Through my analyst coverage of social media, cloud computing and – more recently – smart government, I am coming across a consistent number of cases where government IT departments are struggling to establish, affirm or defend their relevance to the rest of the business.
This is not a new problem, and has often been considered as a symptom of insufficient alignment or service level to the business. However there seem to be quite a few cases where well-run, well-reputed IT departments are going through the same struggle.
In published Gartner research (client access required), I have highlighted that this is the consequence of the increasing tension between control and choice: the IT department wishes to control as much as possible of IT deployment and operations in the enterprise, while business people – for different reasons and at different points in time – wish to have greater choice about how and where to source their technology requirements.
This tension, which is not new, is being exacerbated by the confluence of three distinct trends:
- the availability of consumer technology (including social media platform) that provide clear business value to users
- the commoditization of infrastructure and applications
- the need for achieving greater savings in already lean and well run IT organizations
While none of these trends would be enough in itself to challenge the role of the CIO and of the IT department, their combination is quite insidious. The first two trends are part of the normal and healthy dynamics between IT and the business, where the former looks for standardization and rationalization across the board, and the latter complains about excessive rigidity and slow response time. The third one, though, originates inside IT, as the cost containment objectives pt upon it become unachievable via a traditional consolidation approach. As it looks at more radical ways of reducing its cost base, the It department can pursue the adoption of highly commoditized and consumer technologies.
However, as these technologies evolve quite fast, does it make sense to retain a tight control on how are they used? Or does it make sense to fight their adoption?
Too many government CIOs today are fighting for control, rather than choosing what not to control and focusing on controlling how the business makes choices.
Yesterday I was with people from the IT department of a US city, and as I was going through the above, advocating for an advisory role to complement the more traditional service delivery one, I was told that the risk they were facing was “to be outsourced”. They were understandably in a defensive mood, stressing the importance of aspects such as articulating and marketing their value to the business.
My suggestion though was to take a more aggressive approach, to be in front of the problem, and take a serious look at what they should stop doing as a government IT department, possibly helping the business identify an alternative sourcing option.
It is somewhat ironic that while IT departments will go to great lengths to establish their value when it comes to doing more, they lose or fight that alignment when it comes to deciding what to cease doing.
Deciding what to stop doing is a choice that the CIO can make with the business or a business choice that can be imposed onto the CIO.
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