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When organizational issues inhibit IT progress

Information technology (IT) must continue to adapt and change as new demands arise and new technology is introduced. The new demands include more capacity for storing information as well as changes in procedures such as security and compliance.

The introduction of new technology presents the opportunity to obtain greater value from IT investments. Deploying server virtualization technology and increasing the number of servers virtualized has brought economic value and IT agility. New technology is a competitive issue, helping businesses handle information more effectively and faster.

Still, many IT operations take longer than they should to introduce and embrace new technology. So what is holding back companies from taking an obvious advantage? Why does it take a major reboot of IT to make changes for some organizations? Looking at many IT operations, there are common reasons that delay seizing the opportunities.

The most common reason is that the organizational structure for IT inhibits transformational changes. The structure creates a natural resistance to change for several reasons:

• There are many people involved in direction setting and approvals. Some may be other business unit owners or related organizations.

• Stakeholders brought in to participate in decision processes need to be informed and educated on technology and requirement changes.

• With more people, the parochialism can result in new demands that disrupt any efficient process.

To illustrate this problem, I will go through one of many examples that I’ve dealt with recently. In this case, the IT organization had been compartmentalized over time after individuals were promoted and functions separated.

The result was a number of IT directors that had equal authority and covered areas of specialization in IT. Other IT directors were given responsibilities to be the advocates for specific business units, again with equal weight. These directors could negate any change in IT that they did not agree with, and the CIO could not force change without consensus.

This means that all substantive decisions would require the cooperation or endorsement of all internal IT directors and the business units represented by the other IT directors. Education for a technology change required large group meetings, which were hard to schedule because of limited availability of the parties.

Compounding the problem, various vendors called on the individual IT directors and created internal competition and confusion. That caused delays in needed changes and frustration that it took more work to educate and convince others than to do actual implementation. The IT organization kept falling behind in technology and other advances. It was perceived as having archaic operations. Ultimately, an examination of outsourcing was seen as a means to implement change.

Business structures for IT need to match the requirements and pace of change for IT. They must allow for change as a natural process for competitive improvement. The decision-making process must be effective and timely and not mired in the inclusiveness of every possible person. The structure must include strategic planning as part of an organizational process. The process should include technology evaluation, education, and understanding industry best practices. Without a structure that matches the change rate required with IT, IT will periodically have to do a major reset.

(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).

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