Fighting for survival: why IT teams need to get off the sidelines

The A3 Communications team is hard at work on March’s Technology Live! Event, our second in London (watch this space for news about our European events later in the year). We’re pulling out all the stops and the day will be filled with live demos from some of the industry’s leading vendors. But Technology Live! is just one of the regular events we stage – last year we hosted our second IT Question Time (ITQT), where journalists and bloggers gave vendors a real grilling on cloud computing. In the second post in our ITQT blog series, we discuss where the IT department fits in today’s business landscape.

Our panel of experts included:
•    Databarracks solutions architect, Mark Thomas
•    SolidFire senior director, Martin Cooper
•    Virtual Instruments EMEA director of services and presales, Nicholas Dimotakis and then EMEA marketing director Chris James.

Quick poll: who manages the IT in your business?  According to analyst house Freeform Dynamics no one really agrees. In a recent survey, 85 percent of CIOs said that they were responsible for IT in their companies. However, when CEOs were asked the same question, just 42 percent said their CIOs were responsible. Perhaps this shows how fluid the boundaries between IT and other departments are becoming – technology is no longer the domain of the IT department alone.

This lack of clarity can be dangerous says Virtual Instruments’ Chris James (@ChrisJamesAssoc): “There’s a perceived mismatch with what’s important. We have a situation now where marketing owns a lot of IT infrastructure and may be responsible for app development.”

This shift is understandable, but James wonders how it will work in practice: “You’re in marketing and you’ve developed an app for the business. Are you really going to be supporting that app, over every conceivable platform for the next ten years?” That’s why, he says, technology should always come back to the IT department. Databarracks’ Mark Thomas (@databarracks) agrees that it’s not sensible to shut out IT. “What you use that app for comes back to who owns it and who controls it,” he explains.

There’s a difficulty here though. Yes, businesses want a strong IT department, but the demands on that department are growing and changing so quickly, that it leads to frustration according to SolidFire’s Martin Cooper (@mr_coops). It also changes its dynamic: with people within the organisation turning to shadow IT – where solutions are developed without explicit approval, and often outside the IT team.

Analyst and chair of ITQT Tony Lock (@LockTD) builds on this, explaining that business departments put pressure on IT teams to deliver quickly, but these rightly have rigorous planning and testing stages for any new developments. However, other parts of the organisation are side-stepping those checks, and get the job done in super-fast time. Not a great advert for the IT department. Lock argues: “Let’s suppose a business wants a new service and IT says it will take three or four months. The flash whizz-kid down the corridor with the iPad says he can do it in a day and he’s getting traction with people higher up.”

This blurring between departments continues when we look at how IT services are paid for.  Not many organisations (realistically virtually none) have implemented any form of chargeback system, where business department IT use is charged accurately.

Lock explains that there are real problems with implementing chargeback. “I was at a dinner not long ago when I heard from a consultant working with two organisations trying to put in place complete coverage chargeback. They had to give up the idea as it was just too difficult.”

That shows how complicated IT has become says blogger and consultant Enrico Signoretti of Juku.IT (@esignoretti).  “Chargeback was easy in the days of mainframes, the days of single machines with easily defined resources.”.

Now IT permeates every part of a business making it incredibly difficult to work out charging structures. But there are ways to do it. Blogger and consultant Chris Evans of Langton Blue (@chrismevans) explains how it used to work for storage: “Storage was charged by consumption based on the total amount used, divided by the number of people using it.” So if someone left the organisation, the price of storage per person would increase.

But this is too simplistic for today’s storage usage: the demands on the system are greater than ever before, both in terms of capacity and speed. So, Evans says, the best way to chargeback is through a service catalogue with set items and prices. This approach can be quite rigid though and, Evans explains, it’s down to the IT team to build in flexibility. “If you’re in business and, say, you need x,” he continues.  “IT might say ‘we don’t sell x and it will take us six months to build it and put it into a system.’ You’re going to go somewhere else. So how can IT add new features to build in that flexibility?” It’s a combination of thinking ahead, and thinking creatively.

It’s an afternoon of discussion and opposing views, but it’s clear that IT departments need to change: whether it’s through creative thinking or a complete overhaul of the way they work. Without that change, valuable planning, strategy and testing will be lost – risking outages, data loss and a breakdown in business continuity. Apps and websites will be unmanaged – bringing a legacy of out-of-date sites, that at best look bad for the business and at worst could lose customers. It’s up to the IT teams, and perhaps the vendors, to explain how important a well-functioning IT department is to and for the rest of the business.

Our focused on defining the cloud. Watch out for our final ITQT post coming soon.

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