Splitting IT – Operations and Innovation

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?

Image Credit: Photo of the Anthony Family Carillon at Garvan Gardens Hot Springs Arkansas by Luxemod Photography, Dallas Wedding Photographer

34 responses to “Splitting IT – Operations and Innovation”

  1. Gary Drumm Avatar

    Excellent post Eric! I think this is an accurate portrayal of how IT operations are evolving right now. If you’ll recall a couple of years ago the buzz was about “IT/business integration”, but if you look at the top 10 companies in the U.S. in terms of market cap, 6 of them are “technology” companies, which really means that the business IS IT. So the logical conclusion to this would be a radcial split in how IT is is implemented and managed. If you were to break it down to the officers who oversee these different areas, I tend to view it as the CIO would be more along the lines of the “Business Technology” leader, and the CTO would be the IT operations leader.

    Of course another way to do the split might be to put the IT operations under the COO, since the reality is that the business operations is 100% reliant on IT infrastructure working the properly. In other words IT has become an OPERATIONS function and the operations leadership should own it.

    Good stuff as always!

    1. Eric D. Brown, D.Sc. Avatar

      Thanks Gary.

      Operational IT is such a major part of every organization that its time to split the thinking between operations and strategy. I agree with your thought of a CIO and CTO with the CIO running the business technology function and CTO running IT operations. The COO over IT ops isn’t a bad idea either…that would give operational budget to the IT operations team and allow the CIO to run a lean, innovative strategically focused group.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Published: Splitting IT – Operations and Innovation http://ericb.co/j1FpvF #CIO

  3. Splitting IT – Operations and Innovation http://restwrx.com/lBHg1k via @EricDBrown

  4. Splitting IT – Operations and Innovation: I don’t think there’s anyone out there who would argue that the world … http://bit.ly/itDeOJ

  5. RT @EricDBrown: Published: Splitting IT – Operations and Innovation http://ericb.co/j1FpvF #CIO

  6. Difficult to balance day-to-day tech needs w/innovation. @EricDBrown 's take? Split operations & innovation functions http://ow.ly/4YBnA

  7. RT @pcalento: Difficult to balance day-to-day tech needs w/innovation. @EricDBrown 's take: http://ow.ly/4YBnA

  8. Check out: Splitting IT – Operations and Innovation http://bit.ly/itDeOJ #pmot #kanban #baot

  9. Agreed! RT @pcalento: Splitting IT (re: @EricDBrown blog http://ow.ly/4YBCe) only works if folks realize well-run IT ops are valuable skill.

  10. Dave Wright Avatar

    I had to stop at ‘complexier” and comment… excellent word, want to see it in my next Funk and Wagnell,,,

    1. Eric D. Brown, D.Sc. Avatar

      Thanks Dave…I will talk to Funk and Wagnell and see if I can get it in the next edition 🙂

  11. RT @dennisstevens: Check out: Splitting IT – Operations and Innovation http://bit.ly/itDeOJ #li

  12. Splitting IT – Operations and Innovation http://goo.gl/ID06F #pmot

  13. Good article on how IT should be divided – http://t.co/CYbcafh

  14. Splitting IT – Operations and Innovation http://bit.ly/mNV2xc #DSIdufutur

  15. CuriousAgilist Avatar

    Thank you for articulating a divide I have wrestled with for the longest time: as a software developer I always rankled at the idea of being lumped in with “IT”. IT is always the group labeled as the folks that are saying no, the guardians of security, the deniers of access, etc. For all the reasons you state so well, these responsibilities are so often antithema to software development’s need to experiment, explore, and innovate, and to do so quickly. It’s a natural divide.

    Here’s another: teachers and schools district IT departments. A recent Educational IT forum asked whether or not their fellow IT departments were sending anyone to an Ed-Tech conference (technology for teachers). One response was particularly noteworthy. It suggested Tsun tzu’s advise (“Keep you friends close but keep your enemies closer”) meant that IT departments should send a representative to this teacher-oriented technology conference.

    Thanks for the article.

    1. Eric D. Brown, D.Sc. Avatar

      Thanks for the comment.

      In just about every organization I’ve worked in and/or known, IT is the ‘denier’. Now…that is for a reason…IT professionals don’t just say no because they want to (ok…maybe some do) but because that’s what the process requires.

      If we can find ways to keep the IT operations side of things working and keeping things running while also saying ‘Yes’ more often, we’ll be in a better place.

  16. […] of ReOrgs Past by Bill Houle on May.20, 2011, under Management In an excellent article, Eric D. Brown argues that the way to drive innovation within IT is to radically realign the […]

  17. Bill Wood Avatar

    I’ve been pushing this issue for over 10 years now, I started in the late 90’s with creating a “learning organization” within the Grant Thornton management consulting group around SAP.

    I’m glad to see some folks finally “talking” about it. I’ve been working on delivery models to make this happen for the last 5 years and have an ASUG (America’s SAP User’s Group) meeting planned in Atlanta to review some of them with large companies.

    Michael Doane and a few others have been working on this for many years.

    – Using Your SAP Steering Committee for Business Transformation

    – New IT Value Propositions – Moving from Operations to Customers and Innovation

    – Create SAP Convergence Instead of Business to IT Alignment

    Not only that I’ve also done some “prognostication” about where the Senior IT leader roles are moving over the next 10 years. This includes specifics about the changing application and technology landscape for businesses as well.

    I guess I’d have to become a Gartner or Forrester analyst to get these contributions recognized. I’d sure like to see these analysts provide concrete methods and tools for achieving this new “convergence” they’ve suddenly discovered.

    Bill Wood – President
    R3Now Consulting
    SAP from the Customer Point of View
    (704) 905 – 5175

    1. Eric D. Brown, D.Sc. Avatar

      Hi Bill – Thanks for the links…I’ve got them on my reading list.

  18. Splitting IT – Operations and Innovation http://bit.ly/lup568

  19. Splitting IT – Operations and Innovation http://bit.ly/kTdfg2 #pmot

  20. Splitting IT: Operations (what we have today) and Strategy (innovators solving business problems) http://ow.ly/54jrw RT @digitalassetman

  21. […] evolving into two segments, one to handle operational and support issues, the other to focus on providing strategic and technical insights to ensure those solutions conform to the enterprise’s IT architecture and […]

  22. […] important than an optimal degree of openness.  Too many such choices would make it difficult for a post-Reformation IT department to ensure information and applications work together both internally and with business partners and […]

  23. Splitting IT into 2 distinct groups. http://ow.ly/5T4C9

  24. […] many IT professionals behind if they don’t change.I wrote an article a few months ago titled Splitting IT – Operations and Innovation that talks about the need for IT to change or have change forced upon us. In that post I […]

  25. […] many IT professionals behind if they don’t change.I wrote an article a few months ago titled Splitting IT – Operations and Innovation that talks about the need for IT to change or have change forced upon us. In that post I […]

  26. re read this again today – Splitting IT – Operations and Innovation http://t.co/oZwYRXau via @ericdbrown

  27. […] answer…at least for me…is the latter.  In fact, I wrote a post last year titled Splitting IT – Operations and Innovation where I touch on this very topic where I wrote: I see organization talking about, and moving to, a […]

  28. […] few years ago, I wrote about the changing role of IT in a post titled “Spitting IT – Operations and Innovation.” In that post, I argue for the splitting of IT into ‘operational’ and […]