IT Departments must re-focus to enable business growth and justify investment

Posted by Peter Cochrane on March 5, 2008

5 Mar 2008

Visit any modern organization and you soon see signs of discontent with IT Departments. How come? At home people enjoy freedoms and net access that allow them to be creative and communicative in new ways. They access all the latest web sites and use the apps and tools they find most productive, and increasingly know what is possible. But at work everything is constrained and controlled, and those energies and abilities are lost to their employer.

The PC has been one of the most important enabling technologies ever, but organizations regard them as Corporate Computers - to be centrally controlled. This followed on from one of the most damaging of mistakes we have made: to replicate the world of paper on screen, a mistake only now being addressed by a new generation entering the workplace.

To be blunt; IT Depts have failed to evolve to make key contributions to overall productivity and smooth running. They should be looking well beyond the support of networks and office applications to knowledge management, business modeling and decision support. This is where they can really help.

Most corporations are flying blind in a world of accelerating complexity and dynamic connectivity. They have no effective means of collecting and analyzing business and market data, let alone their workforce skills and knowledge. And it is no accident that wiki, gaming, modeling, search and decision support technologies evolved at the periphery of the net and not from within IT Depts. Such departments are now devoid of such skills and thinking, and tend to police rather than an enable.

Mundane IT tasks are now mostly redundant as they can be outsourced. For example; e-mail and spam control can be more effectively managed by the likes of Google with GBytes per account offered for free. Likewise, network security and individual machine support can also be outsourced. A change in mindset is required for companies to keep pace, and IT Depts need to move on, and perhaps adopt a stance that says; we will aspire to be as user friendly and useful as Google!

Individuals increasingly seek to benefits from consumer technologies at home and within the corporate environment. Whether it's the latest smart-phone or on-line application, if it makes things easier users will demand it. For example Reynol Junco and Jeanna Mastrodicasa, found in a U.S. study from 2007 that 94% of generation Y own a cell phone, 75% have a FaceBook account and 76% use instant messaging.

IT Depts have been slow to react to this demand and corporate networks mostly prevent the use of productive applications such as FaceBook. However, companies such as BP have taken strides to give users freedom by allocating a budget to select and manage their own hardware that works for them, whether this is a notebook or a phone.

The strain of reduced IT budgets often sees tech support suffering and as a consequence savvy users bypassing the helpdesk to fix problems locally. User intelligence is now enhanced by individual networking within a generation that has grown up with digital living. They are familiar with IT problem solving through distributed intelligence on the net, and have a healthy appetite for emerging technologies and new modes of working. And so it is time for IT Depts to seek new ways of adding value, or face the same fate of the typing pools that went before them.