Leadership investigate

IT departments warned: Evolve or die

Keeping the lights on is no longer enough: IT departments need to meet business demands or risk being demoted to a minor support role.

Keeping the servers humming is no longer enough to justify the existence of the IT: it's time for the tech team to raise their game - or risk becoming irrelevant.

The IT department needs to prove to the business why it's more than just a support function, according to Essex County Council CIO David Wilde.

"It's almost an adapt or die moment for a lot of the IT profession, if you don't start being able to articulate and contextualise technology's value add to service delivery then why are you there?" he told the Efficient ICT 2012 conference in London.

IT roles likely to be less in demand in future are "bog standard engineering and desktop support. All that kind of stuff is a diminishing service," he said.

Wilde said this change in demand as inevitable: "Stuff is getting better, it breaks down less and people swap it out more often. So the demand for those level of skills is reducing." In addition, today's workforce is more IT-literate than that of a decade ago, he said, so can do more IT-related tasks for themselves.

Staff at in-house IT departments need to learn the ins and outs of the business - and use that knowledge to communicate technology's benefits, or else risk seeing the IT department demoted - to a necessary but uninteresting support service.

"The IT department will change, and its influence within the organisation will become lesser or greater depending on how it changes," he warned.

"I'm a big fan of moving to that value-add space around quality of information and business alignment, which I think is how you grow," he said.

Opportunities for IT to spread its influence in areas like big data analysis, will otherwise be taken up by other areas of the business - the likes of finance - if IT fails to step up to the plate, he said.

While the in-house IT department may shrink as jobs continue to move from the business to third party providers, Wilde doesn't subscribe to the view that automation in cloud computing will destroy the IT department.

He said that automation of provisioning of the likes of storage and compute power took place years ago and that with cloud computing comes additional complexity that needs to be managed.

"In cloud environments you might get much better automation but the complexity of the multi-tenanted environment gives you different challenges around how you manage multiple VMs, how you manage security and access control - it's just different roles," he said.

About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

70 comments
carl.maynard
carl.maynard

To the person who wrote this article, recommended that I upgrade all my 200 desktops and 40 laptops to equipment that will last and require very little or maintenance. When they call the Help Desk, all calls will be re-routed to China or India. All data will now reside in the cloud but do recommend to the company I work for that they do need Cloud insurance. The server room will be closed down for extra office space. Then recommend that all 250 users be more computer savvy which means they will be more security conscious and not jeapordize the company's network. Then the company's physical network infrastructure which has 11 satellite offices will be maintained by contractors who by the way do not give a dam about your security, difficult to reach when you need them and doing their job with very little perfection. So my dear brother good luck to that topic which has been debated for a few years now with little realization.

carl.maynard
carl.maynard

This has been a debated topic for years and that will never happen. Companies has seen the disasters associated with IT services that are outsourced. A company cannot function properly without any internal IT staff on site and that is a fact. Another new issue which has come up for discussion is we are becoming aware of the risks associated with cloud computing, moving to the cloud and right now there is even talk about cloud insurance. Which means who is responsible for when a company bellies up and that company was responsible for housing all critical and financial data for their customers? That topic of IT be warned do or die should be left alone and let us IT professionals do our work and keep our companies network running, and our internal users happy.

bkau
bkau

Contextualize? Bog standard? Value-add space? Hah! I stopped reading his quotes for value-add, and kept reading for humor-add. Where did he learn English? "Evolve or die"? That's what we do for a living. "Influence within the organization"? Never has been, and never should be the goal of IT. "[T[oday’s workforce is more IT-literate than that of a decade ago". Well, yes. Now they know how to use a mouse. But if Microsoft continues to make the software, we will continue to have jobs. Look at Office 2010. Everything has to be learned all over again. Besides, you still have users who have not figured out that the reason the screen is dark is because you need to turn the power on. "[T]hat automation in cloud computing will destroy the IT department." The jury is still out on cloud computing, especially where security is a concern. Eventually this may happen, but that will take a long time for industries like healthcare. Can you see DoD putting their stuff in the cloud? This person knoweth not of what he speaketh. I have watched IT evolve for 35+ years. I have heard the "evolve or die" mantra just as long. We're still here, and we've evolved. This is not news.

michael.kregel
michael.kregel

Who is going to fix David Wilde's PC or data server when it goes down? Windows 7 crashes just like all the other operating systems before it. Sure, you can call a third party company (which will probably be made up of all your ex IT staff anyway) and they will charge the shit out of you for the service. Clueless.

dwilde2012
dwilde2012

always good to see it brought out some passionate views, pity the comments haven't changed from when I was cutting code and running out secure networks and systems in the '90s - kinda proves the point in some ways....and look, ICT is still here and evolving faster than ever....:) I particularly like the old private/public sector stuff, hope it's not from the banking world, can't remember if that's private or public these days?.....depends on your viewpoint I guess we'll have to do big data next time and see where that goes.

