Standing at the Crossroads

Over the past few months, I’ve had many conversations with IT leaders and regular CIOs about the state of IT; where it’s going, why, and what’s stopping it from reaching its full (and anticipated) potential.

In short, while many business folks bemoan IT’s failures to deliver on better, faster, cheaper, the truth is IT is just getting started. Think about 10 years ago: green screens were still common; the Web was just taking off as a commercial medium; client/server ruled the roost; Moore’s Law was just taking hold; hardware costs were just beginning their precipitous decline; software was something you bought in shrink wrap (or, more likely, developed yourself); the home PC market was just taking off; a cell phone in every pocket was just a dream; “connectivity” was some obscure way of being in two places at once; WiFi and Bluetooth were magic; etc., etc., etc.

Today, just a quick decade later, everything really is different. Everything I listed above has changed. Unlike the semi-controllable yet highly diversified computing infrastructure of yesteryear, today’s CIO is in charge of a mash-up, a Wild West if you will, of consumer technologies crashing headlong into the once tightly controlled space called corporate IT.

IT today is driven by user demand, not by IT. IT today has to think in brand new terms like “service”, “value” and “innovation”. IT today is no longer about IT, but about “business enablement” and “alignment” and “agility”.

Yet, none of these things has anything to do with IT’s traditional role as a business process-streamlining organization. The problem is, IT is still structured to be an optimizing organization, not an enablement organization. All of the technology that was put in place either for technology’s sake (think late ‘90’s, early ‘00’s) or to keep up with the competition (ERP, CRM, Supply Chain, etc.) is still in place. That’s mainframes, PCs, distributed data centers (i.e., mini’s in the closet of a remote office somewhere), rack mounted servers, Blade servers, WiFi a/p’s, thin client, tablets PCs, readers, etc., etc. In most large organizations, all of that is still working somewhere, doing something, for someone.

Add to this the hundreds or, in some cases, thousands of different, proprietary software titles (both in-house and off the shelf) that IT supports and you have an organization that spends 70% to 80% of its time and budget just keeping things running, let alone “innovating”. And that number is increasing, not decreasing. Not yet anyway.

Even with this often overwhelming burden, business folks are now asking IT to help do things it was never intended to do—open new markets, for example, or reach customers in new ways. The truth is most IT departments are just now getting a handle the morass of technology and software that supports the enterprise and many large SMBs. Hence the rise of ITIL, project management, SOA, governance, CoBIT, and a plethora of other methodologies designed to turn IT from an ad-hoc, do-it-on-the-fly, firefighting organization into one that runs more like the rest of the business, with repeatable processes that lead to predictable outcomes.