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As the industry continues to change, it’s becoming more important for people in IT to build new skill sets and assume new responsibilities. Even while many continue to do business as usual, the rise of cloud services, software as a service, and new systems of engagement have made IT more of a service broker than ever before. In fact, if IT isn’t acting as a service broker, its personnel have missed one of the greater opportunities presented in service delivery: the chance to determine whether to build vs. buy and be involved in every technology implementation.
Why Do it all Ourselves?
Basic services, think of them as commodity services, like email, writing and presentation tools, etc., can be purchased as a service or licensed and supported internally. With purchase-as-a-service, the manufacturer assumes the costs of ensuring operation, and IT can provide the service internally at a set per-person cost. This can be a tremendous gain as it stabilizes the cost of using such services and allows IT to focus on providing business services that are more complex and proprietary to their industry.
This conceptually changes the role of IT: Who should be making the build/buy decision and selecting providers? Some years ago, the word outsourcing had an evil ring, followed by Shadow IT. Outsourcing and Shadow IT speak to a failure of the IT organization to provide the services and stability needed by the business, so the business looked outside of IT. Even today, IT can be successful and see the business work directly with a vendor, simply due to a lack of systems of engagement: a way for the business to engage with IT and work with them towards addressing a common technical need.
Engaging the Business
Just as IT needs an incident management practice or a change management practice, IT also needs a portfolio or program management practice that is tightly integrated with the business. When IT adopts a service broker and provider mindset, they need to understand their services, either as a builder and operator or as a broker of externally obtained services. They also can focus on the financial aspects of IT, continually looking at operations and investigating means of operating them more effectively. Thus, even services that have been internally operated for years can be sourced externally if they can be delivered more effectively this way.
It also means that IT has to pay significant attention to business relationships and provide a standardized system of engagement for the business to use when they have a technology need. The system needs to be as easy as going to a vendor’s website and asking for a quote on a service or Shadow IT services purchased directly by the business will continue to slip into the organization.
Once a good working relationship is developed between IT and other business units, it’s pretty simple to develop such a system of engagement. There are only a few components needed:
Developers and delivery teams will need to understand this process and decline any requests for changes that don’t come to them through this process.
The Business Value of Systems of Engagement
When IT has a clear engagement system, it helps the business know-how to request something internally, but IT can do even more by marketing its capabilities to department executives. The value of having a solid system of engagement is that IT is involved in all technical initiatives being undertaken by business units. This has several benefits:
- Involvement in all technology decisions can lower or stabilize operating costs by ensuring the most cost-effective decisions are made. Instead of purchasing a new platform or service, the business unit might be able to leverage one that is used by another department instead of replicating services that are already available.
- Technology works better when architected adequately from the beginning. Having business units work directly with vendors without IT involvement can sometimes result in shoe-horning solutions into place, then tying them together with integrations. While this is sometimes necessary and should be done when needed for end-to-end solutions, every solution should be evaluated to see if its architecture meets organization standards and how it will be tied to other applications.
- Security, security, security! IT needs to ensure that any solutions brought into the environment provide appropriate data protection and don’t increase the likelihood of cyber-attack.
Finally, if IT is open to engagement and acting as a broker, the business doesn’t need to manage technology implementations. They have to help define their requirements and get involved in testing, but that’s all they should do. IT’s value and future is that of a broker to assist them in leveraging new technologies without them having to become technical experts to do so.