Innovation

Can IT really focus on business-facing initiatives?

Scott Lowe addresses some reservations with the automation of certain IT functions.

A few weeks ago, I wrote two articles (first article, second article) and between the two, I outlined ten tasks that I believe should be discontinued, outsourced or automated. While it's certainly easy to say that what is a cornerstone operation such as identity management should be automated, I fully understand the technical and cultural challenges inherent in such initiatives. For others, the size of the company may determine whether or not the initiative even makes sense. Obviously, if you're a three person company, automating account provisioning would be a pointless exercise in finding ways to waste money.

However, as I reviewed the comments, I noticed a few items that stuck out and wanted to take some time to follow up with some thoughts.

The real world

One comment indicated that the items on the list aren't how IT is done in "the real world" with a particular emphasis on smaller shops as being more difficult places in which to implement such initiatives. Coming from a strong SMB background, I certainly understand the unique challenges faced by IT departments in this space. Whereas larger organizations have larger staffs with more compartmentalized functions, IT staff members in smaller shops need to wear many more hats and be more generalized.

I think this gives SMB's an edge when it comes to checking off some of these items and makes it even easier to eventually streamline IT's activities so that the group can focus more on bottom line-enhancing activities rather than just keeping the lights on.

In the real world, IT shops need to drive business value. An inability or unwillingness to address internal shortcomings or inefficiencies will result in someone at some point starting to ask questions about why IT isn't delivering this value. CIOs and IT staff members need to rethink ideas of the real work around what the world should look like and move toward that goal.

Don't lock yourself into outdated notions of what things looked like yesterday.

Self-preservation

The economy has been a bear and organizations have made major cuts across their lines, including in their IT departments. With the recovery being slow, companies aren't hiring yet and some are still shedding positions, so the fact that some staffers have moved into a self-preservation mode is completely understandable.

But it doesn't help the organization. Sure, the basic work gets done and someone takes home a paycheck, but what if you could redirect those energies into initiatives that helped the organization out of the slump?

Unfortunately, many organizations and many managers have forever damaged relationships with their employees, so there is often difficulty in extending the kind of trust that it would take for an employee to go out on a limb in the name of making things better. And, today, with the difficulty people are having finding new jobs when one is lost, people are more risk-adverse than ever.

So, start small. Do something that might not have major visibility at first but that could save you some time and quietly seek out projects that might have business benefit.

Another poster mentioned that restrictive union rules prevented him from doing anything outside his box. In these cases, unless there is a willingness to renegotiate work duties, I'm not sure what to advise. If you've been in this situation before, how have you handled it?

But we're rural

For some suggestions, you need to engage an outsider. For example, if you decide to outsource management of your printers, you're going to need a vendor that can provide the services. In some areas, this will certainly be an issue and you won't be able to get the services you need at a cost that makes sense.

That's just geography for you.

But, before you simply assume you're too rural, check it out. There are a lot of vendors out there. And, yes, they're making money. That was another comment that was raised. They make money due to the volume deals that they can leverage that an individual organization simply can't match.

At a previous job, I thought we were doing great with printing costs. We used inexpensive recycled toner and fixed printers internally as much as possible. I was very skeptical of managed printing services. Would they really save us money? Would it really be better than going it alone? I was also skeptical because we were looking at vendors located in cities 20 and 30 miles away from our rural town and was concerned about response time.

The answer to both questions was a resounding yes. We saved thousands of dollars per year and printers worked better overall.

Don't give a kneejerk reaction

I realize that many people have vested interests in the activities that I outlined in my previous two articles. However, before making assumptions that something will or won't work, kick it around, pilot something... just try. Help transform your IT department from what CFOs might look at as a cost center into a business enabler.

So, what keeps your IT group from being able to refocus? Is there any possibility that you'll be able to stop doing some of the suggested tasks?

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

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