Should IT Be Run As A Business?

from the yes-and-no dept

Slashdot points us to an article trying to debunk the concept that “IT should be run as a business,” with “employees” as customers. Of course, like many catchy phrases, I don’t think that many IT departments really followed this concept to the ridiculous logical conclusions. It does have some useful concepts — such as giving IT folks more reason to actually listen to what employees have to say. But it misses the larger point, that IT is there to serve the business as a whole, and that means making the overall business more efficient, while keeping it secure, and that can sometimes conflict with the views of individual employees.

The argument made in the article, and it makes sense, is that IT really needs to be much more tightly integrated with the overall business, to really understand how to help. When it’s viewed as a separate silo or even “business,” then the solutions that come out of IT really aren’t as helpful as can be. Separately, it also increases the likelihood of outsourcing the IT function, since it can be easily “separated.” But by more closely integrating the IT function into actual business processes, not only does IT make itself more indispensable, it can focus on creating actual process improvements and solutions, rather than just taking a list from someone of what they think they need (perhaps without understanding what the technology enables) and delivering it to spec.

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Comments on “Should IT Be Run As A Business?”

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jmproffitt (profile) says:

Read Bob Lewis for more on "IT as a business"

InfoWorld columnist and author Bob Lewis has been writing about this idea for years, and he always shreds it to pieces.

You can find him here…

…and here…

IT needs to do two things well:
[1] keep the business running as-is, making it incrementally more efficient along the way (keep the lights on, install more efficient lights)
[2] help the business find or create competitive advantage by applying new technologies that leap substantially beyond current practice (teach the business to see in the dark, then get rid of the lights)

IT gets a bad rap because businesses don’t know what to ask of this group, and businesses oftentimes hire the wrong people for this role.

It’s art AND science. Telling IT to “operate like a business” comes from believing the solution is in the art of how things are done. Pushing stuff like ITIL comes from believing the solution is all down to a science of steps and requirements.

IT shouldn’t act like a business — it should act like it’s in a marriage with the rest of the company.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

I work in the Toronto office of a national company in Canada, and when I need IT service of some kind I have two options:

1) Call the help desk, which is in Winnipeg or some-such, nearly a thousand miles away, and they will take my request and name and extension and fill out a request form and e-mail me a ticket number, and then at any random time later that day a tech will show up at my desk…

or 2) I can call one of the IT guys in the building, all of whom are all very friendly and helpful, and they’ll tell me when they can make it down to help me. Of course, we’re both technically breaking the rules by doing this.

So yeah… I don’t think there can be any doubt which way makes more sense.

Michial Thompson (user link) says:

Simply put

If IT slows or prevents an end user from doing their job then IT isn’t doing theirs. This means if some idiot network nazi decides he needs absolute controle over security and it gets in the way of the end user doing their job then the nazi needs to go or learn how to beter SERVE the end user.

Way too many IT people go overboard on security and control of the infrastructure that they end up hurting the business. They forget that they are nothing more than a tool for the end user to wield to accomplish their job which is to operate their portion of the company.

I’ve fired more than my share of control freaks that forget that their job is not what the company depends on, it’s the jobs of the people that they are here to support that the company depends on.

It Guy says:

Re: Simply put

Idiot IT Nazi????? What would you do When you surf the net and download spyware that locks up your system? It Annoys me to all end when you have a user that wastes time on Myspace and gets spyware on their machine then whines why does this keep happening. Us “idiots” get tired of fixing your ID ten T errors!!! if users would do their job and stay off Myspace, Facebook,and other time wasting non- work related sites we wouldn’t have to be “nazis” and “slow or prevent” a user from doing their “job!!!!!!!!!!

mike42 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Simply put

As a 20+ year IT veteran, I can tell you your rant is retarded. When the bone-head nukes his machine, you tell him why and fix it. That’s what you get paid for. When the bone-head nukes it AGAIN, you tell his boss why and you fix it. When he nukes it YET AGAIN, you tell everybody (bosses, co-workers, etc) why, and you fix it. Pretty soon, he’s nukeing computers at another work place.

Slowing or stopping a user from doing his job make you the bad guy, and leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Be the martar, take it on the chin, but COMMUNICATE, and everyone will appreciate you.

Jack says:

Re: Re: Re: Simply put

You have hit this on the head. Too many IT guys create havoc for all in IT by acting like the have the god given right to slam the poor dude who is just trying to do his job and is struggling with the tools provided. Give him a chance, if he f*&ks up a three times then let all know. But even still it is IT jobs to make sure he can do hos job so the business can deliver because it the business can’t deliver you can kiss all of that high and mighty I know everything you are moron attitude because you will be out on street with the moron and everyone else when the place falls over.