A-mantra
A-mantra

IT is a field which is known for evolution only then how can you tell that IT department will die. It will never happen i think.

GlennHughes
GlennHughes

'... today’s workforce is more IT-literate than that of a decade ago' - yes, of course as everyone grows up with IT these days. Are they IT literate enough to be able to support themselves fully? Definately not. ' ... so can do more IT-related tasks for themselves' - CAN do more IT related tasks? Probably. WANT to do more IT related tasks? Definately not. My business customers are aviation professionals, sales professionals, finance professionals etc. They want to focus on these areas not support themselves.

m4mohi
m4mohi

Referring to his comment "todays workforce is more IT-literate than that of a decade ago,so can do more IT-related tasks for themselves." The more they know the more the oppertunities for IT pros.

cellnucleous
cellnucleous

I've been hearing versions of this since early 2003. "IT must serve Business." Agreed, but with fewer retirements since 2008 and many young folks being phone-centric there remains a great deal of face 2 face support. Yes, having people in house is expensive but if all you need is wireless for BYOD and gmail then why do you have an office? What are we building here? How about councils must evolve or die? I know a number of government/public workers whose job functions (I've seen their output) could be replaced with a decent shopping cart system, that way we can offload the responsibility to the people using the system. Wait, that sounds familiar.

post2base
post2base

Hi, I think David Wilde from Essex County Council is dreaming. I live and have worked in within the same Essex County Council, they have outsourced IT services to many companies including IBM in the past (@Chelmsford County Hall); they always come back with their tails between their legs. Their internal IT staff have always saved their skin. Partly because these same IT-illiterate top officials usually dream of ideas, and implement without consultation, even with their local IT staff; and sometimes, they simply do not know what they want. They pay shitty salary, that is why I moved to private sector. One of them even said, "Exchange Servers should run themselves". Most of the users would need proper IT training, and follow basic rules such as keeping their password safe, and remembering advice given; I might then start agreeing with him.

learn4ever
learn4ever

And sorry to nit-pick, but what kind of sentence is this and what does it mean?: "He said that automation of provisioning of the likes of storage and compute power took place years ago and that with cloud computing comes additional complexity that needs to be managed."

mckinnej
mckinnej

That spiel has been recycled more times than I can count. Makes for a good conference speech/seminar, but it has to be taken with a healthy dose of salt. For one thing, it doesn't just apply to IT. You can exchange any department name with IT...HR, evolve or die. Sadly the "C" execs hear this stuff and think they need to change the world when good managers have been watching and keeping pace all along.

christer.carlsson
christer.carlsson

The article is maybe discussable but in a way he is right and in others no. Yes: Hardware is getting better and "cheaper" so we have a 3 year exchange plan for the moment but it would be easy to make it longer as far as an office computer goes. Users are more used to use computers. IT-department has to evolve. No: We will not die but we will have to change. Users more used to computers does not necessary mean they are better in their profession. They might still only be used to playing games, surfing the net and using parts of the Office-suite. IT will as long as external contractors are not handling companies better with long time goals and services be a better resource to have inhouse.. There is a great difference in using a computer and using it efficient. There will always be users that have no interest at all to be connecting to a printer, changing the toner och changing batteries in their clocks, keyboards and so on. There will always be those who do call the helpdesk each time they have to book a meeting in the calender. And this will be partly due to that we allow them to behave that way. We will go very far to help them out with easy tasks because it is so much easier than instructing them how. And some. like a user I once had explained it "I behave as a bitch because that gets things done". And sure it works. I work in IT and I??m proud of it. I do the best I can to make it work as good as I can but I do still see that we need to better understand who our customers are. And that we are not here for our own pleasures.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

mean that phrase to be limited to the ability to turn a computer on and to use the proprietary software they were taught to use in school. In short, they already know how to use MS Office and that's about it.

