As Apple announce the details of the iCloud service, CIOs will be all too aware of the demands from within their businesses that are about to hit them.
“Why can’t we have this?”
“Why is our IT complex and hard to use?”
“Why is our IT so slow, and why does it take months to make a decision on anything?”
“Why can’t you be more like Apple! instead of … (place failed technology company name here …)”
And so on.
What Gartner called, “The Consumerization of Technology” back in 2005 is well and truly here.
Users in organisations, or lets call them by their proper name – people – the ones that actually make the money for the company – know what is possible with consumer technology and want to use this technology in their work to be more effective. What they are faced with is outdated kit (as companies extend lifespans to save money), poor experiences (locked down Windows XP vs. an iMac at home), and frankly criminally painful-to-use internal applications (SAP and pretty much any legacy application).
The default behaviour for most CIOs and IT departments is well known. That is why the have earned themselves the nickname of, “the department of NO”.
They bring out the standard responses around, “manageability, enterprise security standards, fit with enterprise architecture etc” with the clear message to anyone that dares to ask of, “you don’t understand this, so leave this to us. This is all very technical very hard, so just trust us“.
If the challenge to the CIO is persistent or escalated, then the responses becomes more technical, to guarantee the person who makes the money in the business is suitable chastised. “PKI, two-factor authentication, TOGAF” and so on.
And then the final salvo, which is to name companies that have suffered security breaches, been in the news for any IT issues, and say, “you wouldn’t want this to happen to us would you?”
If after all of this, the dogged challenger is still interested, she can be pointed at the business case proposal document which will ensure through financial and technical complexity that no one outside of IT can ever influence how the huge amount of money spend on IT is actually invested.
There is only one problem with this response from IT …
It is complete garbage
The reason it is garbage is that IT is a function that should serve the business, like any other function. Just like HR, distribution, manufacturing, and building management. IT should respond and address the needs of those in the business who make the money. It shouldn’t operate like a world unto itself, serving its own ends – rife with hypocrisy and deceit .
Think I am being too strong?
Then look at the kit, the gadgets and the services available to those in IT vs. those that are in the business. Expect to see high powered PCs, new fully spec’d laptops, new smartphones and access to the services that they have denied the business.
Of course, all of this is on (infinite and never-ending) evaluation and test.
The outcome? They have this stuff [now], you don’t – and they are stopping you getting it. Worse than that, they have it and will ensure that by the it possibly reaches you, it will be outdated, locked down to the point of unusable, or costed to high that only directors can have it. If that doesn’t work, they can ask for each request to have CIO approval. That will kill it dead.
Job done. The IT department lives to fight another day. The status quo continues.
But why is IT like this? You wouldn’t accept this from transportation suppliers, from building management companies, from caterers would you?
If your new car drove like a 1982 Lada, or your building heating was like a rural Primary School in mid-Winter, or your post always arrived wrapped 6-layers deep in industrial grade tape you’d say something about it. You didn’t need to be an expert in the field, you know enough to challenge and ask simple, but direct questions.
And this is the sledgehammer of change that is about to hit IT departments. As technology becomes increasingly accessible, affordable and available, people – not users – people, know what is possible, know what is good and bad, and are going to increasingly demand change. This has been the case for a few years now, so what has changed things?
In one word, cloud.
Really? Not shiny Apple kit?
No, cloud. Because what cloud offers people (not IT departments or companies, but those in those companies) is easy access to affordable and available services. Not to mention that they are usable, a trait that most internal applications fail consistently, as UI and design skills remain as rare as hens teeth.
No complex business case, no six month wait, no 3 year incredibly complex maintenance agreement, but services NOW. You pay, you get the services. And in some cases, you don’t pay and still get services, as services increasingly investigate alternative business models (freemium, advertising, sponsored). And of course, iCloud is free, and it will be pushed on release to the 150m+ Apple users
Bring these cloud services together with the latest generation of smartphones, laptops and tablets and you have the stuff of nightmares for IT departments. You have people inside the business, able to envision and understand what is possible and then buy and set it up themselves.
And they can do it faster, cheaper and better than the internal IT department.
No IT department required.
Think about this.
No IT department required. No admins, no installation engineers, no support, no helpdesk. When support is needed, Facebook, Twitter, a Google search or a visit to the local Genius at the Apple store (or your local computer shop) is all that is required. Seriously. This is the stuff of nightmares, because all of those fears that the IT department complained about are now very real, data all over the place, little if any encryption, no ability to manage or track devices or data.
What are we paying for exactly?
So what is the response when this happens?
In almost all cases, Draconian lockdown. Companywide bans on use of non-standard (read usable) technology and services, the severest threats for infractions and a return to the norm. All sorted? Back to the world of unusable VPNs, ten year old software and 10 minute boot times.
Well … no.
To understand why we need to go back to the earlier statement about IT serving the business. Has IT served the business?
Possibly? It has probably better secured data. But at what cost?
But what about the company, the people, the ability to do things. Almost certainly not. It has failed the company.
And this is why …
If the IT department was doing what it should be doing, it would be helping and empowering users to work in an efficiently.Of course, it needs to ensure data is secure and is protected for a range of reasons (competitive, legal, regulatory), but this needs to be balanced with providing the resources and environment for the company to be effective. To serve customers. To compete. To grow. To be a great workplace. To be a fun place to spend 40-60 hours of your life every week.
When you see people using their own devices, using external services and making requests to use external services, this means one thing …
You are failing as an IT department.
You are failing as a function that supports and enables people to do their work.
