A few weeks ago I wrote about The diminishing role of IT and the CIO. That post struck a nerve with quite a few readers so I wanted to expand on the topic. I thought about a case study of some form or perhaps an interview or two but then I thought…why not do a ‘what if’ scenario and see what happens.
Sound like fun? Well…it does to me…and I plunked down more than 1800 words on it so be prepared to read
My “what if” scenario revolves around tomorrow’s organization…and whether it can be built without today’s IT. Here’s the premise:
What if you could build your organization from scratch. No legacy systems. No sacred cows. What would the IT group look like?
Interesting question right? While its not likely that anyone would scratch their legacy systems and start over, it still might be a fun mind game to see if IT matters or not.
The basis for this “what if” scenario is built upon the Future of IT survey report by the Executive IT Board – read more about that survey in my article titled The Future of IT & the CIO – Redux of the Dodo.
What would your organization look like if you could start over? Would you have the same physical space and layout? Same overhead? Or…would you try a more radical approach and go with telecommuting, remote working and outsourcing?
Since we all have different ideas of what an organization is…let’s set some ground rules. Let’s assume the following:
- You have 500 employees
- Customers are spread across North America (US & Canada)
- Your company provides services (rather than make/sell products)
- Due to customer demands, you need to have some employees in a different areas of the country.
So…how would you design your organization to handle the demands of the business?
Open up four offices in the four largest cities in the country? Open offices in geographically important areas? Let’s say you want to have a presence in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas. Not bad locations…but expensive too.
Each business is different of course, but let’s say that we need to have physical presences in this four cities because customers demand it. Fine…let’s open up some offices.
Now. You’ve got your physical space figured out. How about your technology?
Remember…you can start from scratch. No legacy systems to think about. But…you do need to think about whether today’s IT will work in tomorrow’s organization.
What would you do?
What I’m going to do in this post is show how tomorrow’s organization can be built with absolutely zero professional IT staff.
Building Tomorrow’s Organization
What are the basics needed for running your business? What systems do you need? I’ll go with these as my absolute must haves:
- Computers / Workstations (not servers…they will be included in Systems)
- Copiers / Scanners / Fax (anyone use fax anymore??)
- Sales/Pipeline Management
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
- HR / Payroll
I’m sure there are others but this covers the basics.
The basics are no-brainers. Find a reputable company / vendor and order some hardware.
But…before you take this first step, how will you organize your business? Will you hire IT staff to implement and manage this hardware or will you outsource it?
Me? Nothing on this basics list brings me an advantage in the marketplace. I’d outsource the whole kit and kaboodle. I’d find a company (or companies) that could manage the roll-out, maintenance, support and hardware/software refresh needed to support and maintain this equipment. Of course…you’d need to make sure the company(s) that you outsource this to is credible and dependable…but that’s easy enough to do right?
If you wanted to try an even more radical approach, you could let each employee manage their own computer, printer, phone combination. Might be a support nightmare here but you could give each employee a stipend upon hiring and tell them to ‘buy their own system’. Kraft is already trying this approach. Looks like Citrix is trying it out as well. You’d have to build some detailed guidelines to provide some direction on systems, software, and specifications, but I think it could be done.
Regardless of which approach you take, we’ve now found a way to get the basics for our 500 employees and we’ve not hired 1 IT employee yet. Should we think about bringing on an IT pro? Maybe…but do I need an IT professional? I need someone to manage the vendors, the process and the relationship….so maybe I bring a procurement / vendor management / contract management professional with experience in the IT space. With 500 employees focused on providing services, I probably already have someone perfectly suited for this role. If not, +1 on the employee side…but we haven’t hired an IT employee yet.
We’ve got the basics down…let’s dive into the systems.
Outsource, in-house or the cloud?
Based on the necessary systems listed above, we’ve got to figure out how we’re going to handle seven different systems. Do we build out a datacenter and pack it full of servers and then start hiring employees to support these systems? We could take that route…or….we could outsource it all to third-party vendors to manage for us. Or….we can look to the cloud for all these systems.
Let’s look at a few different options.
- Option 1 – All systems in-house in a standard datacenter
- Option 2- Some systems on-house staffed by employees with others outsourced (via cloud or standard datacenter)
- Option 3 – All systems outsourced (via cloud or standard datacenter)
- Option 4 – Some Critical Systems in-house with others outsourced (via cloud or standard datacenter)
There are many combinations to look at…but these are 4 options to consider.
Which option do we take?
Do we hire a full IT team and build out our own datacenter? In my experience, there’s an awful lot of overhead, staffing and headaches involved in building and managing your own datacenter …way too much for very little real value.