quokka_z
quokka_z

Not where I am. They can't connect a network printer, set up their outlook profile and log in after they've changed their password. ...but they do keep me in a job:)

Still_Rockin
Still_Rockin

How about the business proving to the IT department why it's always treated as just a support function, no matter what it does? i.e., even if it DOES do all the business stuff described, the business rarely recognizes it.

gcurrier
gcurrier

Wish I had that kind of outlook... I'm not sure which companies the article talks about because I actually see fewer and fewer IT literate people day after day (either that or they are lazy, take your pick). Is this relevant to company size or industry? Or is this an overall generalization? If a general statement, then someone got their big data analysis wrong or at least, slightly off the mark...

Texas T
Texas T

I find that the saturation of technology into more and more departments, actually creates MORE work for me as a Field Tech - just because you deploy technology, does not assure that the end user knows what to do with it, or how to integrate it into their role, or how to avoid the inevitable hardware failures that arise over the lifetime (7 years, for us) of a computer. Not sure what planet this author is living on...

reisen55
reisen55

American management considers them just an expense item and all those servers in room D305 are eating up shareholder value. Outsource the lot to India, put the data into the cloud, fire those highly paid American workers, replace the helpdesk with one in Bangalore. I remember when that was done to my department. "Just make phone call, fix Windows problems faster, cheaper, better." Right. Convert room D305 to a cafeteria, get rid of that expense with cooling the data center servers. Salaries in India are $2 an hour, better still in China. (China, our friend, right?) IT is dead in America and if you need proof, just ask any IBMer about RoadMap 2015.

l.kobiernicki
l.kobiernicki

Just let 'em try getting their work done & dusted without us. Then we'll soon see who's needed, and why. As for all these bums-on-seats healthcare pros, in whose interests it remains, for people to get/remain sick, & to be medicated up to their eyeballs, they're not aiding healing: far from it ! They're part of a keeping-us-all-ill industry, feeding us inorganics, which we can't digest, but which maintains the cash flows of the allopaths. Increasingly, the big batallions ( MNCs, international NGOs, & all the other dinosaurs ) prove themselves not only unnecessary, but parasitical on the people co-opted to service them ( eg. IT, secretaries, & all those others impressed into their service ). What's needed is a purge of all the freeloaders, jargon-munchers, & other parasites gobbling up all the goodies they can, while the poor people struggle & fail. Without IT, they're dead in the water. Don't try to frighten us; we're onto you: we've understood what your priorities are. When did you last do something useful, necessary, absolutely crucial ? IT keeps this whole juggernaut rolling. When you limber up to fire us, the whole awful momentum slows, and your end approaches that much sooner. Get real. We don't need you. YOU need US ! Without us, you can't continue to spout your guff, threaten, and otherwise attitudinize. Without our support, you'd just be a lone fantasist, dreaming power.

allegory
allegory

At first I thought the author was reporting on a spoof, but sadly this CIO is not uncommon in the world of County Councils. "... if you don’t start being able to articulate and contextualise technology’s value add to service delivery then why are you there?” .... "....“I’m a big fan of moving to that value-add space around quality of information and business alignment, which I think is how you grow,” he said...." ".....“Stuff is getting better, it breaks down less and people swap it out more often. So the demand for those level of skills is reducing.” ....." Three statements why Councils are such profligate wasters of taxpayers money, council-speak for "I have no idea what I just said but I have loads of money to spend this year and that nice salesman has shown me the light and now I'm a believer" You have to live here to believe it!!

karlyoung
karlyoung

IT departments do need to evolve. They need to be proactive, not reactive. Leaders not followers. Too many IT depts, struggling to meet SLAs, have good solid ideas for improved efficiency but the customer never gets to hear about them because IT is concentrated on fire-fighting (reacting). This is where you need strong and focused leadership, with as many business skills as techie skills and who can process the customers needs and translate those into solid workable solutions. So more accurately - IT management needs to evolve.

kesseleejay
kesseleejay

The understanding of IT departments strategy interpreting the business objectives of the organisations they provide services and support to is definitely lack. The mere lack of national ICT policy and information security policy in the country clearly shows where public and private sector organisations' IT department are with understanding what their organisations want from IT.

omg.itlead
omg.itlead

So, this is the same accountant mantra that we can cut costs in the IT field and still be cutting edge. Well, if you want to bleed on the cutting edge then yes, go for it. Otherwise get those plodders back here and keep this system running 'cause we don't have enough money to reprogram it for the ARM.

