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The end of the IT Department

Saturday, July 09, 2011 - by Keith A. Smith

When people talk about their IT departments, they always talk about the things they’re not allowed to do, the applications they can’t run, and the long time it takes to get anything done. Rigid and inflexible policies that fill the air with animosity. Not to mention the frustrations of speaking different languages. None of this is a good foundation for a sustainable relationship.

 

If businesses had as many gripes with an external vendor, that vendor would’ve been dropped long ago. But IT departments have endured as a necessary evil. I think those days are coming to an end.

 

The problem with IT departments seems to be that they’re set up as a forced internal vendor. From the start, they have a monopoly on the “computer problem” – such monopolies have a tendency to produce the customer service you’d expect from the US Postal Service. The IT department has all the power, they’re not going anywhere (at least not in the short term), and their customers are seen as mindless peons. There’s no feedback loop for improvement.

 

Obviously, I can see the other side of the fence as well. IT departments are usually treated as a cost center, just above mail delivery and food service in the corporate pecking order, and never win anything when shit just works, but face the wrath of everyone when THE EXCHANGE SERVER IS DOWN!!!!!


At the same time, IT job security is often dependent on making things hard, slow, and complex. If the Exchange Server didn’t require two people to babysit it at all times, that would mean two friends out of work. Of course using hosted Gmail is a bad idea! It’s the same forces and mechanics that slowly turned unions from a force of progress (proper working conditions for all!) to a force of stagnation (only Jack can move the conference chairs, Joe is the only guy who can fix the microphone).

 

But change is coming. Dealing with technology has gone from something only for the techy geeks to something more mainstream. Younger generations get it. Computer savvyness is no longer just for the geek squad.

 

You no longer need a tech person at the office to man “the server room.” Responsibility for keeping the servers running has shifted away from the centralized IT department. Today you can get just about all the services that previously required local expertise from a web site somewhere.

 

The transition won’t happen over night, but it’s long since begun. The companies who feel they can do without an official IT department are growing in number and size. It’s entirely possible to run a 20-man office without ever even considering the need for a computer called “server” somewhere.

 

The good news for IT department operators is that they’re not exactly saddled with skills that can’t be used elsewhere. Most auto workers and textile makers would surely envy their impending doom and ask for a swap.

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