I don’t think there’s anyone out there who would argue that the world of IT has become a complex one.

The systems are complex.

The processes are complex.

The people are complex.

And…the business is complex….and its getting complexier (I just made that word up!)

Its tough enough for most IT organizations to keep the basic infrastructure running (i.e., ‘keeping the lights on’) and keeping data secure. Add to that the responsibility of CIO’s and IT for driving innovation and competitive advantage with technology and you’ve got a full plate for IT.

As I mentioned in Not What, but How – Connecting IT and the Business, CIO’s are starting to focus on driving innovation and competitive advantage with technology…but its extremely hard to do so with a cadre of IT professionals who’ve been trained over the years to shy away from innovation.

In that previous post, I mention the need to focus on the people in order to really deliver value in the future.   I definitely believe that without innovative people, you won’t get innovative ideas….and a good portion of IT professionals are paid not to be innovative…they are paid to keep servers running and data secure.  That’s not to say that these people can’t be innovative – they can – but they are paid to watch processes and control ‘things’….not deliver innovation to the business.

Rachel Dines had a good post over on the Forrester blog titled The Great Infrastructure And Operations Divide where she talks about the division between operations and the infrastructure teams. This division is a natural one – operations keeps things running while the infrastructure team designs new things.

I’d take that a step further and say that there’s a another, much larger split, coming to IT.

I see organization talking about, and moving to, a split between Operational IT and Strategic IT.  Most organizations have already done this to a point…but i see this split happening much more broadly in the near future.

  • Operational IT contains much of what we see today with IT operations. Security, servers, infrastructure, Support and all those things that help ‘keep the lights on’ for organizations.
  • Strategic IT contains the enterprise architects, business analysts and business technologists.   This is the team that drives innovation. This is the team where you hire extremely creative people and point them at the business problems and ask them to solve those problems.  Maybe the name of this team/group changes from Strategic IT to something more along the lines of Business Technology…because that’s what they need to focus on.

Some of you may be thinking that this type of split already exists…and it does….to an extent.  Most organizations have split IT into many different groups – operations, application development, product management, support, etc.  But…what I’m talking about is much more radical.

I’m talking about an actual split. A split in thinking and a split in teams.  I’m talking about two separate technology focused business units.

Operational IT will focus on the tactics necessary to keep the lights on and servers running. Strategic IT / Business Technology will focus on the strategy use of technology for the organization.   Both groups will co-mingle and work together of course…but the teams will have different goals and different types of people working within each.

I think one of the real leaders in thinking about this space is Gartner’s Mark McDonald.   Take a look at his post titled What is the difference between remaking and re-imagining IT? In that post, Mark writes:

a remake of IT changes the IT environment but not the IT’s culture, momentum or direction.  An IT remake is often caused by major shifts in the technology infrastructure, like the cloud.  We are seeing this know when people are asking to hire ‘cloud’ architects, developers, etc.  That is a remake strategy in action, replicating the old structure with a new qualifier. The result is same basic IT organization, practices and players all working on a modern infrastructure and tools.  Just look at your organization today, how different is it structurally than the organization you had to support client/server or perhaps even the mainframe.

Emphasis mine.

The push to remake IT is just another attempt at putting lipstick on a pig.  It may look better, but that lipstick will rub off eventually…and you still have a pig. I probably just angered every IT professional there with that pig comment…but you know what i mean.

Let’s stop glossing over the issues and trying to remake IT…the people and culture just aren’t there to be able to turn on a dime for the changes that need to happen.. Today’s operationally focused IT departments will not be able to deliver innovation.

This new group looks nothing like yesterday’s IT.  Gone is the mindset of being process bound and being in control of everything related to technology.  The Strategic IT / Business Technology group has to focus on solving business problems with technology. The types of people that are hired for this team are creative technologists who understand how to apply technology to solve a problem while also maintaining proper security and infrastructure requirements.

Some may argue this is nothing new…and maybe it isn’t.  But…if its nothing new….then why are we all still talking about the need for IT and the CIO to drive innovation and deliver value?

Lets stop trying to remake the IT group and IT professionals into something they aren’t. Let’s let the operational side of IT do what it does best and start building the Strategic IT / Business Technology group to really drive innovation for the business.

Your thoughts?

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