The Corporate Executive Board (CEB) has released yet another article that suggests we IT people will have to adapt or risk being disappointed when the inevitable changes take place. The article, published on BusinessWeek.com, predicts that within the next five years a major shift in corporate IT will be taking place. It’s already happening now.
The CEB’s survey showed that in 5 years it is likely that only 25% of most business’s current IT staff will remain within the internal IT department. The other 75% will be pushed to external service companies or into what the article refers to as “shared services groups” within the company.
I’m still trying to grasp what exactly a “shared services group” is. The way the article defines it is a bit too heavy on buzzwords and corporate-isms. It seems to be a small group of IT generalists that serve the generic needs of business units in contrast to the predicted trend towards hyper-focused IT units within each distinct department. However, I’m not sure about the article’s justification of the need for a “shared services group”.
I take issue with some of those reasons that the CEB listed for why IT departments will be fracturing. On the flip side, I tend to agree with some of their reasoning. Let me lay my thoughts out for you.
First to be mentioned in the article as a reason for IT department decentralization is the concept of outside service providers being able to better meet targeted needs: “This business shared services organization will have within it an “indispensible IT” function with specific responsibilities around managing the external providers to ensure service levels and integration with existing technology” (emphasis added)
That goes without saying, I believe. I’ll touch on service companies later in my post.
Another reason stated for decentralized IT is that: “the lines between what is “IT” and what isn’t will become so blurred that the activities may be rehoused elsewhere in the business services group.” I think that this methodology (at least, as I interpret it) may be attempted, but I’m skeptical that it will last in the long run. I see a chaotic future of disparate technologies between departments being selected and ultimately conflicting or being generally unsatisfactory. There needs to be some kind of centralization of IT, even if it’s within business units.
Speaking of business units, the next reason given for decentralized IT is that the technology that is truly making money for a business will be acquired and managed by the units themselves. The study states that the technology initiatives that add business value usually require a deep knowledge of that business function that could only be known by people who are in that unit daily. Thus IT workers will have the opportunity to be aligned directly with a business unit rather than a single internal IT department. I tend to agree with this based on my own experiences.
Finally, it is alleged that non-IT people are increasingly tech-savvy and can handle their own technology to a greater degree than previous workforces. While I agree that people have a greater appreciation for technology and aren’t so quick to make another paper workflow, I disagree that the increasing friendliness towards technology will translate into a Nirvana of shared IT duties between most members of a business unit. I believe there will still be a need for some kind of centralized strategy behind the selection, implementation and management of technology even if it’s within individual business units rather than a single monolithic IT department.
Stepping back from it, this is what I take away from the article:
First, big IT is, in most cases, dying. The centralized department of ten IT people that I was fortunate enough to work in for four years not too long ago may have been my last. Big IT is not responsive enough to justify itself.
Second, IT needs to provide actual business value. It’s not enough to just keep the lights on with services like anti-virus, application deployment, lifecycle management, asset management, email, collaboration and etc. Those services are great, but they’re as expected as water, electricity and HVAC in the building. Not one is terribly impressed with those projects anymore.
IT is expected to create systems that have a direct impact on customers. No matter what the industry, that concept seems to be increasingly focusing on either business intelligence (data mining) or some kind of web based interaction with users (in my opinion, that primarily takes the form of making user portals suck less with the help of UI people).
That puts me and every other IT person (SysAdmin, Developer, etc.) at a crossroads. In the next few years, do we want to be hyper-focused within a business unit or do we want to focus on providing services externally? Do we want to snuggle up to the marketing department or engineering or finance and learn their ways so we can create better systems that directly impact them? Or do we want to tend to a cloud provider’s server farms, work in datacenter infrastructure, provide SaaS or offer specialized consulting skills (security, ITIL, compliance auditing)?
The answer to those questions are largely personal and will reflect an individual’s personal preferences concerning what they like to do in their vocation.
Either way, it seems obvious that change is coming. Change that I wasn’t expecting just a year ago. Where you? Are you braced for it now or are you unconvinced? Take a look at the article and tell me what you think.
This has made for some unexpected decision making in my life.