In far too many companies today, IT staffs express a similar sentiment:   “We are just order takers.  We have a lot of good ideas, but they won’t listen to us.  Many times we see other things that would better help their department, but they don’t seem to care.  They just want what they want when they want it.”Not Controlling but Enabling

And then you can walk across the hall and hear things like:  “IT reminds us of our grade school cafeteria.  They only offer us one selection, and if we don’t want that, too bad!“  You might also hear:  “We just want to get the job done in the best way possible for our company.  We know there are better apps out there; we use them at home.  Why can’t we get them at work?  We know several other companies that are now allowing people to use their own phones and even their own apps for work.  Others are using software in the cloud and paying for that each month with their corporate credit card.  More companies are doing this every day, but our IT department won’t allow any of that.  They are so controlling and behind the times!  They are a roadblock to getting our work done.”  You also find terms like “the IT police” or “the Department of NO!” applied to the IT department.

Wow!  What a difference!  And everyone on both sides agrees that they only want what is best for the company. 

Obviously there is a great need for controls around IT systems and information.  Controls are put in place to ensure privacy of customer information and to secure corporate data from competitors.  Security and balancing controls provide separation of duties in preventing fraud and error.  Change management controls enhance the stability of corporate systems.  Audit and regulatory changes necessitated more controls.  The proliferation of end-user databases (such as Microsoft Access) often brought about more controls to reduce time wasted in trying to come to a single version of the truth across all the reports that theoretically should have been showing the same results.

When technology first started to be marketed to other business units, IT was concerned with issues such as integration costs, compatibility, service effort required, and ongoing maintenance costs.  In some companies, people from various business units would select different systems to perform the same function.  This surfaced IT concerns of duplicated implementation and support costs.  Experiencing pressure to reduce IT costs while also feeling accountability for overall corporate technology spending, CIOs placed controls on any technology purchases outside the IT department purview.    

When first implemented, these controls were logical and fairly-well accepted.  But we must realize that the world has changed.  According to a McKinsey study, CEOs see the strategic need for IT more than ever before and are willing to make the necessary investments.  However, they are growing more and more dissatisfied with IT effectiveness.  At the same time, corporate speed and agility are becoming paramount for a company to be successful.  Yet corporate IT is seen as a slow-moving impediment to success.  As a result, we see calls for a Chief Digital Officer, a Chief Data Officer, and a Chief Innovation Officer. We hear that the CMO will be spending more on technology than the CIO by 2017.  We see a drastic rise in shadow IT.

This is not at all about technology. It is about people. It is about culture. It is about a mindset.

Corporate IT has to transform itself, and time is of the essence.  Realize that this is not at all about technology.  It is about people.  It is about culture.  It is about a mindset.

One of the CIO’s first steps has to be a decision to become demand-driven rather than supply-driven (more about that in a later post).  Give more control over the technology budget to the business units.  That is the only way that IT could ever hope to keep up with the needs of the business. 

This approach requires some fundamental changes in the way IT thinks, in how it conducts itself, and in how it works.

One of the first changes is a recognition that IT must move from controlling technology to enabling it.  This absolutely does not mean that the floodgates should be opened to security issues, integration concerns, ongoing service problems, etc.  Instead it requires that enterprise architecture and security standards be established and that their value is communicated to the rest of the company so that all understand.  I hasten to add that these controls must be as flexible as possible, and the communication process must address options as well as risks. 

This transformation requires that IT dispose of the “not invented here” mentality and instead assume a consulting/advisory role.  It necessitates that IT become more involved in understanding the business and contributing to its direction rather than simply taking orders.  It requires IT to help the company take a more strategic view by constantly staying abreast of technology developments inside and outside the industry while also keeping an eye peeled for potential disruptors. It allows IT to demonstrate strength in evaluating vendor products, costs, vision, roadmaps, etc.  It allows IT to evaluate integration issues and costs.  It requires IT to improve its skills in vendor negotiation and ongoing management.

IT leaders must become the enablers, the drivers, the accelerators of business.

IT leaders must evolve from acting as the controllers, the protectors, the gatekeepers of all technology for the company.  They must transform into the enablers, the drivers, the accelerators of business.  This is a conscious decision the CIO must make in conjunction with the rest of the C-suite.  It obviously requires significant changes within IT, but changes within the rest of the company are necessitated as well.

This transformation is a fundamental shift in thinking for the CIO and the IT department.  It is not something that can slowly evolve.  It will take disruptive thinking.  It will take solid organization change skills.  It will take great leadership.

But your success at this transformation could mean the difference between stagnation and success for your company.  And it could mean the difference between extinction and celebrated resurgence for the CIO and the IT department.

What do you think the impact of such a transformation could be?

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