Enterprise Software

The Department of No

Whether IT staff is noting that a technology is unproven, IT lacks sufficient resources, or some other potentially legitimate quip, eventually a perception grows that IT exists to point out every tiny cloud on an otherwise sunny day.

There's an exceptionally dangerous perception in many corporate IT departments, and it is one that threatens the very existence of an internal IT department: being perceived as the "Department of No." This description applies to IT organizations where the unstated goal of IT is to insert itself into every technology-related discussion and highlight all the reasons why an initiative won't work. Whether IT staff is noting that a technology is unproven, IT lacks sufficient resources, or some other potentially legitimate quip, eventually a perception grows that IT exists to point out every tiny cloud on an otherwise sunny day.

But it's our job!

Many technologists note that IT's job is to provide technical expertise, and part of that is noting the flaws in a particular endeavor. While no one would suggest taking a cavalier approach to every task and ignoring the risks, I would contend that IT often approaches this from the wrong angle, cementing the impression of being the department of no. Rather than immediately considering the technical implications, the most effective IT departments do two things. First, they help their peers solve a business problem, and secondly, they consider that problem from the perspective of the "real" customer, the one that pays the company's bills, rather than some notion of an "internal" customer.

While it may sound nuanced, this aligns IT's goals with the person requesting something of IT. Rather than interacting as adversary at worst, or "customer" and order taker, jointly solve a business problem by placing revenue and tactics first, and technical questions later. It also forces the group working with IT to recognize the constraints of any business problem: time and resources.

A tale of two IT departments

Rather than belaboring the point, consider two examples-a "department of no" IT shop and one motivated to solve a business problem. In the case of the former, they are usually called in at the last minute, after most decisions have been made. This is based on their tendency to leap toward technical solutions to every problem, but is also based on a past history of saying "no" to anything and everything. Just as most people do not relish the thought of spending time with negative personalities, no one wants to spend any more time with a "department of no" than absolutely necessary. Since most critical decisions have already been made, IT is given a pre-defined answer to a problem, one that it has little ability to challenge, so the "department of no" naturally attempts to point out as many flaws as possible, creating a vicious cycle.

The problem solving IT department brings not only a knowledge of technology to the table, but a broad understanding of the different divisions and processes in place in the company. In short, they have a grab bag of solutions to business problems, and are therefore perceived as an asset at the earliest stages of a discussion. Rather than their input revolving around "you can't do that," it focuses instead on "have you thought of... ." Since this IT department aims to please the paying customer, it can rise above and challenge parochial behavior, and also provide legitimate input about where the company's limited technology resources are invested.

Getting started

Like all good things, this likely sounds wonderful but difficult to implement. While this transition may take months, I'd suggest a simple start. Investigate projects and technologies your IT organization has implemented with great success on a limited scale. Perhaps finance has an amazing document management system, or a collaboration tool for sales is receiving rave reviews. Consider what other business problems these tools could solve, and approach those business units responsible for that particular area. Be sure to frame the discussion in terms of the internal or customer problem that's being resolved, not the technical wizardry being deployed.

This approach instantly shatters the "department of no" stigma since IT is proactively presenting a potential solution to a business problem, and it also gains IT some clout for "recycling" existing resources by expanding their usage. When IT starts becoming a trusted advisor and group that is looked to for answers, you'll find yourself being invited to kickoff meetings rather than called two weeks before go-live.

About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

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