How IT can both deliver business value and 'keep the lights on'

IT teams spend too much time on “daily churn” rather than delivering real value to the organization. Read how Mike Guggemos, CIO at Insight Enterprises tackled the problem.

team working on a project

While IT used to be limited to silos within an organization, today it is everywhere as more and more businesses become IT companies at heart. One of the dangers they face is that of “legacy suffocation,” where daily maintenance churn increasingly drains IT budgets and leaves diminishing funds for innovations. These companies gradually fall behind in the marketplace, sales slump, and it gets ever more difficult to attract the talent that could correct the situation.

To highlight this problem, Insight recently conducted the 2018 Insight Intelligent Technology Pulse Survey (contact details required to access the survey). Michael Guggemos, CIO at Insight Enterprises, spoke to me about what they were hoping to achieve with the survey and how people could use it. Mike also shared some personal insights about IT at a large, multi-national company, and our conversation covered a lot more ground than just the survey!

mike guggemos Insight Enterprises

Mike Guggemos, CIO, Insight Enterprises

We started with Mike describing how many people focus on getting through the quarter, only to find after a few years that they have fallen by the wayside, both organizationally and professionally. (I like to describe this as being so busy shoveling snow, nobody has the time to get a snow blower.) Often, the only way companies can recover from that is to bring in new leadership, which led to Mike being hired at Insight. The idea behind the survey was to identify these dangers and describe how people can get themselves out of the daily churn and provide greater value to their organizations.

The shiny-object syndrome is rampant. People get sold on the latest business trends but fail to examine the ROI. Purchasing decisions are often based on very high-level information (e.g. the Gartner Magic Quadrant or something similar), but those new ideas or products are never critically examined in the context of the organization making the purchase. While the high-level fit with the needs might be there, the devil is always in the details, which is where most people tend to go wrong.

In Mike’s experience, about half of major IT decisions are “media ware” decisions, where somebody attends a conference and returns with an idea. It falls to IT to defend that idea and try to make it fit. However, usually it does not fit the real needs of the organization, and that is where the problems start. For example, consider Robotic Process Automation. Bots are wonderful at taking over mundane, repetitive tasks, but companies can spend far too much effort automating low-value tasks, whereas they should rather be spending that intellectual effort on projects that drive revenue.

When Mike joined Insight, he was initially focused on two ERP implementations that were not proceeding as anticipated. Both were staffed with skilled, well-intentioned people but the ERPs were no longer aligned to Insight’s real needs. He found the ERP requirements documentation was a force fit to what the company was doing about four years earlier. Mike’s new approach to identifying needs started with their sales associates and went all the way back to the deep operations in the Insight warehouses. This approach got executive heads nodding because the junior people who were doing the work were identifying functional gaps so they could be fixed. Mike and his team also looked at potential software products and worked back towards these needs. I described this as reverse engineering features into requirements; Mike commented that he had never heard the expression used in this context, but it made perfect sense and is, in effect, what they did.

Companies have to realize there are things that need to be done but don’t differentiate them in any way, and outsource those things to those who do it better than they can. That is especially true with IT that has become commoditized. Take managing servers. It must be done, but even if you had the best server team in the world, would that provide any competitive advantage? Take security: Consider things like the data breaches at Sony, Target, Home Depot, and others. If large companies like these cannot provide adequate security, it makes sense to outsource it to specialists who amortize costs over many customers. For example, cloud ERP or CRM systems from larger vendors are likely to have far better security than similar systems in your data center.

IT decision makers are realizing that smarter IT solutions drive competitive advantages and, according to the survey, 60% of CIOs and CTOs put developing such solutions as their top IT challenge. However, according to Mike, most operations or IT teams are relegated to work the daily churn. Organizations need to outsource routine, commoditized work to third parties and free up employees’ creative intellect to solve far more interesting problems that provide real value to the organization.

Mike feels this is an exciting time, as people are willing to outsource that churn and take the opportunity to apply the creative intellectual horsepower they have in their companies to steer the business in a more profitable direction. While “keeping the lights on” will always be a reality for IT operations, IT is starting to deliver greater value to the business through things like better client experiences. That leads IT to becoming a major contributor to the organization’s strategy, and an enabler of that strategy.

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