Sean B says:

Re: Simply put

Actually IT is there to SERVE the BUSINESS, not the end user. Part of our job is to make the end user able to do his/her job, but another large part is to make sure that the equiptment/network isn’t damaged while the end user is doing their job.

Most staff buck against security controls, but unfortunately, to serve the business, the IT staff must exert some level of security.

kirillian (profile) says:

Re: Simply put

You may have encountered the rogue IT guy that really doesn’t understand how to do his job well…possibly…then again, like others have said, part of IT is controlling what you do as a user so that you don’t slow down the jobs of everyone else. IT policies protect the rest of the employees from the users that are arrogant enough to believe that they don’t need security – the very employees that oftentimes need it most.

Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

Re: IT is infrastructure

First IT is only infrastructure is you don’t know anything about IT. IT is as important to a business’s success as marketing or sales or operations. If you understand and can use it correctly. IT can be a strategic advantage, a competitive edge, and an aid to the success of all the other departments.

How many companies use websites to market their products?

How many companies depend on websites for sales leads?

How many companies use ERP or CRM programs to better get a handle on their companies happenings?

Name one CEO that doesn’t have a access to all kinds of information almost instantly about all aspects of the company to allow him/her to make better informed decisions?

IT is all that to a company and a lot more. IT is a lot more that just your access to the internet or your quick fix to the virus you downloaded.

John Smith says:

IT as a business... has any one seen the IT Crowd?

Treating it like a business is a VERY bad idea. Most businesses depend on their IT/IS Infrastructure to operate and some utilize their infrastructure to operate efficiently. In both cases the IT department is who engineer’s or maintains this infrastructure that every company depends on. When your business needs to grow your infrastructure will be the first thing that needs to be modified to facilitate that growth. Having an experienced and integrated IT department is the best way to ensure a successful and painless transition. That integration comes from not separating IT as a separate business but integrating the IT staff so that they have a full understanding of operations and can better serve the company. Specifically when it comes to new technologies and how they can benefit the company by increasing profit margin, efficiency, reliability or reduce downtime. Or how to manage the flow of data from customers to maximize revenue and reduce the length of sales cycles. As far as cutting IT costs the best thing to do is to take purchasing out of the loop so that efforts on concentrated on making things WORK instead of replacing what ever is broken with a purchase of something similarly or differently flawed. Ever since out company switched over to buying from we have saved over 20% of our normal budget for IT and now our IT people can concentrate on internal software solutions and quality engineering of IT solutions for our Internal customers. Our IT staff writes up a RFQ on we get cheap tax free bids from CDW Dell Ingram Micro the same people our purchasing agents usually call anyways to negotiate prices and rates and we purchase everything we were getting from the same vendors except we are getting it a LOT cheaper and tax free. That gives us room in our IT budget for other expenses to make our jobs easier or to add to our rainy day fund or to have enough left over to get a bump at bonus time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Run IT as a Business? Please.

Nothing has hurt IT, and specifically, running IT as a business, so much as outsourcing. In my heart and pocketbook I find it evil. Oh you sense some animosity? Charming.
It is evil to exploit trained, highly trained and educated people and employ them in some fashion which reminds me of Pink Floyd’s, “The Wall”. March, march, onward, onward through the fog. IT isn’t a ‘project’. It’s no less an effort as marketing or manufacturing which demand our participation. We commit our energy, our skills toward the big picture, but idiot CPA’s can’t get past the opiate effect of outsourced employees. Outsourced manpower costs more. Loyalty is a joke. QA is a buzz word. Do you really think the techs and administrators, even programmers and analysts have anything but a strictly defined and limited commitment to your project, knowing that someone completely detached past the spreadsheet is pulling the strings. These morons may have an MBA in basket weaving management but they embrace this idea that these IT professionals are little more than ‘bodies’ and contract numbers? Yeah, I know it’s different where you work. I’ve experienced as a service manager for a major IT hardware manufacturer. MY techs didn’t give a damn beyond rate,workload and SOW.Utilization is a joke dreamed up as a meaningless spreadsheet quntification flipped so as to justify thier CONTINUED presence. Outsource PM’s make more money when projects ‘bear reconsideration and further study”.
Reboot. If loyalty counts anything toward project success, then welcome and integrate solid IT professionals to the table and into the workforce and pay them justly, rather than the pimps generating project to project contracts which seldom come in at budget and always generate more problems. Outsourced people doing the work aren’t part of THE team-they are working for THEIR team. They require more and closer management. Do not expect any shared work ethic or ideal, because in a difference of objectives.Shared ideals are shop-talk which mean nothing down the line.
And the outsourcing contractors project managers? I have a list of the “Top 10 Professional Idiots I’ve Ever Met”, scrawled on a McDonald’s receipt, stashed on page 272 on an unnamed book in my library. That list is mentioned in my will.
Most of them are project managers from outsourced projects. I keep hoping for a new and improved disaster and I’m seldom disappointed. Outsourced, I have to retrain these people sometimes, and sometimes it’s just not possible. So we do it their way and a 12 week project lasts until Christmas week.
Someone, someday will catch on. Temps for the front desk might work just fine, but not in IT.

