How long will corporate IT be relevant?

How long will corporate IT be relevant?

In this still-unfolding “age of the customer,” consumer expectations have been shaped by their experience with mobile devices and apps. The resulting ubiquitous availability of information technology services outside the corporate data center will challenge company IT departments to remain relevant or become yet another casualty of disruption.

So says Peter Kraatz, senior manager of cloud services management for Datalink, who issued a clarion call about staying relevant in the face of changing expectations during the recent 2015 Fusion CEO-CIO Symposium produced by WTN Media.

Now that consumers can, and often do, bypass internal IT departments to obtain services, Kraatz says those departments must meet the needs of businesses with a more of a service orientation. That won’t be easy for departments that naturally are accustomed to functioning with more of a technology focus.

“Your customers’ expectations have evolved and advanced in the face of ubiquitous mobile access, outpacing the change that IT has been willing to go through,” Kraatz said, noting that in this case, the customer is the company workforce. “The availability of those IT services outside the enterprise is changing the way they come to you.”

In the past decade, Kraatz has helped IT clients align their processes with a service management approach to delivering services in both their legacy and cloud environments. He believes corporate IT services must be as easy to obtain as downloading an application, but the challenge will be for business bureaucracies to move fast. The perception among employees is that such requests are “wrapped up in bureaucracy.”

Citing Gartner research, Kraatz said customers and end-users are willing to forgo other advantages, such as price, if they can quickly get access to technology resources. “We need to be able to answer those calls for services when they come,” he stated.

IT relevanceKraatz warned that nothing short of IT relevance is at stake. He offered a history lesson on relevance pertaining to the railroads, the dominant mode of transportation 100 years ago. The advent of automobiles and air travel caused train ridership to drop, but that’s only part of the story. The reasons for private passenger rail’s decline spanned from difficult labor relations to major customer losses, including the U.S. Postal Service, which was one of the railroad’s biggest customers.

Eventually, railroad companies tried to “dress up” for a customer who had moved on, and moving freight would come to define the railroads because there still is no cheaper way to move freight than by rail. If information technology departments do not transition to more service-oriented model, the same thing can happen to IT, Kraatz warned. “This isn’t some new thing,” he noted. “We’ve had two decades to get ready for this change.”

Part of the challenge is removing barriers like inefficient workflows and the lack of workflow documentation within business organizations. “Most IT workshops have inefficient workflows because they’ve always done it that way, and they did not incorporate the way certain rules have changed over time,” Kraatz stated. “You need documentation to find the waste and determine how to root it out.”

When workflows are documented, “that becomes the foundation for understanding the steps for process transformation,” he added.

Kraatz recalled one client that suffered from out-of-control infrastructure costs, but had no concept of a services catalog (a a portfolio of company apps). For example, there was no accounting for the services people were using to backup their disaster recovery solution. By implementing a catalog of services, the client could define services and their associated costs and develop more affordable resources.

Kraatz also suggested that business organizations use the Socratic method to achieve the desired transformation and to better align IT to business needs. “Socrates said it himself — the unexamined life is not worth living,” he stated.

A CIO attitude adjustment wouldn’t hurt, either. “We’re old, not the 20-somethings that are getting the work done,” Kraatz remarked. “Our impression of what they need is naturally skewed. Our experience is irrelevant in that sense.”

To serve users, IT needs a platform that allows for automation and easy customization. “Keep it simple and go back to them [users] and have them design it with you,” he suggested, “once you know what the business needs are.”

Kraatz’s advice garnered support from other technology executives, including Peter Coffee, vice president of strategic research for “Why is IT worried about user experience?” Coffee asked. “Well, that’s one of the main factors in people getting their jobs done.”

Contributing writer Joe Vanden Plas is editorial director of In Business magazine in Madison.