By Lou Washington
During the 20 years between 1990 and 2010, there was a mantra being chanted that suggested IT was dying. As recently as June 2010, Preston Gralla discussed the whole nature of IT and the near term options organizations had with regard to IT in his ComputerWorld article, Is IT Dead? Gralla’s accurate conclusion and prediction at that time was that IT wasn’t dying but it was definitely undergoing great change.
But the premature IT obituary was still widely believed and it didn’t just come out of the post Y2K blue. It started with the emergence of the PC as the hardware of choice and continued with the dissemination of servers throughout the organization with administrative responsibilities granted to end-user organizations. It then grew in intensity as inexpensive application packages became available and bring your own device (BYOD) took hold in such an inexorable fashion.
To many, the idea of a centralized authority or an organizational unit devoted to overseeing information technology seemed to be as outmoded as the mainframe culture of the ‘70s and ‘80s. The advent of cloud and software as a service (SaaS) also contributed to this perception. While the end-user figured that IT was just an impediment and that they knew what they needed for themselves. They didn’t want someone in a far-off department making decisions about the systems and software needed to do their jobs. Savvy IT leaders knew change was necessary to survive.
Indeed, Gralla’s article cites a quotation from Manesh Patel of Sanmina-SCI, “IT is becoming a more service oriented organization with less emphasis on maintaining in-house systems, networks, and architectures.”
IT was not entirely blameless in this evolution. Too many IT directors were content to embrace the status quo, provide management with flat or shrinking budgets and avoid risk through inaction or recommending change. I personally know of one IT director who gained the nickname Dr. No because he answered all requests for new hardware, new software, or really any expense-related item with the same answer, “no.”
Not So Loud Anymore
This death to IT chorus is not so loud anymore. Many organizations are discovering the liabilities involved in a wild-west approach to the information systems that we depend on to help us run our companies.
The first liability everyone sees is security. Almost no one argues the need for a robust approach to securing the systems and data of the organization. IT is ideally suited to handle that.
But IT has a bigger role to play in the organization than that of a guard, watchman, and keeper of the firewall.
When IT ran everything, it was easier to keep systems aligned. But with applications, hardware, and data coming into the organization from external sources onboard BYODs, cloud-based services and internally developed one-off systems, it becomes tougher.
Here’s the problem. The company has an ERP system that touches almost everyone. It runs under the aegis of the finance group and was originally specified and paid for by finance for budgeting and performance analysis. Any utility beyond that use is kind of a happy coincidence. The sales, engineering, product management, and marketing organizations use a CRM system that was originally acquired by sales and has been augmented, ported, and customized to work with prospects for marketing, with engineering for product support and with product management for market research. Sales uses a configure price quote (CPQ) system to facilitate validity in product configuration and pricing accuracy.
All of these organizations—finance, engineering, product management, sales and marketing—define the word “customer” differently. In some cases, this difference is slight while in others, it is more pronounced. But more importantly, ERP, CRM and CPQ contain customer tables that are built around three entirely different definitions of what a customer is.
Legal may define a customer as anyone who has ever done business with the company. Sales may see the customer as someone who is actively using the product they sell. Marketing may expand that definition to include product trials or out of date, non-current products or even website visitors. Finance might say, any company that sends us money is a customer.
The effect of this difference is immediately seen when someone requests a list of customers. Depending on the size and complexity of your company, the difference in the list generated may be slight or quite pronounced.
That difference can be devastating when it comes to making decisions based on data reported by your systems.
This is just one example of the kind of informational disparity that develops within organizations operating in a free-for-all environment.
IT Steps Up
IT is perfectly suited to address this type of issue. Additionally, IT is uniquely positioned to assure that systems are aligned and the data they employ, generate, and pass along to other systems is indeed valid, normalized, and correct. IT has to keep tactical and strategic systems harmonized with the overall vision and mission of the organization. That means that in addition to being technology experts, they also must be business savvy.
Clive Longbottom states in his October 2015 ComputerWeekly piece, Next-generation CIOs: The changing role of IT leaders, “The modern CIO, therefore, has to be far more of a business-led advisor, getting involved as early as possible in the discussions around the business’s tactical and strategic needs.” He’s got it exactly right.
In the coming years, many employees will become less skill-specific and more generalized in their orientation at work. They need skills, but more than that, they will need to be able to acquire, use and discard skills quickly over time. This is especially true in the world of manufacturing where automation technology is taking up more and more of the workload formally assigned to humans. The human is not eliminated from the equation, but their position is changed.
As these new-breed workers move about within an organization, they must be able to rely on consistent data, common definitions and uniform processes between teams, jobs, systems, and sub-organizations within the organization as a whole.
Once again, IT is where the systemic integrity and consistency must come from. Employee training, consistent systems design, and uniform data specifications must all be included in the IT mission and in the responsibilities IT has to keep the information infrastructure sound.
IT professionals used to tell us that the data is yours, but the system is ours. Now, that is almost reversed. Users are quite capable of spec’ing out the systems they need, but they are lousy at understanding or even caring about how data, normalization of data format and attribute might affect others within the organization. That’s where IT can save the day for complex organizations.
Systems that create data must feed systems that depend on data. Data-driven systems must provide data in an actionable form that indeed informs the decision-making processes within the organization. SW
Lou Washington is a blogger and senior writer for Cincom Systems, a provider of CPQ, CCM, and other business technology solutions. Washington draws on his combined 45 years of manufacturing and business technology experience to offer businesses insight into improving their most critical processes.
Feb2017, Software Magazine