People inside the business no longer see you as the people to help them, but the people to hinder them. So they want to circumvent you.
By the time you see this, be pretty confident that these services are being used. They just aren’t telling you. This is the case in the biggest organisations. Even if you block all the ports and lock down the machines. It is on their own smartphones and their home PCs. Users are running parallel organisations.
Take this as a warning, because the consequences of not changing are pretty clear. If you continue to remain as a blocker to the business, then it is only a matter of time before someone proposes to change you to someone who can help get things done.
Now the interesting thing. It doesn’t matter whether you are an internal IT department, an outsourcer or service provider. When you find yourself saying “no” much more than, “yes”, then your days are numbered. There is no shortage of providers, of other outsourcers, of aspiring CIOs to take your place.
And they have the easiest sell in the world. They add “yes” to their vocabulary and they instantly delivery what over years the IT department has shown itself incapable of doing. You will respond and challenge, but you are defending a track record of saying, “no”. Hard to change. This is why so many outsourcers cannot defend poor contracts. Whatever you say you will do next time, the customer has a track record of you not doing it, for the last 10 years or so!
Of course, IT departments could have the support of your leadership (don’t bet on it). But then instead of your IT department failing, your company will fail. People will get sick of battling, they will get tired of arguing and either give up, and then give minimal effort – or leave. You won’t be able to recruit top talent, because no one wants to work in a company like this. Seriously.
Because in a company where you cannot do your job, where you cannot get things done, you cannot succeed. No one can.
If sales guy cannot sell, he makes no money. He cannot make his bonus if he cannot get things done.
If an HR manager cannot recruit good people, because your company has a reputation as being horrible and painful to work in, she cannot recruit the best talent.
More importantly, the company makes no revenue. That has only one long term outcome.
The IT department, takes the company down.
Too severe a conclusion?
Think about it.
Which will be successful? A company that stops its people working and being effective vs. an agile customer centric company that empowers its people.
This applies equally to all companies, and particularly to outsourcers and system integrators. Fail to live the vision you preach and your customers will know. And they won’t engage or employ you. When you turn up on site with a 4 year old PC running XP, your customer knows that you don’t get it. You cannot help them, because you cannot help yourself.
Think of a company that has been successful recently that has not been a technology leader?
Think about the ones that are successful … you will find them embracing new technology and new services.
It is not about the technology, it is about the people. Stopping new technology is stopping the people and this is what causes the failure.
Stopping technology advancement is stopping business improvement. Companies do this at their peril.
So, iCloud will disrupt enterprises?
No. iCloud itself is not the issue. The problem is the iCloud vision (and general cloud vision). It is what iCloud and also other services, such as Dropbox, Facebook, Basecamp and Salesforce.com promise to people. They promise a very different working and collaborative environment. Always available (starting now), multi-platform, usable, empowering. Smart, intelligent, user centric, easy to use.
It is the attributes that are the problem – because they are the very opposite of what most IT departments today provide.
I’m not suggesting that IT departments offer iCloud. The security concerns and the legal risks are all very real, but that does not absolve them from needing to provide usable alternatives to these services, which meet at least some of the users’ demands.
It will not be perfect, but the response of, “yes, this is what we can do” is infinitely preferable to, “no, you can’t have it“.
An IT department that dismisses new technology is no different to a competitor that dismisses a disruptive new startup.
5 Actions for IT departments.
- Ensure you understand what services are available in the market, talk with your users openly about these at roadshows and internal roundtables
- Evaluate new services with a view of “how can we implement this (or similar services)”, rather than “no way”, and keep these evaluations time-boxed
- If you cannot do it, engage others to help, don’t wait for this to happen to you
- Present the business with clear roadmaps, if not now, then when?
- Deliver on the roadmaps … bring the new services to life and lead your company, not fight it. Be an enabler.
5 Tips for users
- Ensure you have an opportunity to talk to openly IT teams about what is needed, BEFORE you need the services, give then an early warning of what you are seeing and expect to need. Discuss new technologies and understand the IT point of view. Push them to present roadmaps and visions to you, and get validation on these from business leaders.
- Engage senior level support. If this matters, find a senior executive who will sponsor you in these discussions
- Don’t be bamboozled by technology, force the discussion to be non-technical as you would with a mechanic – talk in plain english, not technical-ese
- Explain your needs in business terms, use scenarios and use cases to show how you want things to work. Paint the picture of what is needed. Explain the what, not demand the how. Engage others to understand and articulate the problems you are facing. Service designers can help here.
- Propose practical steps forward, with clear dates and clear commitments from IT teams. Be persistent.
The cloud, the consumerization of IT and the Apple vision is not going away. As Apple focuses on consumers (and enterprises by the back door), gaps remain in their services and capabilities as far as enterprises are concerned, but partners are quickly emerging to help enterprises fill these gaps. Most scenarios that users want can be achieved. The same is true for consumer centric cloud services. If Dropbox is not suitable, then the IT department needs to find an alternative. Contact suppliers, and ask. If they have enough requests, they will build these functions if they don’t exist. Thinking needs to mature from build and buy, to provision and orchestrate.
Of course, this change brings massive potential changes for IT departments and outsourcers, who need to rethink their whole purpose and value model. How do you make money when the services are delivered from outside of your organisation, and all IT is bought by users and reimbursed, or supported by a grant? This change will not happen overnight, and depending on the company will take years, but the decisions and help IT departments provide now will help determine whether they are invited to be a part of these changes at all.
In summary, help enable and empower your organisation and people. If you don’t someone else will.