Make this a 21st century business, without delay: Are we asking too much of IT?

Vendors and analysts alike seem to expect IT managers to go out and turn their corporations upside down -- does IT even have the clout, training, and time to do so?
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

In a hyper-competitive era in which businesses are attempting to transform themselves overnight into analytics-driven social enterprises, are information technology managers being called upon to do far more than they've been trained -- or being paid -- to do?  Or, on a more practical level, are IT managers being asked to perform miracles when they're stressed for time just keeping network traffic flowing?

In a new post, SmartPlanet editor-in-chief Larry Dignan pondered new thinking regarding "pull" technology, in which businesses are now challenged with facilitating growth through networks that reach far beyond the firewalls of a single company. Larry references The Power of Pull, written by John Hagel III, Seely Brown and Lang Davison, which predicts that more companies will seek efficiencies Ultimately, Hagel told Larry, the CFO will be the change agent in the company, and push this pull model.

The CFO?  Will companies start doing end-runs around their IT departments to make networking with partners, suppliers and customers happen in accordance with Hagel's vision?

Indeed, there has been plenty of speculation that "business value" is a concept too difficult for IT managers to wrap their heads around. Not because they lack business smarts, but because they are not trained and paid to worry about the success of new product lines or identify new markets. They are trained and paid to worry about implementation costs, uptime, and meeting service-level agreements.

Yet, all the transformational efforts that businesses are struggling to undertake -- from analytics to social business to service-oriented architecture to green -- require heavy IT involvement. For example, while SOA has long-term implications for the business, and therefore should be owned by the business, IT is still carrying the water for SOA. Survey after survey I have either conducted or reviewed shows that SOA clearly remains an "IT thing." But should it be? Of course not — SOA needs to be owned by the entire organization. But at least for now, IT is doing all the heavy lifting, while the rest of the business looks on with curiosity.

It may be too difficult for IT to become business advocates for business transformation. First and foremost, IT departments are simply too consumed with day-to-day tasks and ongoing maintenance. During the post-dot-bomb slowdown earlier in the 2000s, many IT departments were gutted or outsourced. As things improved, new projects and responsibilities were piled on IT managers, but not as much in new budget or staffing resources. Things only got worse during the recent economic rough patch. “Here, do these 10 extra things, start generating more reports to help us with Sarbanes-Oxley, but we’re not going to give you more budget.”

In a post a couple of years back, Chris Haddad of the Burton Group speculated that "maybe we are asking technologists to come out of their comfort zone and span business and technology layers." He speculates that perhaps "IT teams are too busy fulfilling their standard job descriptions," and that while technologists are concerned with business value, they may not know where to begin.

The promised deliverables of technology-driven business transformation -- increased business agility and transformation -- are beyond the scope of IT department mandates, training, and capabilities. Vendors and analysts alike seem to expect IT managers to go out and turn their corporations upside down. While they certainly can be the catalyst for such transformations, it's going to take a lot of help from both C-level types and the grassroots.

In a another article that gives pause for thought, Caron Carlson looked at recent issues such as the MacAfee software update and pondered whether IT managers were actually losing their grip on day-to-day operations of their companies. At a time when companies are expected to keep better control of their data, too much power is being relinquished to vendors and cloud providers, she writes. "While it may not exactly be the Wild West on most corporate networks yet, it may be time for businesses to take a new look at their access controls and usage policies, and ask whether the IT pros need to assume more power."

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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