jjmsan (profile) says:


My company has had both an in house IT department and a outsourced IT department. When it was in house I knew most of the people and while sometimes they were a little testy(bad day) they were generally helpful and tried to solve problems. The company decided it would be more efficient to outsource the department and well as saving money. The new people are pretty nice and I generally get to know their names in the 3 to 6 months they stay around. It also saved a ton of money which is a good thing because each department has now hired their own IT person to you know make sure things get done in a timely manner.

Rosedale (profile) says:

University of Illinois

When I worked at the University of IL we were a business entity. The Engineering school did not provide a college wide IT department. That meant that each department within the college had to provide their own IT. On top of that there was a competing service provided by CITES that you could hire in. My specific department (ECE) did not require any faculty within the program to use us, and, in fact, any faculty member would have to hire us using their research funds. We did our job well and would still provide some very minimal services to faculty and research groups who didn’t pay, but there was an inherent downside to all of this. To our supported groups they got top notch service, but the rest of the department suffered accordingly.

I believe now the ECE IT department is heading into more departments college wide…and may become the default service for computer support within the entire College of Engineering. I think it makes more sense to have a centralized common goal rather than putting the support crew in such a position. The inefficiency was quite apparent. Any one department may have repeat services or workers that easily could have been shared, but since we were separate entities with separate budgets we couldn’t. I was thankful for my job, but pooling resources would have made us more efficient.

However, the one good thing about our services was that to those who paid they got top notch service. I’ve seen IT departments that are centralized and no one person stands out (in the lower tiers). My wife works at a public school and apparently it can take days to respond to a ticket. At the U of I we were at your call anytime and fast. I think we officially gave ourselves 24 hours to respond to minor issues, but we never used the full 24. College wide operating this way was inefficient, but to the people willing to pay they got great service that they couldn’t get from anyone else. Especially given our diverse skill set.

Danny says:

Careful what you wish for...

As nice as it may sound to treat IT like a business it can become a mixed bag. When treated like a business the number one objective of the IT dept. will go from “making sure things work as cheaply as possible” to “make everything as cheap as possible but still work”. Suddenly it becomes more important for IT to cut costs (this being due to IT dept. not actually generating reveue for the company thus leading other dept. to look down on it as a financial black hole) than to make sure things work. And once that number drops as much as it can while still keeping IT internal talk of outsourcing starts.

That’s not to say the idea of treating IT like a business is all bad but it sure as hell isn’t all good either.

Malcolm says:

I never experienced the “IT as a business” model until I started working where I am now and I have to say it took me back a little. People were sending request to the IT department like they did to Office Services. They would request major technical commitments like they were requesting a box of pens. When you began to explain the complexities of these request and the time required I’m often told “I need it now, for free, end of discussion” It was kind of astonishing to see systems engineers getting request to burn dvds or secretaries asking for video editing software to “cut up” a video when they didn’t even know what Windows Media Player was or “Hey , a new guy started an hour ago. Can you get him setup with everything he needs?”. I’ve gotten used to it now. But, it never occurred to me that these highly technical individuals with years of training and experience would suddenly be put in the same category as the folks that deliver the mail. I’m not sure how or why IT hasn’t been considered a strategic partner in any project of any company but, due to the nature of companies becoming more technical in everything they don’t I see how this outdated method of doing things can continue for much longer. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Dan (profile) says:

IT is Business

Great topic! It exposes an age old weakness of IT: it’s easier to say no to someone less skilled than yourself than it is to find a solution to their problem.

Until I entered this field I never imagined how bad this sometimes gets. Some IT professionals even go so far as to decree what types of systems and software their users can use to do their work.

I have yet to see a situation where I had to say no to a user. Your business as an IT profession is to equip your employers (this is everyone from the Janitor to the CEO) with the best possible solutions to their problems regardless of their situation until it’s obvious they are criminally insane.

Anyone who does otherwise has probably just forced themselves into the wrong professional.

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