If 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.
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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