24 May 2014

R.I.P. corporate I.T. department.

If you are working for a mid-size company and have the title of I.S. Director or CIO, it may be time to start brushing up your resume. It may not happen tomorrow or next year, but the days of those titles may be numbered. The fact is that there is a much smarter way to have geeky needs taken care of in an office today and it is only a matter of time before everyone realizes it.

As someone who used to be a CIO at a mid-size company, it was interesting to wake up one morning and realize that the value of having internal information systems employees was fading away. The most technically minded and efficient companies used to be the ones that had the smartest technology staff in-house to match software and hardware with corporate workflows. In fact, that strategy of making technology match the way a company does business is still my recommendation for every one of my clients. The problem is that the ideal path to get there today is to use true experts, which often means outsourcing the propeller heads.

Thanks to smart phones and internet use, everyone in the world has become a computer nerd. We all know about Instagram and Skype and that gives each individual direct control of their personal tech universe. However, the stuff happening behind the scenes to make corporate applications run smoothly and the business network secure is far more complicated and changes on a weekly basis. Try as they might, a company geek will not have the time to be an expert on Cisco, VMware, Exchange Server, Citrix, SharePoint and being available 24/7 for help desk. That takes a team of individuals that are each focused on the specific category of technology, where it is going and the best way to configure that for a company. It also requires a group of support staff being available around the clock for employees of your firm, no matter where they are and what time they are doing it.

The individuals working at a company need to be expert in the core business of the organization. If your company mission is to sell Wack-a-Doodles and you are spending the majority of your time reading about the latest VDI techniques then you are working for the wrong company. Wack-a-Doodles R Us needs employees to manufacture and sell their products - everyone else is expendable. If you cannot directly demonstrate how your work has generated profits for the firm then you are not a core part of the organization.

Given the cost of outsourcing staffing, an argument could be made at the wacky manager meeting that they can save money by hiring a tech employee or two. Doodle manufacturers may not want to be on the silicon bleeding edge so there is financial incentive to stay internal. Except .. How will a business of Wack-a-Doodle experts judge technology staff? How can they tell whether their geeks are the best choice and being as productive as possible? Even if your technology is recognized as the best in the Doodle industry, it only takes someone suggesting a new Wack-a-Poodle direction and all will be questioned.

There are employees on the periphery that are relatively safe. Your account staff that keep customers coming back for oodles more are fairly safe from the ax. Corporate training employees that are deeply involved in developing workflows can prove themselves to be mission critical to the future of the company. But the people installing Windows updates? It is too easy to argue that an outside company filled with dozens of tech geniuses would be a much better choice.

This does not necessarily mean you need to leave your favorite firm. Business analysts who can design, create and use data warehouses to drive decisions for the company are becoming a critical force in corporations everywhere. If you can find a niche where you are using technology to move the core function of the business forward then you may have found a perfect spot for the future. Just stay away from hiding in a server room.

Tech mangers that want to remain at their current organization need to clearly define their strategic value to the future of the company. Do not wait for management to suggest it - you need to be the visionary to put forward a strategic plan for moving the tech department to an outside firm while outlining where your new home will be within this framework. Or perhaps you are ready for a new line of work anyway and you can lead the new direction while asking for time to find a new environment for yourself elsewhere. Regardless, do not wait for the Wack-a-Poodle to be invented before tackling this. No one wants to be the poodle.