What is it about IT and control anyway?control2

Obviously there is a great need for controls around IT systems and information. We put controls in place to ensure privacy of our customers’ information and to secure our corporate data from our competitors. We use security and balancing controls to provide separation of duties in preventing fraud and error. We have change management controls to enhance the stability of our corporate systems. You could go on and on with such examples.

But does the need for such controls necessitate a complete command-and-control management approach within IT?

You know about command-and-control management. The principle is based on a hierarchical, top-down, authoritative leadership style. This style has historically been popular in both the military and corporate worlds. The style is very effective in scenarios in which a high degree of discipline is needed to achieve objectives. And there is no doubt that it is needed in emergency situations when decisions have to be made quickly and there is no time for debate. Its demise in the corporate world, though, has been heralded for years. In a report published in 2000, for example, Booz, Allen & Hamilton states: “What corporations need today are organizations that act like living organisms, able to rapidly adapt to the changing environment and quickly identify opportunities that can be capitalized upon, yet sufficiently aligned to ensure the cohesion of the entity” (Beyond Command-And-Control). But a number of leaders have continued to use the command-and-control style. A 2012 IBM study of CEOs, for example, speaks of the need for CEOs to evolve the control approach to more collaborative, open style more suited to the complexity and pace of business today.

Given the historical popularity even among CEOs, it is not surprising to note IT leaders using a command-and-control approach. After all, what management style did their role model use? Have you ever seen, for example, an IT manager who seemed to feel the need to show that he was the smartest guy in the meeting? Or perhaps an IT leader who pushed to be the single solution provider for his entire area? I mean, after all, wasn’t he promoted into that position because of his strong technical expertise? Doesn’t that mean that he knows more than those who report to him? But such an approach not only creates a bottleneck that slows productivity, it also fails to sufficiently spur the creativity of the IT staff leading to discontent and disengagement.

Changes in the fundamentals of business, new societal behaviors, and rapid technology advances are causing great stress on a command-and-control approach to IT (Can IT be the Beacon in the Storm?). Leaders throughout the rest of the business are frustrated with their inability to get what they need from IT at the speed of business, and shadow IT has increased rapidly in response. With the proliferation of SaaS, IaaS, PaaS and ITaaS solutions being marketed directly to business leaders, other opportunities to solve their business issues are much more readily available.

IT leaders must evolve from acting as the controller, the protector, the gatekeeper of all technology for the company. They must transform into the enabler, the driver, the accelerator of business.

So…what do you think? What do IT leaders need to do in order to make this transition?


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