I joke that most enterprise IT shops are always in one of three states: (1) in the middle of a reorg, (2) getting over the last reorg, and (3) preparing for the next big reorganization.
I have been unable to find any useful industry data to confirm my impression that many larger IT shops appear to be in an almost-perpetual state of reorganization and realignment. Much more so it seems than other corporate functions: sales, marketing, finance, HR, etc.
Which brings up the obvious question -- why is this?
And what does it imply for enterprise IT strategy in general?
It's Not Universal
Some IT groups I meet are comparatively stable: same leaders, same people -- maybe a bit of readjustment around the edges over the years -- but nothing too dynamic. Stable, predictable evolution.
Others seem to be in a constant state of organizational upheaval: new CIO, new exec leadership, people leaving, new people coming in, org charts and missions being perpetually adjusted.
Personally, I don't know how I could be productive in an environment like that, but obviously there are people who've learned to adapt and thrive.
I have my theories as to why this is -- maybe you have some of your own?
IT Inevitably Has To Flex With Business Cycles
When business is good, the business invests in IT: new projects, more people, entirely new functions, etc. Reorg time.
When the business is not so good, IT becomes an organ donor: cancelled projects, fewer people, collapsed and consolidated functions, etc. Reorg time again.
So the IT organization gets whipsawed by business cycles, and -- in reality -- the lack of a long-term IT strategy that can transcend the usual business cycles.
A Change In Business Strategy Always Drives A Change In IT Strategy
When a company goes on the acquisition trail (or gets acquired), IT change is inevitable. If the company decides to transform to a digital business model, or go global, etc. IT change is inevitable. Any change in business strategy always implies a corresponding change in IT strategy.
Big shifts in company strategy aren't all that unusual these days -- it's a healthy, competitive scrum out there in the business world. Everyone wants a piece of your pie. And every time the business calls a new play, IT is inevitably affected, and a reorganization ensues.
And there are many businesses calling many new plays.
What The Business Expects From IT Has Changed -- And Continues To Change
There was a time when one could have a predictably good career just being good at IT topics: infrastructure, applications, security, etc. That still can be true, but if you expect to rise through the ranks, you'll need to rebrand yourself as someone who deeply understands the business, and also brings IT to the table.
Good IT-only people really aren't all that hard to find. If you need a specialist, there are lots of good ones out there. Good business people who understand IT are much more rare, and hence in demand. In the digital economy, it isn't that IT just supports the business, IT essentially *is* the business.
Good Talent Is Hard To Find
Being a fan of dividing things into categories, one categorization I frequently use is "talent rich" IT shops vs. "talent poor". This is not meant to be deprecating or degrading to anyone -- it is a legitmate (although unpleasant) business strategy to attempt to build a function that uses an absolute minimum of scarce, expensive talent.
I can tell a talent-rich IT shop within 30 seconds of meeting them. Smart, motivated, knowledgable and engaged professionals. Healthy and far-reaching debates ensue, with no shortage of well-informed opinions. Probe a little deeper, and you can tell these folks are valued by the business: compensation, benefits, development -- all of that. Great when you see it.
I also can sniff out the opposite very quickly. A sea of well-meaning but essentially mediocre and disengaged people, buoyed up by a handful of good folks trying to do the right thing. Often, the teams spends more time fighting political battles than solving real problems. Always inwardly focused, almost to a fault.
Sad when you see it, but all too frequent.
If the IT mission is to do the minimum while paying the minimum, that's a game that's easy to understand.
If the IT mission is to bring innovation and differentiation to the business strategy, that's also a game that's easy to understand. Neither is inherently unstable, organizationally speaking.
But so many IT shops seem to play the game in no-man's land -- not sure which way they're leaning. And inevitable organizational instability results.
My view? In any organization, talent matters. If you aren't willing to find and keep the best people, you're not going to get the best results. That's the way life works.
Enterprise IT Itself Is Changing
It's human nature to do things that have worked for you in the past. As IT professionals rise through the ranks, they tend to do the same as before, e.g. let me tell you what we did in 1998 or 2005 or similar.
Alert: it's 2016 folks -- 2020 is less than four years away.
When IT leadership doesn't detect, accept and embrace structural changes, they become blockers, not enablers. When they are inevitably moved aside, organizational change inevitably follows.
The Good News And The Bad News
Change can be good -- it brings about better things. Change can also be needlessly distracting -- disrupting normal activities without a corresponding benefit. The problem is -- it's hard to tell at the outset, isn't it?
In my world, "good change" is where there are clear and obvious signs to better support the business in new ways. "Bad change" is where it's basically the same deal as before, just using a different org chart.
One thing is for sure, if you've signed up for a career in IT, you're going to get pretty good at figuring out the difference between the two, and acting accordingly.
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