Do we hire a partial IT team to manage in-house systems and outsource the rest? I’m learning towards this approach. Personally, I’d suggest putting critical systems in-house and outsourcing the rest.
So..let’s figure out what our critical systems are. Is an HR / Payroll system critical? What about email? Financial Systems? That’s a call that each organization has to make…but here’s how I’d break them down for this particular excercise:
- Critical: Web, Financial, Email
- Non-Critical: Collaboration, HR/Payroll, Sales/Pipelne, CRM
Critical Systems – In-house or Outsource?
I’ve said before that email can easily be outsourced and/or moved to the cloud and I still believe that. Email, although a critical app, can be moved to the cloud via either Google Apps, Hosted Exchange or some other form of outsourced email arrangement. In today’s world, I wouldn’t even think about staffing up to manage and maintain an email platform. I’d outsource it.
What about the Web function / systems? It sort of depends on what you want / need to do I think. Will there be an ecommerce function? What about the need to capture sensitive customer information? Those questions play a key-role in the decision.
Let’s assume our website requirements are like other similar businesses…we need a website that looks good, is easy to change/update, has a client portal, can collect new lead, etc etc etc. Do we need to build an entire group within IT to manage / maintain the web?
A good portion of what needs to be done on the web can easily be moved onto the cloud….see the write-up by Scott Brinker in his post titled The Age of Disposable Software and his Marketing in the Cloud slides for an overview of many of the cloud solutions available for web/marketing.
I’m going to go with outsourcing my web system(s). There’s absolutely nothing I can do in-house that can’t be done by plugging several systems together using the cloud or a managed server (or servers) with a company like Peer1 or Rackspace. Why hire a staff of IT professionals to manage servers when I can offload this to professionals at another company for much less money?
That said, I do think there’s a need for someone in the organization to architect and manage the web presence…is that an IT person? Or…can a Marketing Technologist do that? For the sake of argument here, I’m going to say that I’d hire a technologist and place them in my marketing department. This person (or persons) can provide strategic direction for all things web and manage the vendors & technology used on the web. +1 on the employee side…but still no IT staff.
Now…how about the Financial System? Since this business is a services business, we really don’t need anything major…we just need a financial and accounting system to run the business. What does that entail? I have no idea to be honest…I’ve never done finance / accounting IT systems. Because I don’t understand them, I’m going to outsource the system implementation & maintenance but will require the systems be in-house. Do I hire an IT person to oversee this platform? I don’t see why I would…my outsourced vendor would handle all technical details and I would pay them for it. I would hire someone to oversee this critical application though…+1 on the employee side…but still no IT staff.
The decisions for our non-critical systems are a bit simpler than our critical systems. These types of systems are well understood in the world of the cloud and outsourcing I’m going to look to outsourcing and the cloud for my non-critical systems. Salesforce.com for Sales/Pipeline & CRM, SocialText for collaboration and a company like Paychex for HR / Payroll / Employee adminstration.
Perhaps there’s a need to have a person (or two) to manage the relationships, contracts and procurement…but no technical staff. Perhaps a +1 or +2 for employees…but yet again, no IT staff.
Tomorrow’s Organization without Today’s IT?
Did I just design an organization without a single professional IT employee? I sure did.
Is it realistic to do this? Maybe…maybe not. Is there ways to argue against everything I’ve done here? Absolutely…there are tons of holes in this new organization. That said…I do think a company could easily outsource most of their IT infrastructure…if not all of it.
Do I really think that tomorrow’s organization will be built without IT? Not really…I think there will always be some form of IT but the status of the IT group (and the CIO) will change if we keep going down the road we’ve been traveling on for the last umpteen years.
The history of unfinished & unsuccessful projects is leading to a dead-end for most IT groups. The mentality of process over people has lead most organizations to despise IT and everything IT stands for. I can’t tell you how many organizations I’ve talk to where the IT group is looked at as the ‘enemy’ rather than as a friend.
Don’t get me wrong here though….I truly believe there are good IT groups and good CIO’s out there…but the majority are just average. And today’s average isn’t good enough for tomorrow.
Don’t let tomorrow’s organization be built without having a role in building it. IT Professionals, Leaders and Managers….what can you do today to make sure you’re delivering the value that tomorrow’s organization will need?
Here’s a hint:
Start looking at bringing humanity back to IT. Focus on your people, their skills and the human side of IT and start focusing on what those people can do for the organization. Do this and you might have a chance in the future. Don’t do it and you’ll find yourself stuck in yesterday.