Is the role of the IT department keeping up with technology?

Mike Stanbridge
16 Jun, 2023

As an Ex IT Director I’ve been wondering … does the adoption of cloud services now mean the traditional IT team is superfluous?

Let’s take agriculture as an example, a real-life situation that is close to my heart. My family farm used to be entirely self-sufficient, planting crops, nourishing them and ultimately harvesting them. We had our own combine harvester (1994 model year – this was in 2019) and the skills to maintain and operate it. All was well and stable. Then, our disruptive event. The combine caught fire in the middle of a field during harvest. The crops had to be brought in else that entire years’ worth of work would have been lost. We did the only thing possible and asked a local contractor to complete the work.

He brought in a new combine harvester with a complete team. His combine was more than twice as wide and twice as fast across the ground. His diesel engine was more efficient. He completed the work 5 times quicker and with less diesel consumed. His maintenance costs were the same (per year) as ours. We never went back, employing someone else with better kit and better focus was the only way forward for our business.

Now let’s consider the modern IT department. We have our own data centre, we have our own server engineers and infrastructure team, we have our own developers and support staff. Will these ever be as good as Microsoft themselves? Or as good as a dedicated Microsoft partner? Will they have the same skills, resilience, availability, etc. as a set of focused and skilled resources? Will their operational costs compare?

How to evolve?

We want the right team to do the right job at the right time. Most of us got into IT not to provide support, not to forever negotiate cost downs, and certainly not to be in a position where we need to prioritse everything against a cost limited set of resources. That’s not what’s exciting. We got into IT to make a difference. To use our skills to help our businesses improve; to leverage technology and to help the business grow, perform, exceed. Personally, I wanted to be the hero of the business, at the forefront of many decisions and the person who could be trusted to provide a robust, scalable, secure but transformational set of technology. I can’t imagine there are many in IT that didn’t, and don’t still, feel the same.

To evolve we need to look at the internal skills needed. The real specialists that understand the business and can take inspiration from the operational and management teams to deliver excellence. To have an outsourced strategy that uses the expertise of specialist partners (why do we want to have resources that feed and water servers anymore?). To have specialists that can manage the performance and integration of strategic suppliers. To be fully aligned to the future business strategy and flex these resources in line with required capabilities.  To have a long-term view of business objectives and a methodology to achieve it.

"Aren’t there more efficient ways to achieve this, to provide the same or better service but at an overall reduced cost?"

Mike Stanbridge Enterprise Architect

How far could this go?

The extreme is to disband the traditional IT department, and for smaller businesses this may be the right answer. Can you really afford a team of industry specific professionals who stay up-to-date with the capabilities of technology and the needs of the industry? You would typically only fully utilise those resources at the inception and design of a project, so why do you need to employ them full time?
What about managing internal IT infrastructure? Well doesn’t the same theory apply as to my Dad’s combine harvester? Aren’t there more efficient ways to achieve this, to provide the same or better service but at an overall reduced cost?

How about support? In this world of Microsoft Dynamics 365 what does “support” really mean? If it’s the management of devices then that can be done more effectively with external resources than internal. If it’s about the interactivity of applications, then shouldn’t the target be to simplify and standardise, making that sort of support an outsourced commodity? If it’s about training and user management, then that may well be best addressed by an internal team.

What about managing those suppliers? Well this is the area that a business does need! Most teams already have these skills though, either in procurement departments or in the operational teams that manage the critical infrastructure of trucks, sheds, machines, factories. These individuals regularly manage suppliers according to SLA’s, lead times, performance, up time, etc. The skills required are the same.

What happens next?

I believe that IT should be seen and measured in the same way as any other capital resource. Why would you invest in your next factory, your next truck, your enhanced machine? Why would you put significant investment into the adoption of continuous improvement in factories, adopt lean manufacturing techniques? All of these are done with a purpose, an objective to make a difference.

The perception challenge…

IT (in my opinion) has been seen as a necessary evil for far too long. In some cases it’s seen as a cost centre, something that holds the business back, something that takes ages to deliver anything useful, something that is forever adding inefficiencies to business processes in the name of security or resilience or even compliance. It’s this perception that needs to change. IT in business needs an image makeover and it’s you (as IT leaders) that can make that difference.

We (collectively) need to stop using the jargon that alienates us from the rest of the business and start adopting the techniques that our colleagues have been using for the whole of their careers – value! We also need to break away from being seen as independent, and embrace the operational teams AND the executive teams with an attitude of “how do I help?” Where do we need to be in 5 years and how can I get technology in place to achieve that?

What should the future structure of an IT department be?

Should the IT team be split into teams that focus on operational delivery (and supplier management) reporting to the procurement/operations/supply chain directors? Should the transformational elements be managed by those who can make the biggest impact in delivering value and profit to the business (CEO, COO, Sales)? Should the compliance and governance efforts be handled by those who are best skilled to manage those processes (Risk, CFO, HR)? Is now the time to look at IT as a single subject or a set of skills deployed and managed across the business, in order to make the biggest impact?

But what about a business that can’t afford this expertise? A growing business or simply one that’s transforming. The good news is that most of the skills above can be brought in on demand and many of them from the same partner. HSO for example can provide:

  • Business transformation, technology road mapping and strategic alignment
  • Technology guidance and advice
  • Change management and adoption
  • Infrastructure management
  • End user support

In conclusion, we believe that IT teams need to adapt, to grow, and they need to change their mindset from being cost focused to being value focused. Your IT team should evolve their skills to be able to deliver maximum value to the business and, in doing so, become the Evolution/Enhancement department.

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