Posts Tagged ‘IT Department’

The Rise of the IT Pro

Friday, August 8th, 2014

leadershipshutterstock_77448640When I started my career in IT, some 20 odd years ago, it was a simpler time. Personal computers were rare and ludicrously expensive and you certainly wouldn’t find any at home (never mind better ones there than those you have to endure at work). There was no public network easily available to businesses or homes and the thought of “mobile connectivity” usually required a small plastic box, a length of copper wire and a lot of patience. It was the point at which computers were just breaking free of the era of “data processing” where mainframes the size of small houses batch processed tiny amounts of isolated data much to the glee of the white coated computer scientists that fed them endless reams of punched paper. Over in a handful of garages on the American West Coast, people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had done amazing things that would soon transform the world around us. There was a smell of solder, sweat and revolution in the air.

Back then, I can still remember spending a large portion of my time trying to get anyone to listen about the value this personal computer revolution could offer both their organisations and themselves as individuals. It seems ludicrous to think about it now, but it was incredibly hard work and not many people were interested. We had to spend years, first showing them what was possible, and then proving it was profitable.

Then, the penny finally dropped and we, as an industry, enjoyed the pinnacle of our success. Businesses wanted to harness the potential of technology to transform themselves but had no idea about how to go about it. They needed us, the IT Pros, to embed ourselves in their business and help them transform. We were heroes, and everybody loved us because we made new things happen. We were the alchemists, special people who could make something out of nothing, transmuting the base metals of an organisation’s information assets into something precious that could be harnessed and turned into strategic advantage.

But then, rather brilliantly, the Consumerisation of IT happened and with it came a very different attitude towards the role of technology in the workplace and beyond. With the advent of consumer technology, people started to both instinctively “get” what technology could do and paradoxically at the same time, cared less about how complicated it was (or even how it worked). By then, we had 30 or so years of lessons, experiences and scars. Technology may no longer be anything special to them (our users), but it was still special to us. We knew how complicated it was, how powerful it was (especially in the wrong hands) and we knew how much of our own blood, sweat and tears still lay on the server room floor following those endless all-nighters when we were migrating their systems, restoring their corrupt data or implementing some new solution that would revolutionise their business. And as a result the rift started, we forgot our most important lesson and started to respect the technology more than we did the people that were destined to use it.

Now look, I know I tend to make generalisations and not all of us are locked up in our server rooms, locking down desktops to prevent “stupid users” from getting themselves in to trouble, but I am worried about our future. I worry that we are working our way towards oblivion or more specifically irrelevance. Unlike the technology that swirls around us, we haven’t yet changed enough to reaffirm our true potential and time is running out.

Here’s a quick test for you to try at home. Find someone who doesn’t know what you do for a job, and ask them about the IT department where they work (better still, find a way of anonymously asking some of your own customers in the “business”). I guarantee you’ll see more eyes roll, or hear more things like “what, you mean the department of ‘no’?” than you will hear gushing praise for the genius technology wizards that help people do great things. If you don’t then I am envious of you, but if you do, then you should take it as a big signal that something needs to change, and quick.

The role of the IT Pro is fundamentally to serve the business and to find new ways for technology to help the business evolve and become more successful. We are needed now more than ever but we have to respect that our customers are different, their expectations and aspirations of technology have changed – rather brilliantly, they’re much, much higher (in some cases higher even than our own). Instead of fighting this or even simply being complacent about it we should instead be celebrating it. Trust me, having customers that actually want more from what you have to offer is a far, far better place than having customers that are oblivious or uninterested.

I know what we’ve learnt is important – things like resilience, disaster recovery, data regulation, and security are crucial elements of our past but they cannot be used as they so often are, as the excuses that ultimately will only succeed in sealing our demise.

I’m not arguing for a minute that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater and forget all of our hard learned lessons. But we have to remember that our job now is simply to find the right balance. We need to figure out just how much of the policy, structure and process we can strip away to help keep our people and organisations safe, productive and efficient whilst at the same time getting back to our original day job of helping our customers transform their business.

