I just read Dave Linthicum's post on SOA World titled Should you Fire your CIO? This is a continuation of a discussion that has been brewing in the blogsphere for the past few months that started after the Burton Group commented that a new CIO was often a key ingredient for some successful SOA implementations.
To successfully implement enterprise wide SOA initiatives, strong leadership is required at the top of IT. The person must have integrity, creditability, technical and business know how, and must be able to lead the organization through the resulting shifts in cultural values. The problem is, as Dave points out in his article....
....in many organizations the role of CIO has resolved itself as the person who keeps things running, not the agent of change.I call this the old "Keeping the Lights on Mentality". When IT stops being an enabler and simply acts as a cost center or a "necessary evil", then entertaining new projects that leverage one of Gartner Top 10 strategic technologies is unrealistic and doomed for failure or hardship at a minimum. Why? Because this mentality is reactive and sometimes even defensive. This mentality also does not encourage investing in the future whether that is in training employees, establishing and investing in architecture, or addressing problems with long term solutions. Instead, people are rewarded for quick fix fire fighting heroics and at the end of the day it is the user community that suffers. The users get band-aids on top of already outdated systems and are often forced to work in ways in which the technology and systems dictate, instead of the other way around.
It gets worse for the employees in an IT department in charge of "keeping the lights on". Their resumes become stale as their skills are not updated to reflect the newer technologies that innovative companies seek. The reactive nature of the culture can squash innovation and people who have valid solutions may not bring them forward because it would require more than a quick fix. In the end these types of shops become like an assembly line in nature where people clock in, work their shift, and clock out. This is not what must of us envisioned when we enthusiastically enrolled in IT related curriculums in college back in the day.
The key business driver in a "keeping the lights on" shop is minimizing costs (usually over anything else). Which makes me wonder why more shops in this mode do not go down the outsource IT path. If lower cost is so important and large innovative initiatives are typically out of the question, why not radically lower the cost by outsourcing IT? I am not recommending that IT shops do this, instead I recommend that IT shops become good business partners and enablers of business success. But if I was a CEO or CFO and my IT's sole purpose was to be a cost center to keep the lights on, I would try to drastically reduce that cost. After all, keeping the lights on is not a core competency of most businesses. It is a necessary evil. Having hordes of full time staffers and paying for their benefits, stock options, and bonuses just to keep the lights on is not smart business. I know my view here will not be popular with most IT folks. I am not down playing anybody's abilities here. All I am saying is that if we don't need our staffs to be innovative, proactive, and be advocates of our business partners and instead just want to the staff to think short term, there is a much cheaper model out there.
So to answer Dave's question, if the business wants IT to help the business achieve its mission by being proactive and innovative and IT is simply keeping the lights on, the answer to his question might be yes. If the business simply needs a low cost IT cost center, the answer may be to evaluate the outsourcing model. Keeping the lights on as a core IT function and doing it at a high cost is just not good business. That's my 2 cents.
Disclaimer: In no way is this article referring to or targeting any organization or individual that I have been associated with in my career. This is a generalized view that combines my own experiences with the experiences of thousands of other IT professionals that I have talked to, read about, or researched throughout my 20+ years in IT.