by Ade McCormack

Do less to help the business

Oct 07, 20114 mins
CareersIT LeadershipIT Strategy

I recently attended a CIO Executive Council event where some forward-thinking CIOs shared their perspectives on the challenges their colleagues faced. I found it very uplifting.

One of the themes that struck me was the tension that exists between the IT function’s need to control IT and the users’ needs to move quickly and in a manner appropriate to their environment whether that is growth-fuelled Australia or cost-conscious Bangladesh.

The issue of user devices and the iPad tsunami was raised. Today most IT functions promote a self-help discussion forum model.

And this seems to work. However an unexpected consequence is that such frameworks are promoting collaboration between users on issues more related to their main focus, for example business development.

This is a Viagra-like discovery. But only in as much as the typical usage today has diverged from the intended usage.

In any case it got me thinking that here is an example where the IT function has taken a labour-free approach to addressing a user need and has inadvertently delivered a bonus business benefit.

Can this do-less-to-help-the-business approach model be extended?

Imagine that you discover that one of your high performing subsidiaries has taken applications procurement into its own hands and is now happily, and successfully, managing customer information using products that are incompatible with your IT strategy.

The typical response would be to fire off klaxons in the boardroom and send a stern email to the head of sales in the subsidiary; after all your authority has been thrown into question. Behind the scenes the country manager has complained to the executive team that you are a power freak and are top of their risk register.

Next thing you have been told by the CEO to get back in your basket and desist in upsetting the subsidiary.

At this point you want to throw your toys out of the pram, power down the data centre and find a company that will value your contribution.

Unfortunately the market isn’t so good so you have to suck it up and another little piece of your self-worth dies.

Well, it doesn’t have to be like that. I suggest the following. It’s nothing new but may have been forgotten.

Stop developing IT strategies around products and start building them around standards. Ideally those standards will be open and de facto. But if they don’t exist then collaborate with those in your supply chain to define some. In the worst case create your own. Now you can simply provide the users with a set of data interface standards that are mandated corporately. As long as the users deliver the data it is no matter to you which products and services they use. – Push back by highlighting the issue of security, supplier management and purchasing power. My view from a security perspective is that unless your data is mission critical, and actually even if it is, as long as the users make local provision to adhere to that standard then that should be fine. Less work for you other than the occasional audit.

The supplier management-purchasing power argument is bogus if those benefits negate agility and undermine a decentralised Darwinian business model.

Why should an organisation pay millions of dollars for a solution when a free open source one exists, where the country manager’s 12 year old daughter is happy to provide all the support that is needed.

Users will feel empowered. I think it is a perfect opportunity to move ownership of IT systems from the IT function to the users. Forget sponsorship as that is a model where everyone agrees to not take responsibility.

So now you don’t have to worry about application management. And as a consequence, you don’t have to worry about hardware or operating system management.

By all means offer the house-menu for those that want the comfort of centralised IT support, but any attempt to support the myriad of applications, browsers and platforms in the market will end unhappily.

In any case forcing the corporate standard on a poor region where the hardware alone equates to three months salary is never going to work anyway.

But best of all you and your people can spend more time on architectural refinements and business-pleasing activities. In particular I recommend you liberally deploy collaborative technologies to enable user groups to mature from helpless service-seekers to social e-skilled knowledge workers.

Chief CollaborationOfficer sounds much better than Doctor No.

Ade McCormack is a writer, speaker and adviser on digital leadership