CXO

How ghost tech budgets are creating zombie IT departments

Steve Ranger's Notebook: A Nightmare on CIO Street?

It's Halloween, so here's a few trends that are getting CIOs really worried, according to silicon.com editor Steve Ranger.

I've spent some time recently talking to CIOs about the challenges they face, and how their role has started to change. It's interesting to note how recently a couple of trends have come together in ways to make some of them feel quite uncomfortable - and could potentially be a bit of a horror story for CIOs.

Firstly, their problem is that we're all CIOs now. Yup, you, me and the guy in the postroom, we all think we know everything about gadgets. Instead of the IT department deciding which hardware to provide us with, thanks to the burgeoning BYO device culture we're now making hardware decisions for ourselves.

Think of it as an update of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, except that instead of everyone turning into shrieking pod-people, we're all mutating into techies. Everywhere the CIO turns, previously placid colleagues start spouting off knowledgeably about the best new tablet or netbook or smartphone to buy. Spooky.

The bigger nightmare is that it's not just about people buying shiny smartphones and tablets, either. Even corporate software is going down the same route.

Skeleton on computer

CIOs beware: Ghostly shadow IT organisations are haunting the IT departmentPhoto: Shutterstock

Tired of dealing with an overworked IT department, exhausted by waiting for scarce developer time and frustrated by opaque security policies, there are many tales of executives buying services via the cloud and sticking the cost on the company credit card.

As a result, they have a new sales system without having to write a business case or go through tedious specifications with the CIO. And if that's a success, then they buy another service, and another. And maybe they give someone the job of looking after it all, as well.

This is a real concern for CIOs: ghostly shadow IT organisations begin to emerge around the business, running their own applications - that may or may not conform to enterprise standards around security and compliance. Add in the BYO device trend and you have duplicate shadow IT organisations emerging, over which the CIO has no control.

Meanwhile, as this nightmare develops, the IT department is gradually reduced to zombies, a team of the professional undead, merely managing the boring and decrepit core infrastructure as interesting new applications get installed without their knowledge.

It's a horror story for sure, but like all the best horror stories it's realistic enough to be scary, and far-fetched enough that CIOs don't have to sleep with the lights on.

For me, the answer isn't in cracking down on business units that want their own hardware or software, but to work with them.

The days may well have passed when the IT department and the CIO were the final decision-makers on everything to do with IT, but CIOs still have a key role in setting standards and policies for the rest of the business who want to try out new things, and being a source of best practice.

In fact, perhaps CIOs should be promoting these approaches themselves, because then they can worry less about these kinds of projects, ensure the IT chosen is business-standard and then concentrate on projects that can generate even more business benefit. Sometimes, as horror stories tell us, the only thing you have to fear is fear itself.

Steve Ranger is the editor of silicon.com and has been writing about the impact of technology on people, culture and business for over a decade. You can find him tweeting @steveranger.

About Steve Ranger

Steve Ranger is the UK editor of TechRepublic, and has been writing about the impact of technology on people, business and culture for more than a decade. Before joining TechRepublic he was the editor of silicon.com.

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