Summary: The modern IT department must move quickly to meet the changing needs of the business. But, many IT departments face barriers and bottlenecks that slow them down. In this article, we identify some of the biggest obstacles holding your IT department back, and explain why they’re so important.
Over the past decade, we’ve seen a fundamental shift in technology. It’s evolving at breakneck speed. It’s more accessible than ever. It plays an increasingly important role in business.
As technology evolves, we’re also seeing a shift in the business world. In the age of the web, agility trumps size. The ability to adapt to change is increasingly important to your company’s success.
With all of these changes, the IT department’s role is transforming. The need for IT agility has skyrocketed. Keeping the lights on is no longer good enough. These days, IT must move quickly. They must innovate. They must drive the business forward.
Now, it’s easy to say that the modern IT department must move quickly. It’s easy to say that they must drive the organization’s technology innovation. I’ll bet most IT departments want the same things.
So, what’s stopping them? Why do some IT departments struggle with agility?
Many IT departments face common roadblocks that keep them from becoming as effective and agile as they would like. Today, let’s highlight a few of these bottlenecks, and explain why they’re so important. Here are 5 common obstacles that hold IT departments back:
1. Legacy infrastructure
Many businesses still run on software created 20+ years ago. While it still works, this software requires more and more maintenance as it ages. In fact, a recent survey finds that the vast majority of IT workers spend over half of their time maintaining/troubleshooting legacy systems.
“The biggest obstacle holding IT departments back is their sunken investment in their current systems and technology,” says Praveen Puri, President of Puri Consulting. “To implement a new business need, they do not have the luxury from starting from scratch and designing the best solution based on current technology. Instead, they have to work the solution around their existing interfaces, which means bottlenecks and extra complexity from having to use outdated designs.”
The obstacles created by legacy systems don’t stop with wasted time. As explained in this article, legacy applications create higher talent costs, higher support costs, integration challenges, lost opportunities, and more.
Now, I understand: Modernizing or replacing these systems seems like an impossible task for many. They’re so locked into their existing systems, modernization feels like a bigger risk than doing nothing.
But, consider all of the obstacles these systems create. What could you accomplish if your legacy infrastructure didn’t hold you back? What are the true costs of these systems? What risks do they create?
2. The perception that IT keeps the lights on
The role of the IT department is shifting. In the past, IT departments were viewed as a back-office function that supported the business. Their main responsibility: Keeping the lights on.
These days, that’s changing. As technology plays an increasingly important role on all aspects of business, modern IT departments must permanently shift their focus from maintenance to innovation. They must move quickly. They must drive business forward.
The challenge: Breaking free from past perceptions is easier said than done.
“In the nonprofit and education world, the most significant barrier to IT departments’ engagement rests with the perception that it exists to “keep the lights on” and not to engage with other departments in delivering mission,” says Dave Crusoe, Director of Technology & Academic Success, Boys & Girls Clubs of America. “For example, many STEM nonprofits have constructed separate departments to advance “program” (that may, in fact, include technologists, designers and others) and “technology”, which is tasked with keeping continuity over business services, but is staffed with individuals who also bring significant STEM expertise and, in fact, represent what aspirational output for STEM education.”
“Nonetheless, program and IT departments do not always “talk” and, in fact, I’ve seen this occur at many small and large organizations. Yet the result of engagement, over time, is the delivery of much-improved technology and education-technology-based services to customers; improved internal systems and processes; and a larger, more focused team of decision-makers and producers.”
3. The wrong (or not enough) talent
One of the most common issues facing IT departments around the world: Finding qualified staff. This is an issue on two different levels.
First, it’s a problem because businesses struggle to find IT professionals with modern skills. A recent study finds that a whopping 93% of businesses indicate there is an IT skills gap–a substantial shortfall between the supply of qualified IT professionals and the demand for modern IT skills.
As technology evolves at breakneck speed, this IT skills gap is widening. Businesses are having more and more trouble finding IT pros with the modern skills they require–and the problem is only growing worse.
Second, it’s a problem because businesses regularly understaff their IT department. Every year, we survey those working in IT, and those managing IT departments. One of the questions on that survey: What keeps you from addressing your most pressing challenges?
The most common answer: “Our IT department is too small.”
It’s a perpetual problem. Businesses don’t invest the proper resources into their IT department. As a result, IT departments are too small. There aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything, and it feels like the problem is getting worse.
“IT is constantly evolving and leading a team to navigate through that constant change is essential to maintain success,” says Chris Hood, CTO of Jewel Toned. “Budget, vision and management also have a part in developing a poor team. If a business doesn’t place emphasis on their IT team, or there is a low / no budget to hire new talent, the entire organization will suffer. I’ve had several conversations with companies about the size of their IT teams. The belief that 2-3 employees can manage the entire operation is usually a huge red flag. I often suggest to companies to set a goal of 10% – 20% of their workforce should be dedicated to IT. A company of 100 should easily have 10-15 employees focused on IT. However when the business wants to cut corners on cost, it’s usually in IT, creating an overworked team that is not in a position to be successful or help the company be successful. Lack of budget also means the company typically hire entry level, or individuals with little experience. Investing time, energy and resources in building the right team will help remove blockades.”
4. Poor communication
It’s no secret that communication between IT and the business is a major obstacle. Not only do they seemingly speak two different languages…they often don’t speak at all!
According to a recent survey, “Four out of five IT leaders claim that building trust and credibility is highly important. However, only four out of one hundred believe that they are highly effective in communicating with their non-IT colleagues.”
Without proper communication, how can the IT department drive the business technology? They can’t. To overcome this obstacle, IT leaders must make communication a discipline, not just a buzzword.
“Like any other department, you expect constant and open communication between each other,” says Hood. “I have consulted with dozens of companies that have a rather hidden communication chain with their IT team. Previously working with a major entertainment studio, I asked leadership how often they engaged with their IT team. They responded with “we have no idea who they are, or what they do. We make requests, throw them over the wall, and they fall into a black hole.” I then went to the IT department to ask how often they engage with the business stakeholders. They responded with, “we have no idea who they are, or why they ask for the things they ask for. None of their requests make sense, so we ignore most of them until someone yells loud enough.” The fact is, the business side rarely wants to include the technical side, and the technical side rarely wants to get involved with the business side. Without both sides coming together to plan, supply status checks, and support each other, there will always be issues.”
5. Slow decision-making & approvals
“One of the most common problems I have noticed in IT departments within large organizations is when a single person cannot make a decision,” says Ravi Mittal, CEO of Vuukle. “Adding layers of approvals for small tasks can add a huge overhead and slow down daily productivity not to mention growth of your business.”
Many IT professionals want to move quickly…but their hands are tied. Every project is surrounded with bureaucracy. They must wait weeks while the project moves up the chain and receives the necessary approvals. If this workflow isn’t automated, the approval process requires even more time (and countless reminders).
By the time the project gets approved, weeks have passed. How can you improve IT agility, when new projects get stalled by a lengthy approval process?
Now, am I saying that there shouldn’t be an approval process? Not at all. However, it’s a good practice to examine these processes. Maybe smaller projects don’t need to go through the rigorous approvals process of larger ones. Or, maybe these processes are unnecessarily slow because there’s no automation. Either way, reducing this barrier will greatly improve your IT department’s agility.
While this list could certainly go on, the points listed above are just a few of the common obstacles hold IT departments back. What do you think? Would you add anything to the list? If so, please feel free to share in the comments.