What one word would you use to describe your IT department?

Obviously one might receive a different response if this question was asked of someone within IT versus an individual receiving IT services.  There are various other factors that might affect the response as well – things like the respondent’s frequency of interaction with IT or relationship with members of the IT staff.  Perhaps their level of knowledge about everything IT does would be a factor.  They could be influenced by the speed of their PC or the size of their monitor.  The respondent’s level of authority often seems to be a factor in their opinion of IT.Transform 2

Some IT staff members might describe their department using words like strategic, visionary, leaders, hard-working, and service-oriented.  More often you hear words like overwhelmed, understaffed, handcuffed, stressed, unappreciated, order-takers, and helpless-desk.

When asking those in departments outside IT, you could hear words like focused, hard-working, appreciated, needed, and understaffed.  But in far too many cases, the description is more akin to words like slow, costly, controlling, reactive, roadblock, resistant, poor-service, techies, inflexible, internally-focused, and even necessary-evil.

“How many of you know someone who is not really happy with their IT department?”

We have to admit that the descriptions of IT departments throughout the world tend heavily toward the negative side.  I once asked a room of senior executives from various disciplines, companies, and industries, “How many of you know someone who is not really happy with their IT department?”  The room erupted in laughter.  There seemed to be almost unanimous agreement with the one executive who exclaimed, “No one is happy with their IT shop!”

So what if we changed the question just a bit.  What if we asked, “What one word do you wish described your IT department?” 

It is interesting that many times when this is asked, the respondent’s eyes will light with excitement.  You will hear words like:  innovators, drivers, enablers, fast, proactive, flexible, business-focused, service-oriented, value-driven, and difference-makers.

How obvious is it that we have a problem?

In an article about a 2013 Gartner Symposium, Peter Sondergaard, Gartner global head of research, is quoted as saying, “We have a crisis in IT leadership.”  Sondergaard goes on to say that 50% of CEOs are demanding more of the CIO and IT than what they are currently delivering.   And with the fast-approaching digital industrial economy, the demands on those roles are expected to triple.  Yet, Sondergaard noted that only 10% of CIOs believe that they have an execution problem.  Jim Stikeleather writes of a two-year research effort by The Harvard Business Review, The Economist, CEB (formerly known as the Corporate Executive Board), Intel, and TNS Global.  Almost half of all CEOs participating in the study rate their CIOs negatively in terms of understanding the business and understanding how to apply IT in new ways to the business.   A 2014 PWC CEO Study found that 86% of CEOs believe that technology advances will transform their business by 2019.  And 67% of them say that their IT department is ill-prepared for the change.

Hmmm… does anyone else see a disconnect here?

In far too many companies, corporate IT just doesn’t seem to be cutting it with its current way of doing business.  We need to reimagine IT.  We need to transform:


From this:

To this:

Controlling Enabling
Resistant Flexible
Roadblock Driver
Tactical Strategic & Tactical
Primarily Cost-cutting Difference Maker
Technology-focused Business Champion
Costly Great Value
Reactive Proactive
Sole-source Provider Broker/Orchestrator
Focused on internal operations Customer-focused / Looking outside-in
Slow Faster than Rest of Company
Supply-driven Demand-driven


Let’s realize that this is not at all a technology issue.  It is a people issue.  It is a change in culture.  It is a radical change to the mindset currently prevalent in IT.

It should be obvious that the need for action in this regard is urgent.  Numerous changes are driving toward a transformation (and possibly disruption) within your industry and your company.   Such a business transformation will not be successful without technology.

Further, it should be evident that this type of change does not happen without pain.  It will take fortitude.  It will take guts.  Don’t wait for someone to tell you what to do.  Step up to the plate and be the leader that your company needs you to be.

What do you think?  Does this define the transformation that IT needs to make?

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