practised at assessing requirements and implications, then building or configuring application logic, data structures etc to deal with these. Non-technical people generally don’t have the discipline or skills.”
“However, this means that IT departments need to become more communicative and have to look for new methods, and also adopt the idea of communicating with their LOBs,” added Buest. “When these organizational topics are implemented the IT-as-a-Service approach is promising.”
Tarry Singh, Managing Consultant at PA Consulting Group, said that cloud technologies could be the cement that binds IT and LOB together.
“Marketing and sales have historically avoided working with IT but with increasing cloud-based marketing and sales tools, they must work with each other. Fortunately, a flexible and elastic cloud platform makes it possible,” he said. “It's not about building apps and infrastructure anymore, but it’s about services. For instance, marketing, sales and IT could seamlessly build cross-silo business services such has ‘e-commerce global rollout’ collaboratively in the cloud. This was impossible in the pre-cloud world.”
“Harness power of cloud,” said Jonny Bentwood, Chief Innovation Officer at market research firm Edelman Berland. “If we can enable swifter movement across the supply chain of content between people no matter where they are located in seamless, quick and secure way then people will cry out for this functionality and not be scared of it.”