There is an analysis of the US railroad industry that explains their demise in terms of too narrow a focus. The railroad companies, who had been a major part of the expansion of the USA across the continent of North America, became of the view that what they did was to provide trains. When air travel started to emerge in the first half of the 20th Century, the railroads were caught flat-footed. By the end of the century they were a spent force. If only they had realised that they were in the business of providing transportation, rather than merely railways, it could have been very different…

Hindsight is 20/20. Who knows if things could have turned out differently. But being able to frame what you do in the context of what your customer gets is undoubtedly important. The tribulations facing IT departments maybe are caught up in a misframing of what they do.

Traditionally IT has been about providing technology. As the complications of the delivery of such technology recede, that leaves a gap. If CIOs continue to just provide technology, their value and influence will diminish as their clients increasingly go elsewhere. Managing the shitty stuff that no-one else will is hard to sustain.

Many in the space are looking to where else they can deploy their technological skills. The rise of the “digital” realm, facing customers, run from marketing or sales. But in that world the tech is a bit of a sideshow, and the value that traditional IT thinking can bring is questioned (and in some cases questionable).

But how about if you defined what IT does as “providing the services necessary for people to work”? where then would you draw the boundaries?

Would you include office space? If you want to see what happens if you don’t, just step inside most corporate meeting rooms and try to do something with technology. Like present some slides or have a video conference.

Would you include telephony? It’s surprising how many organisations still have that managed outside of IT.

Would you include the coffee bar? My main provider of office space is Caffe Nero. I’m not there for the coffee.

Looked at from this perspective, there are many areas that you might consider as sensible things to bring into a single internal service provider. In a way this takes me back to a (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) idea of a Chief Collaboration Officer.

But if this all sounds a bit esoteric, if you would, perhaps, prefer to go the way of the railroads…

2 thoughts on “Pushing boundaries

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