(Re)fragmenting the IT department

When I started in IT in the mid-1990s, many medium and even large organisations had highly fragmented IT delivery functions. At Ernst and Young in 1994, I worked in a small team delivering IT to the Yorkshire office in the North of England. At the start of the year, we were largely autonomous and able to deliver new services and applications quickly and with only local change control. By the end of the year, we were (along with everyone else in E&Y IT) being outsourced to Sema and amalgamated into a single IT department.

Likewise at the BBC, I started out in the IT team of the ‘Youth and Entertainment Features’ department in BBC Manchester (one of three support and delivery organisations in one building!). By the time I left Auntie in 2004, I had been through three sets of organisational consolidation before finally being outsourced (again!) to Siemens.

The last twenty years has seen a steady process of consolidation of IT delivery in organisations. The relentless trend has been for the centralisation of development, infrastructure delivery and support into the corporate IT department. Outside of business units with very high margins and esoteric IT needs, it has become increasingly difficult for business units to develop and deploy applications without the cooperation of the corporate IT department.

I wonder though, whether cloud service providers open up the risk (or is it an opportunity?) that business units will once again be able to develop, deploy and support new applications, independently of the corporate IT department. Where once, deploying an un-authorised app. would mean running servers under desks or stacking Lacie drives off the back of a desktop to create a private file server; business units can now employ any one of thousands of boutique consultancies or developers to knock up the apps of their dreams using the cloud to obviate the need to involve corporate IT.

Of course, corporate security and finance policy may well stand in the way but history suggests that these won’t be too great an impediment. Once more than a few apps have been deployed, we might see the re-growth of the parallel support organisations that the corporate IT department thought they’d seen the back of (or more likely – absorbed) over the last twenty years.

If that happens, there are all sorts of consequences, many of them nasty. Business units and even businesses as a whole might be willing to pay them to gain agility and bypass what many see (if unfairly) as bureaucratic impediments to business thrown up by corporate IT.

The answer for corporate IT is to make sure that it is nearly or as easy to develop and deploy new applications through them as it is through the cloud suppliers. Maybe that means using the public cloud as a support for internal systems or maybe it means developing private clouds (though some are already pouring cold water on that idea). Either way (or some other way…), it’s an interesting time to be in IT.

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