Word on the street is that IT must “transform”, but the vagueness of this statement can make it sound like loaded business speak. Telling IT departments they need to transform is no more helpful than telling a friend she needs to “change” the way she’s living. It begs for a more practical explanation, and my goal is to offer one here.
When we speak of IT transforming, we’re really talking about specific changes in people, process, and technology that would enable IT to contribute to a business’s success. People have culture, habits, and beliefs that, for better or worse, influence the way that they work. Processes have inertia, so once in place, they often become brittle and stubborn rather than fluid and adaptable. Technology is not an end – it’s a means to achieving an organizational goal.
When an IT department makes conscious changes to people, process, and technology, we can say that a “transformation” has occurred. Mindset is the biggest iceberg barring the way of transformation.
You’re Not Being the Ball, Danny
IT departments often harbor a myth that IT and “the business” are two separate entities. IT is usually enslaved to concerns – namely security – that appear to clash with the desires of the business. Yet IT is the business as much as the sales and marketing departments are, too. This is a mindset (people) problem. To borrow some golf advice from the movie Caddyshack, IT needs to “Just be the [business]”.
Once an IT department acknowledges that their interests and the business’s are one in the same, they can tackle process. Usually, two things are broken in the IT process: communication and collaboration.
In a pre-transformation IT department, IT makes decisions without consulting anyone who will be affected. Are people spending a lot of time on Facebook? Oh, let’s just block it. Are they using their phone to access Facebook? Well, now we have a BYOD problem, so let’s push an MDM solution on everyone.
Without communication – which might uncover that people use Facebook for multiple purposes – the problem receives bad solutions. Without collaboration – which would reach a solution that meets IT’s security concerns and everyone else’s needs – the fix is ineffective. The game of whack-a-mole continues, and technology becomes a glorified rubber mallet.
The Hard Work of Transformation
Shadow IT, BYOD, and BYO-whatever are not technology problems. As I’ve already illustrated, they are people and process problems first. Thus, implementing the trendiest, buzz-wordiest technology on the market is more likely to create new problems than address the original ones. IT can either “be the business,” or break it one implementation at a time. Using this framework of people, process, and technology, here’s how I’d proceed through transformation.
First, look at past decisions and trace backwards from the result to the original problem. Why, for example, did you ultimately choose to solve the Facebook problem with an MDM solution? What information might have changed your choice? Did you issue any kind of survey asking people to describe how and why they use Facebook and mobile technology? Did you invite anyone from outside of the IT department to a physical meeting? Understand what sub-processes are broken or missing so you can define a new and improved approach.
Next, test your new process. Let’s say the sales department signs up for Dropbox accounts without consulting you. This obviously means the sales department believes that Dropbox provides value that IT isn’t currently providing. So, the first step could be to invite the head of sales and a few co-workers to a meeting to figure out how IT can help. Beyond needing the ability to share, access, and co-edit files, maybe the sales team selected Dropbox because they were having a difficult time accessing shared network storage from smartphones and tablets, which salespeople prefer to use in their day-to-day work.
Now, IT can address the issue with the sales department’s preferences in mind (They need mobile access – what solutions exist? They like Dropbox – can we configure it to meet our security standards?). IT can also go a step further and ask: what else do salespeople wish they could do? After identifying other problems, IT might be able to propose additional mobile services that would allow sellers to work more productively and close more deals. This will stave off future shadow IT deployments.
Blind Spots in Transformation
Conscious changes in how people think, what processes are used, and why technology is implemented are the nut and bolts of IT transformation. So what can go wrong? Where are the blinds spots?
Overall IT methodology can strangle transformation. The “let’s roll out changes once per quarter” mentality is not fast enough. IT departments can usually overcome this issue by adopting Agile/Scrum methodologies, which build communication into daily IT work and rely on rapid iteration to get superior results. Overall, Agile/Scrum should instill habits that are conducive to making IT function as a part of the business.
Culture is another blind spot for IT departments, especially for those that serve global organizations. In the U.S., people frequently use their mobile devices to stay connected with work beyond 9 to 5. They would likely welcome a transformation that results in better BYOD support. Italians, on the other hand, think BYOD is an absurd concept – plugging into work beyond standard hours is almost blasphemous. So understand that transformation might look different depending on the culture(s) you serve.
Last, figure out a way to make IT accountable. This means having a process to follow up on technological changes. If you give the sales department an enterprise file sharing solution, plan follow-up conversations. Perhaps ask department members to rate the solution on a 1-5 scale and describe strengths and weaknesses of the software.
If you “be the business” you should discover many more blind spots. Your department will embrace rather than block opportunities and you will create competitive advantages that everyone recognizes.
So go examine how people, process, and technology fit into your IT department. Go transform.