To drive business transition, IT leaders must first regain control

As companies strive to modernize application delivery, a perfect storm of IT and business scenarios have led to unrealistic expectations across the board.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Amid the clamor about digital business transformation, IT leaders are frustrated at cultural barriers and budget constraints that hamper organizational change.

Much of the demand for IT to work better, faster and leaner results from having a more tech-savvy user base combined with cultural and technical input from early adopters and cloud providers.

"People are beginning to see organizations that have been early adopters of this deep partnership between IT and business that have netted huge results," said David Salbego, infrastructure and operations department head at Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago, speaking at Gartner's IT Operations Strategies and Solutions Summit here this week.

Unrealistic expectations

Anecdotal success stories of closer collaboration between IT and business units -- Gartner labels this digital business transformation -- drive demand for rapid change, Salbego said. But traditional businesses just aren't built to adopt many of the processes championed by Silicon Valley startups.

Rather than start from scratch, IT departments in established businesses must transition from the role of systems maintainer -- and cost center -- to a business unit that can drive new initiatives, said David Cappuccio, a Gartner analyst.

We don't need a cloud strategy ... it's a lot like saying, 'I need a hammer strategy,' when sometimes you really need a backhoe.
Thomas Bittmananalyst, Gartner

In recent years, however, IT departments have started to lose the keys to their kingdom. Last year, 29% of IT spending was spent outside of the IT organization, he said, as business units buy more IT services often in the belief that IT is too slow.

In fact, the business side itself has made IT slower, Cappuccio suggested. The business side demanded security, which fostered a culture of skepticism and caution among IT. And rather than make life easier by offloading user demand, the proliferation of shadow IT has added yet more complexity to an administrator's job -- amplifying the focus on security, control and compliance -- potentially at the expense of innovation.

"In the '90s, when IT was becoming important, [business leadership] didn't perceive it as being important and didn't put controls in place," said Alan Cantrell, director of IT service management at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. "The business is now trying to rein in rogue services, but they've allowed it to happen."

The new cloud divide

IT leaders acknowledged the benefits of closer collaboration between business and IT, but they must deal with this classic tension to both protect and enable the business. One IT manager, who did not want to be named, said increasing demands from business leaders to move faster culminated in a top-down mandate to move workloads to the cloud. He struggled with how to pay for these new initiatives and was frustrated at the cost to maintain a redundant data center location that his business demanded for disaster recovery.

Top-down mandates that aim to force IT to change can cause new problems. Several attendees said they felt business leaders have steered them to the public cloud in an effort to reduce costs and improve agility, for example. But a blanket cloud mandate that forces IT services to the cloud creates a new divide between IT and business -- IT leaders react, rather than listen and respond to business needs, or even proactively drive business value, said Thomas Bittman, a Gartner analyst.

"We don't need a cloud strategy, per se," he said. "Cloud is a tool -- it's a very valuable tool. But, it's a lot like saying, 'I need a hammer strategy,' when sometimes you really need a backhoe."

Nick Martin is executive editor for TechTarget's Modern Infrastructure e-zine, and former senior site editor for Contact him at [email protected].

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