The Death of the I.T. department
I once had a boss who was a clear archetype of the worst boss imaginable.
This "Dear Leader" had almost no redeeming qualities except one: they taught me a valuable technology lesson via linguistic bullying that became etched on my brain ever since.
It was an insight about the strange omni-present division that transpired between Technology teams and the organisations they are meant to serve.
The consequences of that division are now playing out in a world where IT teams don't matter anymore if you have a Credit Card, a bright mind and need stuff done to compete globally
The lesson started with some banter along the lines of...
Me: "Something something The Business need to something something so we can understand how to design the system for them."
Esteemed Leader: "The what?"
Me: "The business"
The term was a logical definition that categorised a group of people who required help with technology compared with those that were helping them.
But to my boss it meant You versus Me... I knew stuff my boss couldn't ever really understand.
At this point the Esteemed Boss Leader flew off the handle into a tirade about how there was no separation, we were all in this together and that the technology team was the business... how dare I insinuate otherwise.
Using the term "The Business" as a divisor was not was what I meant. After I was caned many times, my butt cheeks and I realised it was a great lesson in the power of language but the hallowed ground I had trespassed on could not be returned from.
This boss was right.
Every time I used the term accidentally (like twice) I had to flee from the Smaug like explosion coming out of Dear Leaders mouth.
I wiped the term from my lexicon and I ensured that everyone I worked with from then on wiped the two word phrase from their vocabulary too.
The experience put into sharp focus that a classism had developed between those in the commercial world who understood and looked after technology and those that didn't but relied on it in an every increasing way.
It was a wedge that was exploited to enforce a virtual communist state.
The Tech Elites who could help or hinder you. As technology became more important to organisations so did the power held by those who controlled it. I am generalising. I have met many people who don't fall into the broad brush of this article - but many do.
Then a strange combination of circumstances suddenly flipped the tables.
There is a whole new generation that have technology in their DNA.
Everyone carries smartphones, has Apps, uses Wifi and understands how to use a VPN to get to Netflix. Kids can program and teenagers can run up sophisticated on demand infrastructure.
Smart vendors have realise that their future is not in the wine and dine of IT executives but in opening technology up to everyone - the bigger the foot print the bigger the profit.
They'll handle the hard stuff and let you get on with the good stuff, often for a price per person, per month. How easy is that?
So fast forward a few years from my "Bad boss" experience and I have been given a stark and clear view that the Serf's have quickly developed weapons to challenge the ruling class.
It happened because suddenly I was on the other side of the fence - In the business!!!
In strange circumstances I found myself consulting for a technology operation but not in the IT team. My mantra was the same as always - we weren't a technology team, we provided solutions and capability.
Technology just happened to be our tool but everyone should benefit.
In fact I felt that to be associated with traditional tech ideology was derogatory.
We didn't accomplish stuff at the speed of Molasses with + or - 100% contingency.
We got things done with all the learnings of those before us. We had agility with security, governance and outcomes for a fraction of the price because we were unbound by traditional concepts.
We were freed to pursue new lines of innovation.
At one point technology was complex and costly. It involved a skill level that allowed you to be smug (if you wanted to be) and talk about Cisco routers and data centres and networking and disaster recovery and governance and security and hackers and PMBok.
Then a few years ago this strange term cropped up; "Shadow IT".
Shadow IT was the term coined for non-tech people going out and buying the stuff they needed to get the things done to ensure they achieved what they accountable for without going through the Monty-pythonesque experience of dealing with traditional IT departments.
IT departments often didn't know about this whole new tech capability it until something went wrong, people came running and then they were suddenly left cleaning up the mess.
But to be smug at this point has diminishing returns.
These were the same IT departments that only a few years ago woke up to the fact that having servers in a room in the basement doesn't necessarily guarantee safety or security (...especially when floods occur).
Shadow IT has arisen because people have got fed up with the traditional approach of the mysterious-black-box-please-stand-back-you-wouldn't-understand mentality that a lot of IT teams use to protect themselves.
There is no need to classify it - people are getting on with doing what they need to. Systems always find a way.
Traditional Information Technology teams have not organised themselves into more agile and nimble ways to meet the significantly faster and innovative demands of the digital era - so they start to become less attractive..
However the real killer is they have lost sight of why the exist: To serve the customer.
The customer being all those around them.
I get the sense that the new wave of companies like Uber, Google, Amazon, Salesforce, Netflix, Spotify or AirBnB don't probably really have the old concept of IT departments.
The benefits of tech minds are embedded, embraced and equitable through the organisation because _they are_ the organisation.
There is no separation. They are one and the same. My boss was right in a round about way.
I realised a long time ago that if I, like my peers, didn't want to become the "Chief Fixer Upper of Keyboards and Mice" I needed to have a good look my view point and at the culture of the people around me to ensure we focused on the fact that technology was there to serve and benefit, not divide.