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When IT departments go bad

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Opinion Despite what vendors and management consultancies say and believe the most important people in the IT industry are the IT departments. These make the ultimate decisions about what to buy and who to buy from. They also, even more importantly, play a key role in choosing what IT applications to implement. For these reasons the telephone number of the IT Director of a major company is one of the most sought after items in the IT industry.

The IT department is important to the success of the organisation but it often fails to deliver the goods. There are two common failings – the IT department can become too powerful or too weak. In both circumstances the company does not get the IT support and services that it deserves. How does this happen?

The non-IT management of an organisation don’t find IT matters interesting or rewarding and they can leave it all to the IT department. Often a Board cannot agree on a common IT policy As a result, the IT department can become too powerful and independent - especially when managed by an influential manager. Later on business managers may regret leaving it all to IT as their requirements are ignored in favour of the IT department’s agenda. The business managers need involvement in IT programmes and projects or they run the risk of being presented with fait accompli and being bounced into undesirable decisions.

In such a climate, IT departments turn inwards and take on a pronounced technical bias. You often find that they have a closer relationship with their IT suppliers than their business users.

IT departments can also become too weak. They can be ground down by a continual drive to reduce costs – leading them to be specialists in string and sealing wax solutions. They struggle on heroically until the business realises how poor their performance is and outsources the whole department - spending many times the annual budget in a technology refresh.

You could make the cynical comment that just as electorates get the politicians they deserve so companies get the IT departments they deserve. A company with a failing IT department usually has deeper problems.

It is no good thinking that outsourcing will solve the problems of the company’s relationship with IT. Outsourcers are not a charity and organisations will find the challenge of managing an internal IT function pale in comparison to managing a profit-oriented hard-nosed outsourcer.

The relationship between IT and the rest of the business needs to be like a marriage with a good deal of mutual give and take. Failed marriages can be saved but it isn’t a comfortable process for the partners. Harsh truths have to be acknowledged and long-standing habits changed but the rewards can be great when IT and the business pull together and deliver a coherent strategy.

Copyright © 2004, IT-Analysis.com

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