RudHud
RudHud

I think I am going to evolve gills this week.

jimmy1264
jimmy1264

I hope my boss didn't just see this - I'm the only IT person here so who will be here to swap out the batteries on the wireless keyboards and mice on Monday.

Dyalect
Dyalect

These articles must be the worm on a hook for IT staff to moan and groan. These are management fantasies where everyone is disposable and outsourcing means BIG savings and no risk. Keep dreaming. Back to work before we get outsourced!!!

Itlurker
Itlurker

"It’s almost an adapt or die moment for a lot of the IT profession, if you don’t start being able to articulate and contextualise technology’s value add to service delivery then why are you there?” Oh man, if only he would have used 'paradigm shift' I would have won the Buzzword bingo game in my IT dept. Please. Users may know more about what a computer CAN do, but not how it does it. "Contextualise" that to the mouth breathers in your office. :-)

highlander718
highlander718

Don't know why somehow I always love federal/government employees. They are so ..... special :-). Sorry if anyone here is the case, there are always exceptions, but the general idea is that these type of employees are the most conservative (to put it nicely) seeing that they can hardly be fired, and it is mostly them that are just "keeping the servers humming". Anyway, indeed I do not see at all how IT can/could be ignored or become irelevant.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

And tonight I shall go home and there will be three panting blondes in my bed who've mistook me for Hugh Hefner's long lost adopted son... If only it could be true... "People are more IT literate than they were". To bring out a car analogy. (wince) If the above was true you could also claim that we are a nation of mechanics because we figured out where to pour fuel in the damn thing. Entire article just shows how far in to la-la land these people have managed to get.

Smedley54
Smedley54

Hmmm... This sounds a lot like the lecture every control happy department head has ever given me just before demanding something they shouldn't have. Password to the server/router/firewall/switch? Negative. Usernames and Passwords for all of their people? Uh, no. Full admin rights to their systems? Oh hell no! I don't want to rebuild your system every other week while you complain about lost data (anyone else remember Windows 9x?) Bless using some odd-ball database program? Only if you put in writing that you will never call for support on it, even when the one person in the organization that knows how to use it retires - [i]and that goes double if you fired them[/i]. Increase your bandwidth? Done. Find best value on hardware and software? Yup. Research and implement appropriate new technology? On it! Keep your virus and malware traps current, OS patched, and set network traps for odd activity? Damn straight! Keep your in-house software running, current, and legal? Baked in. Discuss ideas, methods and tech that will help your business unit perform better and then let you take the credit? Sure! Struggle to keep my knowledge and skills current despite cuts in training and travel allowances? Of course - it's what I do. I love what I do, and I do IT. If you wanted an MBA, you should have hired one, but from what I've seen they can't run an IT Department worth a damn.

OurITLady
OurITLady

"bog standard engineering and desktop support...............is a diminishing service" and "it breaks down less and people swap it out more often". People may swap their personal equipment more often, in business they swap it when the business says they can. I currently work for a company with a 3 year refresh cycle - and that's probably the shortest I've seen, most try to keep it running for a lot longer than that. Plus, people may have learnt how to do more things in their applications (the familiar ones like word at least), try getting them to change their display settings, troubleshoot a network connection, or update a driver without help and that's a different story. My main experience is in support (desktop and windows servers) and I've been seeing these stories about how we're all about to become obsolete for years now, funny how I never seem to have any issues finding another job when I want one, usually on more money than the old position. Sounds very much like I'm about to become obsolete doesn't it.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

