HAMILTON, Ont. — Chief information officers gathered at this week’s CIPS Informatics conference have sent a clear message to any end-user departments thinking about doing their own IT work: Tell us up front what you are doing and be prepared to share the cost.
That advice came at a panel called
Shadow Departments intended to address the problem of hosts of non-IT workers performing tasks that should be done by the central IT department.
Mark Farrow, director of IT of Hamilton Health Sciences, said he knows of a few shadow IT workers, and it’s a big issue in his organization.
“”Previously, we had pockets of information that departments had created. A patient would come back in again and we had no idea this other system had been built and had captured information from a previous visit,”” he said. “”That creates lots of problems for us.””
Farrow said there is also the issue of privacy. “”Sometimes the shadow IT department is thinking more about how the applications are developed, rather than how the information is protected.””
According to Farrow, putting limits on shadow IT departments is not about control but ensuring that standards are met. “”The problem always comes about when (end-users) have gone off and done the work, and come and tell us after the fact,”” said Farrow.
Gord Lalonde, CIO, Town of Oakville said, “”while shadow departments can be a good thing, ultimately the projects they develop should come home to reside in IT.””
While end-users are often enthusiastic in the early stages of a project, what happens is “”they don’t want to maintain it, nor do they don’t want to take calls in the middle of the night to support it. It’s our job to take those things over and put them into a production environment, “” said Lalonde.
Lalonde says he strongly encourages any end-user body who is thinking about doing development work “”to have a conversation with us early.””
Renato De Tina, director, information systems and process automation at Dofasco, said the company has 20 independent business units with one central IT department that looks after networks, security, disk storage, databases, certain business applications and desktop tools.
End-user departments can implement a non-standard package or develop a new application but they must pay those costs themselves. “”That’s one way to encourage them to use a central service instead of doing their own,”” he said. “”Over time, these applications may not work anymore because let’s say we upgraded the desktop, then they knock on our door and say, ‘Can you look after it?’ Is this the most efficient way of doing things? Probably not.””
There are also other risks that end-users are not aware of. “”Disaster recovery, backup, security, error tracking, version control are a number of issues we have encountered,”” he said. “”On the one side, (end-user) creativity is a good thing but I wonder do we need different databases for each department. There’s a balance there.””
Debbie Barrett, CIO of McMaster University said shadow departments are necessary because people out in the field have a much better understanding of what needs to be done.
“”I come back to freedom with boundaries. As long as there is a process in place, with someone who is accountable and who pays, then it’s perfectly appropriate.””
Panelists also shared some insight about what didn’t work, and these included chargeback systems and pricing mechanisms aimed at establishing the cost of providing IT services to other departments.
“”In looking at what it was costing us to price out and charge back for PCs and networks, well, some had (the funds) and some didn’t,”” said Farrow. “”It became way too burdensome and difficult on the department so we’ve moved away from pricing mechanism to, how can we assist them on a project basis?””
“”When our departments bring forward a project, we do look at costs, and assist them in fighting for the funds and going after this year’s capital allotment,”” he added.
De Tina said pricing mechanisms at Dofasco haven’t worked very well.
“”Some of the budgets that manufacturing works with are in the tens of millions of dollars, and for them to hide $20,000 in terms of an IT application isn’t difficult,”” he said.
What does work, he added, is building a relationship with your end-users. “”If you are just sending e-mails, you are only encouraging your end-users to solve problems on their own,”” De Tina said.
Dofasco has had “”a fair bit of success”” in putting IS people with end-users. “”We have a general manager in our manufacturing division who said ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.’ It worked really well in terms of customer service.””
Barrett said she was “”a big fan of shared services. We have no money so we need to work together.””
McMaster University, along with the municipal government, health facilities and other Hamilton-area institutions, is developing a program to be called MyHamilton.ca, and “”Indeed this is the way to go. “”
Lalonde said one problem, however, is that end-users generally think they can do things a lot cheaper than the IT department. “”But after they get over the shock of what the cost is to do this right, there are all kinds of opportunities to participate together.””
A recent example, says Lalonde, are Town of Oakville inspectors looking for West Nile virus threats who go around taking digital pictures of potentially dangerous areas like empty ponds.
“”It didn’t take very long before the inspectors couldn’t find pictures they had taken three months ago, which were probably sitting on a C: drive somewhere. But when they saw the cost of (properly) indexing, databasing and attaching these pictures to the right stuff, they fainted with shock,”” he said.
“”At the end of the day, we came up with a much better system and the cost was shared among IT and the other departments.””