We must realise that the future success of the IT Pro is in our own hands, we have to rise up and stand high on the shoulders of the digital giants we have helped to create. We need to leave behind the comfort of the flashing lights and the reassuring hum of the fans in the server rooms and instead implant ourselves back at the heart of every aspect of the business we serve.

The time for IT Pros to rise is now, our future and the success of our businesses depend on it.

An edited version of this article was originally published on Computing.

Inside the CIO’s Brain

Friday, October 29th, 2010


For too long now, the collective talents of the IT department have been hidden, focused primarily on keeping the lights on. Focusing on making the operational stuff run smoother (and cheaper). This is still important, but my argument is that we’ve reached a point based on the opportunities that present themselves all around us; the economy, the changing workforce, the developing built environment and technology – the changing world of work – where we need to find a better way forward.


The future of our success lies not in making the existing IT run smoother, but it is back where we all began this journey, helping those around us be more successful as a result of their use of technology.

We should be embedded at the heart of every aspect of our respective businesses, providing leadership, guidance and support to those that seek to find a better way.

After all, it is only we that are in a position to be the true enablers of transformation inside any organisation and we simply cannot get there from the confines of the IT Department.

The Paradox of IT’s Future

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

I know that as technologists, we live, eat and breathe technology. It’s important to us, we care about it. Hell, some of you even understand it. But in a world that increasingly relies on its use, across all aspects of our lives this presents us with somewhat of a paradox.

itinvsmYou see, for us, our success is making this critical resource absolutely invisible to those that use it. That’s not to say it’s not important, far from it, it’s just that like we mentioned before it’s critical that we focus on the tasks and outcomes not the tools.

As IT professionals we have to find a way to strike the right balance between showing enough visibility that people understand the importance (or even limitations and risks) and getting out of the way to enable others to be successful based on all that we have established from them.

For me, the future of IT lies not in the IT department, but out there, in your businesses, in your communities and with your people and that is where we have to go.

Corporate IT–It’s time to let go

Monday, October 25th, 2010

letgosmNow don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying for a minute that this is about a “free for all” where everybody has access to everything and can do anything they want – that’s not what I’m calling for at all.

But this should be a great time for us, we are sat on top of some incredibly powerful technology with a bunch of people who increasingly want to do more, be more efficient and dare I say it, even enjoy themselves in fulfilling their role. Instead we often find ourselves playing the role we all used to hate – we’re in real danger of being to the business what the IT security guys were back in the mid/late 90’s – the people that “just say no”.

It’s actually quite ironic, we’ve spent years nurturing this environment, creating a place where it can grow and be successful, and now that the time is right for us to start to pull back, to create an environment where we have empowered our people to be safe, productive and successful in their use of technology. Instead we often struggle to relinquish some of the control that we have fought so hard to establish (and which was so desperately needed way back when.)

What is needed now however, is for us go right back to our core principles and instead of providing everything, provide the environment from which people are empowered to drive their own solutions.

Our job in IT is not so much about our success, as it is about how we enable the success of others – understanding this subtle yet key difference is the key to our future success.

We should be the facilitators of success, empowering our people to be productive and free to chose the way in which they fulfil their roles but all the time, providing that safety net that ensures that they are able to do so within an environment that is supportive and protective in how technology is used to make us all more productive and successful.

The Changing Role of the IT Department

Friday, October 22nd, 2010


I think the change that has been brought about by the consumerisation of technology has put us in a really difficult position in how we manage technology across an organisation.

Think about how the role of the IT department has changed over the last 50 years.

We’ve gone from being computer scientists in lab coats

Data processors running around with punched cards trying to help people make sense of the world

The heady days of success where we had the advantage – we were the only guys that could finally unlock the knowledge economy that exists inside our organisation

And what’s next?

Well that’s kind of up to us, we have a choice, continue to be hounded by people who want more (but care less) or should we get back to our roots, reaching out into the business and getting back into the business of enabling our organisations and people to be at least as productive at work as they are at home?