the way it gets messed up by staff is the same, and the number of software conflicts causing issues is increasing due to changes in fundamental Windows commands by Microsoft. One place I used to work some years ago we had a change of middle management. My new division head did not like me or my branch, so he took action to have our work outsourced and we were 'let go.' Most of my staff found better jobs elsewhere and refused to take any calls from the company now doing the work. Everything had been well documented, but there is a hell of a difference between reading about something and having someone show it to you in situ and explaining it. After being with contractors for just on four months the division head was sacked by the General Manager for poor performance and some of my staff were rehired at higher salaries to clean up the mess. What created the blow up was when I insisted on being paid a consulting fee of $2,500 to work over a weekend to clean up a mess so they could avoid a $50,000 penalty payment to a client for failure to meet contractual obligations. The outsourcing contract did NOT include weekend work as a cost saving measure and the contractor had no staff who knew the work available that weekend. Thus proving that the fundamentals still apply. Tech staff still need to be on hand and knowledgeable to do the tech work, it's no good if they can talk to the sales staff but can't perform at the tech level needed to do the job well - I see that useless situation occur a lot over the last decade with companies insisting on great interpersonal skills over tech skills. They get great talkers who aren't that good with the gear.

MarkWAliasQ
MarkWAliasQ

Or your new Pc/terminal arrives and you have to connect it up yourself but then it doesn't understand who you are when you try to login. And what happened to that S drive mapping you had stored all that critical data on. Oh yes and your company is being prosecuted for dumping your old computers in your skip. You can't do that you know. Did you thoroughly wipe those old hard drives, format isn't good enough you know. What do you mean someone has hacked your Cloud/internet stored data and it's going to cost the company millions in legal fees alone. Not forgetting the language barrier for off site support which although improving, is always a degradation of service quality in my experience.

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

a tad amusing concerning who is being warned? Change is our way of life. How about this: [b]IT departments warn: Evolve or die[/b].

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Forget all that security and service and actually being able to do business stuff. Think about the lower salary bill and equipment costs.. Get with the program! :D

Slayer_
Slayer_

I just got a bunch of puzzled looks when I told people you can scroll up and down a page by using the page up and page down keys.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

One blonde who didn't object too strenuously would do. :p In fact she doesn't have to be a real blonde. In fact not even being a she is necessary. Hmm may have gone too far there... :D These people make laugh when I'm not crying, what does IT literate mean anyway, just keeping up with the words is fair amount of effort. Stringing a few together to make a sentence that looks at though it should intelligible, taxes more than 50% of "professionals" beyond their capacity, never mind users.

MyopicOne
MyopicOne

...way to point out that as a public servant he does not have many of the budget concerns his private sector peers have; after all they can 'just' get more money from the taxpayer or keep those government printing presses humming...

Smedley54
Smedley54

Ironically, the auto industry has worked very hard to make cars more reliable and easier to operate - which just means more widgets for mechanics to diagnose and repair. I think the analogy holds.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

and thus replacement cycles for many companies run at 4 years with a deferral to 5 years at times, due to cash reserves.

maszsam
maszsam

Never had to. We use DOS 2.0 here but were thinking about upgrading to a 750 MB HD so we could upgrade to Win3.11 for our main file server. Can you get that on 5 1/4 floppies? Do you think we should upgrade to 32MB of ram to go with that? But seriously, if you have to beg for your job, what does that say about managment? In a business, if you need it, you pay for it, if you don't you lose it. Other wise what in the Sam Hill are they doing? Aside form that, if you do your IT on line, you can loose some help. Even if, you will probably need about 1 full time person for every 50 or so employees. Not really sure about that number though. I mean at some point things fail, machines crash, etc. even if you don't have much software or storage on site. If you are really concerned about security, then you may need more help. If someone isn't always checking you don't have security. I saw this coming and updated my skill sets to move from hardware and systems adminstration to software. Its no harder than figuring out how hardware and adminsitration work. Same deal, different flavor but you do less crawling under desks and listening to complaints. If you were waiting for the bell to get started: DING DING DING DING

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

slipped on all that sarcasm you were dripping.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Mail Merge. That's now considered as Advanced Office instead of the [b]Must Know[/b] to be employed minimum standards that applied when WP was the staple Word processor. After all isn't a Word Processor supposed to reduce the Typing Pool and sending out a form letter is basic isn't it? Apparently today it's not. :^0 Col

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

how to do things with the keyboard any more - it's all supposed to be done by touch-screen or mouse now.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Now we just grunt at each other, we all seem to catch each others meaning.

Joanne Lowery
Joanne Lowery

Isn't it such a pain though, trying to run the networking coax cable in a loop, ensuring you go past every workstation, and still have only two terminators at the end of the run.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

[b]Resistance is Exhausting[/b] I actually like that much more than Resistance is Futile. ;) See Dr Who still has some great wording. :p Col