The Future of IT Looks More Like Human Resources and Facilities

Big fish small bowl and small fish large bowlIf more IT departments functioned like human resources or facilities and worried less about being strategic there would be fewer complaints about IT and CIO’s would be happier for it. The support for this belief comes from the consumerization and democratization of technology which is accelerating the shift to commodity services and enabling more decision making by non-IT folks while rendering more and more of the technology stack decisions irrelevant.

The CIO Doth Protest Too Much

The trajectory of this trend seems fairly clear. But most CIO’s seem to be ignoring the eventuality that lies ahead for the vast majority of IT departments. I believe this is at the heart of the CIO resistance to consumerization movements like BYOPC and cloud services.

CIO’s instinctively know this is the beginning of the end for in-house IT as we know it. And yet, so many CIO’s have set off on a vision quest to become the business strategist in an effort to avoid irrelevance and getting fired. Is this the equivalent of fiddling while Rome burns.

I have decided this strategy has diminishing returns and may even serve to hasten the process. It simply seems the more CIO’s assert their strategic value the more people will question it.

What of Human Resources?

Have you ever heard of a Chief Personnel Officer? Why not given human capital is the single largest investment for nearly every organization. For many organizations it accounts for more than 80% of costs. It seems every organization touts the fact that their people are their greatest asset and the thing they value most.

But human resources doesn’t make hiring decisions, they merely broker the process and support hiring managers in their decisions. When there are performance issues with personnel, HR again plays a supportive role to the manager who ultimately has to run the business and deliver results. They can ask employees to fill out a job satisfaction survey and pass the findings on to management so that management can amend their procedures and policies if needed. HR’s role is also to provide central administrative support services, a framework for compliance, and benefits administration where many of these functions are often outsourced.

Is HR strategic to every business? Sure. But strategic workforce planning and human capital risk management is done out in the departments.

What of Facilities?

Have you ever heard of a Chief Building Officer? Why not when you consider a typical brick and mortar company where the building and its spaces are integral to the business. That could be a retail store, hospital, school, or a casino. Regardless, countless numbers of organizations rely heavily on their building’s physical plants, fixtures and furnishings, and the design of their spaces to define their brand, deliver services, and enhance the customer experience.

Yet, most of these organizations only maintain a staff for the routine housekeeping and maintenance of the buildings with many businesses outsourcing both of these functions along with landscaping. The big projects, the ones that are considered strategic, like opening a new location, building a new addition, or renovating an existing space are done by bringing in outside architects, engineers and designers along with contractors in every specialty trade.

But is facilities strategic to the business? Sure it is. A company based around self-storage, for instance, lives or dies by its facilities. They need the latest in self storage software to help understand what areas are taken and what isn’t, as well as to help them manage the space more effectively and understand how and when maintenance needs to be carried out. However, assets such as real estate acquisition, property management, and things like fit and function are more likely to be driven by the line of business and the tenant departments than by the facilities department.


Of course there are exceptions in human resources and facilities just as in IT. The IT exceptions are most likely in cases where the organization’s core product is technology-based and most likely where it is a service. But even then, the CIO and the IT department usually do not drive the product development agenda or even support the external customer.

The point is, the human resources and facilities professionals are not whining about not having a seat at the table during strategic business decisions. Nor is the volume of content on the role of the facilities manager or human resources manager anywhere near what you see for CIO’s and IT leaders.

Advice to CEO’s

Consider if in your organization the role of the CIO is obsolete and if you can downgrade the position to a department head to alleviate any disconnect and improve focus.

Challenge your CIO to propose options and a transition plan for a more decentralized or federated IT function that mirrors what’s found in human resources or facilities.

Have a heart-to-heart with your CIO and decide if they are the right person for transitioning into a more appropriate, less strategic, support role.

Challenge your non-IT leadership to take full ownership of the technology they rely on to fulfill their mission in the organization.

Advice to CIO’s

Continue to develop your business acumen and find ways to contribute to the business strategically as a broker-facilitator.

Plan for your obsolescence as it will demonstrate more strategic business sense than most any other thing you could do and may even secure your future within your organization.

Get ahead of your CEO and find the courage to pursue these ideas proactively.

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7 Responses to The Future of IT Looks More Like Human Resources and Facilities

  1. Sal Rosario says:

    I wish the authors had considered how information resources are fundamentally different from the finite human and physical plant resources. The first are probably more similar to the financial resources, but even more elastic. I can see a future where department managers take more responsibility for the creative use of information resources, but this does not remove the need for a higher level strategic perspective. Therefore, a good CIO will still be valuable.

