IT must heed past mistakes to become strategic
By Ben Chong | 2008-08-14
It's the twenty-first century but it doesn't feel like it. Vendors push the boxes and promise the upgrade, which is delayed anyway.
How loyal is your organization to the system integrators providing technical services? Maybe the supplier had been appointed before you joined. Perhaps you had a hand in deciding when to refresh those technicians.
Software vendor BMC released its Asia Churn Index Survey findings recently and beneath the reams of statistics was the revelation that apart from wanting lower prices, all loyal customers want their suppliers to be proactive in problem information and resolution. That and wanting a detailed service case history available to avoid having to explain the problem several times over to any new technician assigned the account.
But I am sure that IT technical service you're experiencing is far from satisfactory. Yes, customers churn away from their bank, mobile phone provider, patients from their doctor, and hapless companies stand locked-in to their IT vendors and SIs. You pay for systems working at half their capacity and expect those boxes to hang every so often. It's the twenty-first century but it doesn't feel like it. Vendors push the boxes and promise the upgrade, which is delayed anyway. Service techs keep changing and the issues with the patches and the buggy applications fester. And you still have to pay the invoice for software and hardware that never seems to work exactly as stated in the marketing literature.
If you feel trapped in a cycle, read Chuck Yoke, a business solutions engineer for a corporate network in the US, describe a difficult cycle of another kind in "A call to action on Web 2.0":
"In the book "The Life of Reason", the Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana states that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Those of us in IT who want to be viewed as something more than a "utility" need to harken to these words, for we are on the verge of repeating the past and being condemned to the role of "commodity".
I have suggested that the strategic role of IT is in jeopardy because we were not understanding the business uses of new technologies. Prior to this, IT had started to gain a seat at the strategic table as companies implemented new technologies at a feverish pace. However, with the dot-com bust and the slowdown in new implementations, that role was at risk. In addition, we weren't helping matters by continuing to focus solely on how technologies worked and not understanding how our companies could use these technologies to increase profits, reduce costs or gain competitive advantages.
I used the Web as an example. IT knew how the Web worked, but we failed to understand the strategic value the Web could bring. Instead of being viewed as the leaders in Web strategy, we were relegated to a support role with non-IT departments, such as marketing, assuming the lead in defining Web strategy.
Fast forward seven years and we are on the verge of making the same mistake with Web 2.0. Web 2.0 applications can provide a "richer" user experience that will create new ways for companies to use technology; yet how many people in IT really understand the business value of Web 2.0?
We probably know how mash-ups, RSS, Wikis, and blogs work; but how many IT departments are working to understand how these applications can bring value to the company? How many IT groups are actively leading the discussions with sales, marketing, HR, training and legal on how these technologies can provide competitive advantage, reduce costs or create operational efficiencies?
Now don't get me wrong. I know there are IT groups out there taking the lead in Web 2.0. However, I also know that there are just as many - if not more - IT departments that are not involved in those conversations. As with Web 1.0, many of the Web 2.0 business strategies are being developed by non-IT departments.
In many companies IT has already lost its seat at the strategic table and is viewed as a utility that "powers" the business strategy. The primary involvement of these departments in Web 2.0 is to provide the hardware, infrastructure and computing services to support the business strategies set by others.
IT can be more than just a utility. As technologists, we can be the ones driving the adoption of new technologies and not just supporting them. We can be powering the strategies that we helped developed. We can have a seat in the computer room and in the boardroom. But we need to remember the past and not repeat it."