Getting territorial over technology

Sathish Bala recently took a call from a senior executive who said he felt handcuffed by his IT department. His first impulse was to fire everyone.

Bala, the president and CEO of NewAge Consulting in Toronto, says he’s often called in to help companies with their IT staffing needs. And these

types of requests are coming in more frequently since the dynamic within organizations has changed to reflect the fact that lines of business within a corporation are dictating IT strategy more often. In some cases, this change isn’t sitting well with the IT department.

“”There is a lot of resistance internally,”” says Bala. “”We went through a situation with a company recently where the IT person has been there forever. This person has always built all the technology, but the company found, as the years went on, their technology growth was limited to the learning curve of this individual.””

The result, says Bala, is that many of the initiatives suggested by the business leaders were given a thumbs-down by the IT leader.

“”When we came in, we sensed that resistance right away. We approached this guy from the perspective of ‘We want to be the kind of guys who make you look like a superstar,’ and that worked beautifully in that situation.””

But IT departments often have a different perception when it comes to the strategy changes prevalent in many corporate environments.

Donna Lindskog says that for many years, IT was in charge of technology strategy because business users didn’t have enough familiarity with products and systems. Although that situation has changed dramatically, users still don’t have a 360-degree view of the technological landscape of their organizations, says Lindskog, the director of CIPS Saskatchewan and a business consulting manager with SaskTel in Regina.

The dangers of low-balling the technology buy

Lindskog says when people from the business lines put together an RFP for a technology product or systems, they’re often looking at awarding the contract to the vendor with the lowest bid, and not necessarily the one whose products can integrate well with existing technology.

“”The business lines are focussed on the business need, and (they think) this low-cost vendor can solve it, but we’ve learned over the years the vendors will look after them right now, but eventually there may be some problems,”” she says.

The various departments within an organization often work in silos, Lindskog says, and that means there’s a lack of communication among departments as to which technology solutions are being implemented and how they will affect the overall infrastructure.

“”We need more of a corporate planning for IT,”” she says, adding that’s where the IT department can bring value.

But the IT department, which numbers about 350 in the case of SaskTel, is often perceived as second-guessing the customer — the business unit — if the technology strategy is challenged.

“”If they (the customer) don’t agree with how the department is putting together the business case, it’s seen as the IT department putting the brakes on. But what they’re really trying to do is understand the business,”” says Lindskog.

The rush to implement a new product or system is one factor causing individual departments to make decisions that, in some cases, are not the best.

“”They see some other decisions taking longer and they don’t want to be bothered with that. For the sake of speed, sometimes (bad) decisions are made,”” she says.

But Lindskog admits the “”religious wars”” — the tension between IT and business leaders — can be waged from either side. She says IT departments have their share of prima donnas who believe their way is the only way.

“”These IT people are specialists and they can see how technology should be used,”” she says. “”As long as you have specialists, that will happen. I’ve decided to take it as a positive that they really believe in their work.””

But IT professionals who adopt a “”my way or the highway”” attitude could be placing their jobs in jeopardy. NewAge’s Bala says companies sometimes think they need to fire IT professionals who are resistant to change with the business, but it’s often better to work with these individuals than replace them.

“”We’ve done audits and have been able to come back and say, ‘Here’s the skill set you have in house, here’s what you have to bring in,'”” he says. “”Your choices are to retrain these people or replace them, and here’s why you should retrain them. They have value, knowledge, they know your internal people and there’s a certain learning curve they can avoid versus bringing in new people who don’t know your environment.””

How can companies better balance the needs of the more educated business users with the IT department? SaskTel has adopted an exercise called Sharing of Plan, where the various revenue groups within the company have a formal meeting to exchange their business plans.

“”Right now, only some of us relationship managers and a couple of IT planners go to that . . . but maybe those plans need to go out to more people yet, so everyone has that same vision,”” she says.

In a perfect world, says Lindskog, stakeholders from the business would participate in IT architecture discussions so they’d know how adding pieces here and there would affect the overall infrastructure.

“”We need to be able to talk to the client departments and get their buy-in to the architecture,”” she says.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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