by Peter Bendor-Samuel

Enterprise IT appears to be going insane

Oct 16, 2015
Agile DevelopmentBusiness IT AlignmentCIO

Why is IT structured as a gauntlet for users to navigate?

Long may we have high-quality, capable, resilient, inexpensive IT. Unfortunately for CIOs and enterprise IT, these characteristics don’t equate to “value” in 2015 in the opinion of business users. 

Increasingly, business users are less and less enchanted with IT consistently achieving its SLAs and KPIs and increasingly grouse about such things as a faster way to market, a better customer experience or a lower cost in the employee on-boarding process.

Business users are frustrated with the enterprise IT function because of its inability to meet their business needs in a timely fashion. This frustration is not new and has been around since organizations first centralized IT into a shared service. However, there’s no doubt that business users’ patience is running out; they are increasingly vocal and often more likely to go around the enterprise function to accomplish their goals. 

To understand the issue, we first have to look at how and why businesses organized IT shared services in the existing manner. For the last 20 years, organizations constructed IT shared services on a series of functional disciplines. Businesses have a data center function, an infrastructure server function, a security function, an application development function, application maintenance function and a service desk function. Shared-service constructs are built and organized along these functional disciplines. 

The natural consequence of organizing in a functional disciplined way is that it asks each functional leader to drive to provide high-quality capability as cost-efficiently as possible. They instill discipline and standards and make investments to accomplish these goals. In other words, they align against these objectives and fight any and all attempts to compromise them. They then provide business liaisons and sometimes liaison organizations to help business colleagues navigate the structure. However, the responsibility for getting a business impact is primarily that of the business stakeholders. 

In structuring IT in this manner, organizations set up a gauntlet that employees must navigate, which is designed to protect the functional disciplines. Inconveniently, this inevitably introduces friction into the process, which makes focusing on the end business result more difficult and dramatically slows things down. Thus IT departments can never adequately address business users’ need for business value and speed. This is a major conundrum for enterprise IT: the harder they work at providing high-quality, cheap capability, the harder it is to navigate. 

I know I’m dramatically simplifying things, and I realize organizations work hard to reduce the interaction cost and make IT as agile and easy to use as possible. But the fact remains: even as much as an organization adopts cloud and simplifies IT, its first goal is still quality capability at a low cost and not business value and speed. 

Again, this problem has been with us from the beginning of centralized IT, and CIOs keep trying to work harder at the same structure to resolve this. This is insane. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result (a famous quote often misattributed to Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin and even Chinese philosophers). Although we now have new technologies such private cloud, IaaS, SaaS and PaaS, which are more flexible, agile and far easier to align to business agendas without changing the fundamental organizational design and their attendant imperatives, enterprise IT will once again do the similar thing as in the past yet expect a different result. 

How can CIOs and enterprise IT stop the insanity? To start, organizations need to reorganize – at least for the critical IT services – along service lines (such as the customer satisfaction process) instead of functional disciplines. The old mechanism of having an IT liaison for the business has not resulted in the kind of business value and time and speed necessary for today’s demands. The old construct will keep giving the old results, which align against capability, quality and cost rather than against value and speed. 

CIOs and enterprise IT have a choice to organize differently and align services with the objectives associated with particular service lines. I’ll discuss how to do this in upcoming blog posts.