Is IT really broken?

A quick sanity check

I have just been reading a blog post from a vendor that opens with:

“Senior IT leadership wants to transform a traditional IT organization into a more cloud-like IT service provider. They know it’s important, and there’s a sense of urgency.”

The assumptions underlying these sentences are:

1. IT is generally broken and everyone is urgently trying to fix it
2. IT leaders are aspiring to adopt an internal supplier approach
3. The cloud delivery model is seen as the universal answer

The specific vendor concerned is not important, because we have heard similar lines from many sources over the past year or two. But this latest post has prompted this regular reminder from Freeform Dynamics that you should take a lot of vendor messaging around trends with a pinch of salt.

In case you read some of the messaging and end up feeling negligent because you are not treating total transformation of your IT delivery to the cloud computing model as an urgent imperative, don’t beat yourself up because you are actually normal.

If you have a nose around the Freeform Dynamics website, you will find reference to a lot of research that directly challenges all three of the above assumptions. I have personally been designing, running, analysing and interpreting studies for almost 10 years that have explored IT delivery approaches, levels of satisfaction with IT within the business, and, more recently, where the various forms of cloud potentially fit into the greater scheme of things. Based on this, I really do not recognise the world that is often described by IT vendors.

The reality is that IT departments vary immensely in their level of performance, but the majority are actually doing a pretty good job, and few regard things as being anywhere close to breaking point. Sure, everyone has particular areas of acute weakness and need, and we often pick up a sense of urgency around those, but that’s a manageable situation in most environments, not some kind of huge crisis that has IT leaders up at night wondering how they are going to transform their entire operation to fix things.

We would also challenge the notion that IT should aspire to operate more like a discrete internal service provider. That may not be what was meant by the above quoted statement, but you could interpret it as advocating IT becoming a business within a business. Organisations that have tried this have generally created as many problems as they have solved, as IT always has an eye on its own survival and interests, while business stakeholders get distracted by ‘alternative’ sources of services.

The most mature organisations have IT departments operating as an integral part of the business, with senior IT management being genuinely agnostic on the question of how specific service requirements are fulfilled. The trick to real success is good IT-business alignment, effective governance, and IT playing predominantly an enabling, support and orchestration role, blending internal and external resource use to drive the desired business result. If the head of IT views external providers as competition (which is a by-product of the internal provider model), that’s a recipe for conflict as well as poor performance. Furthermore, if the business engages external IT suppliers independently of the internal IT department, risks are created due to inevitable disjoints and accountability discrepancies in areas such as information management, security and compliance.

And as regards cloud being the answer, that’s too big a topic to get into properly here. Suffice it to say that many of the things discussed under the cloud computing umbrella have a valuable contribution to make, but there are no magic bullets and for the foreseeable future, the game being played is one of mixing and matching the traditional with the new, and the external with the internal. This has many implications for the structure and activity of the IT department, and we have explored some of these at a high level in our paper Applied Cloud Computing. But it’s a complex topic that needs serious investigation, thought and planning.

So, when looking at cloud, and indeed the evolution of IT service delivery in general, focus on your own priorities and agenda, and don’t get too distracted by exaggerated vested interest claims of trends that you might end up being left behind on.


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Dale is a co-founder of Freeform Dynamics, and today runs the company. As part of this, he oversees the organisation’s industry coverage and research agenda, which tracks technology trends and developments, along with IT-related buying behaviour among mainstream enterprises, SMBs and public sector organisations.