Out of the frying pan and into the fire

Rabbi Jacob was sitting in his dining room hearing a dispute between two neighbors over an apple tree in the first neighbor’s yard.

“The apple tree is on my property, so the apples on it belong to me,” he said.

“You’re right,” Rabbi Jacob replied.

“But the branches extend over my property and I have to rake the leaves that fall, so I should get the apples that fall as well,” said the second neighbor.

“You’re right,” Rabbi Jacob replied.

His wife, listening from the kitchen and irritated at her husband, pokes her head into the dining room and says, “Jacob, you nebbish, they can’t both be right!”

“You’re right,” he replies.\1/

At the risk of incurring the wrath of the proverbial wife in the kitchen, I’m going to contradict my last post about doing away with IT and sketch out some of the reasons why dismantling IT and moving its functions into the business might be a bad idea.

#1 The magician’s apprentice

There’s a section in Walt Disney’s Fantasia where Mickey Mouse is a magician’s apprentice who brings a broom to life and things go horribly wrong – he tries to stop the broom by chopping it up and only makes it worse: each splinter turns into a new broom and he now faces an army of them rather than just one.

This is a very real risk of moving IT functions to their business counterparts – you may end up with lots of small, disconnected, misaligned IT departments all over the enterprise…a much worse situation than you started with.

#2 Economies of scale

When dealing with the procurement of products and services, large organizations have certain advantage over small ones: bargaining power during the sales process, leverage once they’re a customer, and savings across the enterprise.

But in order to capitalize on these advantages, an organization has to have an enterprise view of its procurement activities. It needs to know who is buying what from whom and interact with these vendors and partners as a single organization.

If IT functions are located within their respective LOB areas, who will make sure that the procurement of technology products and services benefits from the advantages organizations gain from coordinated enterprise procurement?

#3 Who’s on first

If you’ve spent any time in the typical IT shop, you know that knowledge sharing is a big challenge: a lot of times, technologists equate job security with being the expert about an application, device, or process (and therefore hoard their knowledge); almost always, critical IT documents are stored and organized in ways that make it difficult or impossible to find them unless you created them; and the hectic pace of keeping the lights on in most IT organizations makes it hard to find time to connect with others to trade experience.

If this is the case when we’ve got all our technologists under one roof, what happens when we spread them out across the whole organization? What’s the impact to the ramp up process for new hires or to long-term employee development? Will the overall maturity level of IT drop once you slice it up into small units?

The final word

To me, these are the key downsides to dismantling centralized IT—would love to hear others. And I don’t think any of them are insurmountable, but each requires concerted efforts to prevent—would love to hear thoughts on this too.

And as I said in the post that kicked off this series on IT transformation, let me know if you’d like to contribute a post here. I’d be excited to get other voices in the mix.

\1/ Credit for this joke goes to one the best professors I had in grad school, Joel Kraemer, who was also one of the funniest.

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