  2. The Higher Ed CIO says:

    Sal – Information resources are just one of the building blocks of a virtual value chain and a physical value chain. No different than human resources or how buildings play a part of value creation or delivery. Depending on your view you may think the traditional model of IT will soon change or has already begun to change. The driver of the change is the realization of utility computing models which have begun to bring about the migration of information resources out of the enterprise in favor of hosted or cloud services

    I am sure you would agree based on your own area of focus in BI that through cloud services and third party service providers like yourself functional business managers can service their information needs without their IT department. I believe your firm even goes so far as to make this its focus going so far as point out the old model of IT is obsolete. That is all I am saying here. It’s about the IT department accepting the new reality of IT as more of a supportive role in order to become more effective and reduce the frustration of trying to be something the organization doesn’t need.

  3. Pingback: Future of IT Departments Continued

  4. Richard James Sullivan says:

    While I understand the premise of this argument, I believe the article is more about the traditional CIO and not the CIO that needs to be in place in the higher education arena. The traditional higher education CIO has been more concerned with the projects that they have been planning to complete per their 3 and 5 years plans. They are more tactical in nature and are working on project based on projected budgets that are basically set with specific projects in mind such as equipment refreshes, application upgrades and enhancements, etc.

    “Cloud” computing, SaaS, Remote mail (gmail, live, hosted exchange services) and other 3rd party applications (Office 360) have and will continue to change the character of ‘information’ technology as far as how applications are used. What won’t change and what the CIO of tomorrow needs to be aware of is how leverage these disciplines to the benefit of their institution. The CIO of tomorrow needs to completely understand that delivery methodologies and how to provide content to their constituents. They need to spend time with their constituents, in the classrooms, in the virtual environments, and realize how to deliver and what delivery methods should be deployed.

    This is very different and far from as being like HR or Facilities. The Information Technology department, most likely, needs to change its title extracting the ‘technology’ from it as this may not be the appropriate descriptor. Maybe ‘management’ or ‘delivery’ should replace technology as the purpose of the department is more in line with the overall management of and delivery of information to the constituents. Whether this is a cloud (public/private or hybrid delivery), a SaaS , Big Data or other 3rd party application, they still needs someone to manage the environments they run in and the method of delivery to the end user. Not to slight either HR or Facilities and they are highly respected departments, but information management and delivery need to be very proactive and not reactive in the years to come.

    As far as the use of “Chief” in the name, is it really that much different from Chief Financial Officer or Chief Operating Officer? The title of “Chief” implies positional value in the IT department, a title of leadership, as it should be. Is this no different than any other title or position of leadership? As Mr Shakespeare once wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.

  5. The Higher Ed CIO says:

    Richard the position you have shared is very similar to that held by many others. I really find it interesting how many people will on one hand describe with great conviction the current trends in technology and the impact it has on the workplace but stop short of recognizing the same effect for the IT department. These same people describe incredible strategies to move applications and infrastructure to the clouds or to shared central services but fail to acknowledge their declining role.

    Admission is the first step to recovery. As I described it in another forum, standing in front of a moving train is suicide. Running alongside and trying to hop o board at least offers a chance at success. But better still is learning to drive the train or operate the switch yard.

    CIO’s in higher ed or any other sector have to decide, is it more likely than not the future of IT will be less on-premise systems and services with more purchasing decisions occurring without IT involvement. Ignoring the facts or continuing to wish for a dated ideal is like denying the train is coming and failing to act. What’s the risk of being right, versus the risk of being wrong?

  6. Kevin Finn says:

    I’ve always approached my role and the role of my IT team as a supportive role. The question at hand seems to depend on the size and scale of the IT requirements and on how closely the business relies on technology to generate revenue. The payments business has been fast growth and constantly has to keep pace with technology. No payment is processed without a system that is integrated with internal and external systems. The function, quality and capacity capability of the services provided are more important than in just providing infrastructure. Having the ability to understand the product, the endpoints and the applications is what the CIO brings to the table with his team. So yes you are a huge provider of human capital and the selection and productivity of the team is probably the greatest expense and asset that is managed. The teams are highly specialized, but you also build a team to understand how the specific technology fits together and how your technology providors must perform in order to meet the needs of the business.

  7. The Higher Ed CIO says:

    The payments industry is a great example where the revenue engine for the company is the technology. My own experience in the payments industry running an electronic payments switch that also drove ATM/POS processing, I was responsible for the ‘product’ including funds movement and reconciliation services for customers. So like other technology based businesses, IT was absolutely strategic. But that is very different than most other businesses.

    With that being said, the potential for one of the emerging alternative payment models to become a real threat to the traditional model is real and is the result of cloud and social computing models. So even electronic payments and banking may not be immune.

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