This is the seventh and final post in a series of writings to discuss issues facing Information Technology (IT) departments. If you have not read any of the first six challenges you can find them under project work vs production support, prioritizing work, operations vs innovation, estimating work, understanding complexity, and reducing costs.
IT shops vary in size, budget, and processes. But all IT shops share a common set of challenges that shape how they interact with their inter-company customer base as well as the clients of their organization. There isn’t a single answer to these common challenges and they don’t disappear after a process is put in place to address them. The manner in which IT management chooses to respond to the challenges is interwoven in the culture, processes, and services of the group. My thoughts are more around framing the problem than presenting solutions.
Challenge #7- Technology outside of IT
It’s not uncommon in a business environment for departments outside of IT to make their own technology decisions. This might include the purchase of desktop software or subscription to a software service platform. The IT department, with priorities to take care of the day-to-day operations of the business, may not have the capacity to handle new growth initiatives on a timeline that is acceptable to the business stakeholder. Additionally, IT may not really be qualified to evaluate the business processes contained within new solutions. How many team members in IT are qualified to evaluate software that automates marketing campaigns?
One challenge for IT is if they are asked to support the new technology in some capacity. It’s a tough position to be in because the new technology may require a new skill set or training. Business stakeholders want support work completed as quickly as possible and without prior knowledge of the tool the IT staff is not positioned optimally.
Another challenge is if the new technology creates a duplicate solution within the organization. An extreme example could be the Marketing department purchases a tool to help them with customer list management for campaigns. But the Sales department has already purchased a different tool for this same function. That increases costs in total spend for everyone and increases the support complexity for IT.
Perhaps the biggest challenge associated with the introduction of new technology into an environment without IT input is integrating the new technology with existing systems. One of the primary goals of IT is to drive out costs in the organization through automation. One way to do this is to integrate systems so that information flows between the two without requiring manual touches. Integration usually requires programming and configuration.
The operations department looks for a way to automate their quotes and job estimates to customers. The existing process they follow requires manual labor to deliver simple quotes for standard products. Management would like to eliminate this manual with a solution that allows the customer to find a price quote online. While the customer has to do work to find the quote themselves, the solution would greatly reduce the turn-around time of the quote. Operations purchases a solution in the marketplace and it does not integrate with any existing workflow programs within the company. Ultimately new project requests are created to integrate the quoting tool with the order management system.
The real challenge in all this.
Businesses must move forward to survive. For their part, IT departments must realize they have a finite capacity to produce work over a given time period and that often business leaders from other areas need to find solutions outside the IT service portfolio. On the flip-side, management should also understand that choosing technology without the input from IT can lead to difficult situations on the backside of the decision such as support, maintenance, and integration requests.
A technology solution is a means to an end, not the end. What’s the ultimate goal? It is to make money by providing a service that some customer is willing to buy. All departments share that goal. So the real challenge is creating a partnership to involve all departments during the selection process of new technology such that everyone supports the same objective.