Wednesday, 30 April 2014

New Wave IT

'The Great Wave off Kanagawa'  Katsushika Hokusai, 1833

It’s 2014, over 30 years since the IBM PC hit the streets. The corporate IT community remains as afraid as ever to move on from the ITSM approach that has been its bedrock in most of that time. In many ways I understand why, but on the other hand such conservatism also bemuses me. To start with the latter; the underlying sector – IT – is one which thrives on change, indeed it refuses to stand still. Even in the midst of great achievement (for example the PC) it was looking beyond to the next thing, that which promised even greater delights (the internet, mobile computing, cloud). It is strange therefore that in corporate IT, we choose to be satisfied with a rather ancient (in IT years) method of facing off to the parent corporation in order to help them leverage these amazing technologies.

On the other hand, I am also sympathetic to the conservatism which has allowed ITSM to remain in-situ for so long. To peep behind the jargon-saturated veil, ITSM is an approach that wouldn't look out of place in the utilities industry. It is concerned with the careful introduction and maintenance of technology, and dealing with situations in which that which is known about, fails. ITSM is not about fast-moving novelty and innovation. And this is fair enough. If you are a hard-pressed IT manager, system downtime is your worst nightmare. Remember the Ulster Bank crash of a few years ago? People couldn't get their money out and there was anger and a-wailing in the streets. Behind the headlines there was probably a poor IT functionary who was fearing for his or her livelihood. That person had my complete sympathy. Preventing such occurrences is the real value of ITSM.

However, (the) business is an insatiable beast. To be fair, ITSM has done a great job in relation to the "protect and serve" brief. However, and sadly, business has long since moved far beyond this in the manner in which it thinks about technology. While self-service, high availability and reliability are the pinnacle of ITSM aspiration, they are like the low levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as far as the business is concerned. They are food and drink; rien speciale

The business takes the achievements of the last 30 years of ITSM for granted – "what took you so long?" might even be their response to corporate IT's self-satisfaction. Stability might be an end for ITSM, but to the business it is simply a means. A means to reliably leverage all that wonderful technology so as to innovate, to achieve a competitive advantage, and naturally to make money (non-profit organisations have other goals of course, for example to deliver excellence to those whom they serve).

Via cloud, businesses can purchase stable services similar to the best in-house ITSM-infused data centre. So whether that stability is down to you, or to the cloud provider, it’s all much of a muchness as far as "the business" is concerned. I make no apology for repeating myself: in terms of IT, business wants innovation and leverage; competitive advantage and revenue. Leaders of modern IT departments need to realise that right now, this is the name of the game. Your break-fix service desk will still be necessary, but like the cleaners who work late at night, and out of sight, it isn't what the strategists are really interested in. It’s a hygiene factor; what is exciting however, is the ways in which IT can help the business to leap forward.

To add value in the new world, corporate IT needs a new worldview. You've heard me in the past (here and on the company website) referring to this as a paradigm or gestalt. It means the same thing – a new way of thinking. New wave corporate IT will be forged without recourse to the command and control, process, best practice and hierarchy that dominated the old. 21st century corporate technologists will be intelligent, educated, freely-operating agents who simply love interacting with others in their own industry and beyond. Yes they'll be great technologists, but they'll be so many other things too. 

How will you organise these people? The answer is, however you want! Group them into a sub-department and call it "the innovation desk" if it makes you feel better, but the point is, the highly-structured rigidity and conservatism of the past has no central place in this new world (although like the cleaning department, it will still need to exist). That is why corporate IT departments need to start thinking in new ways. I've written a fairly complex book to help those who are interested to begin reorganising your thought processes. It's not for everyone – some I think will prefer to tap into the new ideas once they are out there, but early adopters and thinkers may like to investigate that which is within its pages.

I'm also really happy to know that there are others – both within IT and in other sectors – who are advocating a move away from the 20th century methods of work. These people – some are starting to call it a movement – are rejecting organisational structures based on the mechanistic metaphor of scientific management and the systemic simile of systems thinking. The movement contains individuals from a variety of backgrounds; I understand that there is now an individual employed by one of the very large technology corporations specifically to investigate these ideas. There are also networkers and facilitators like Andy Swann who is putting together the first All About People conference this year, and others including the anarchic Liam Barrington-Bush who has constructed compelling arguments that organisations should be more like people. 

I would be doing you a disservice if I did not also pay tribute to the long history of earlier thinkers who have been highlighting the flaws in the old methods for years. Some of these (and this is a very truncated list) include Frederick Herzberg, Albert Cherns, Claus Langfred, Neta Moyes, Richard Ryan, Edward Deci and even Tom Peters. These are some of the great shoulders upon which this emerging movement is standing.

There is a change in work coming, and our little corporate IT community will not be immune from it. It is in part being driven by the flexibility, novelty and innovation demanded by customers and workers; both individuals  and (importantly for IT departments) corporations. You – Mr or Ms. IT Manager – will need to ride this new wave or be swept away by it. This is a mindset change, and as such means that you cannot necessarily get it overnight – it is not like learning to use a new software application. Therefore prepare for it; be ready to hit the wave surfing. Don’t be left behind, a dinosaur in a world of mammals, a fish out of water, a landlubber where all around is ocean.


  1. Have you seen the guidance on Shadow IT published by LANDesk and launched at SITS14? I think it contains a lot of thinking that has moved on from the gospel of ITIL. Even Rob England's contribution, which is perhaps the most traditionalist, focuses more on the need for governance than on deterministic workflow. I hope you are also aware of the conversations Aale Roos and I have been having to promote the non linear SD2.0 model.

    My suspicion is still that those who "get ITSM" know how to apply it in novel situations. Those who don't will just treat any new approach as a mechanistic, cargo cult, stone soup silver bullet. I thereby claim a record for the most mixed metaphors ever.

  2. Just preparing my keynote for next weeks Servicedesk Forum on the same lines. Models got to change when the world changes.