360IT: Command and control culture in IT must end

The command and control culture that has served IT well during the past 15 years of the PC revolution must adapt to support the consumerisation of IT, say experts.

The command and control culture that has served IT well during the past 15 years of the PC revolution must adapt to support the consumerisation of IT, say experts.

A panel of CIOs, academics and industry experts has urged IT departments to adapt or risk falling foul of business. The panel, comprising speakers who will be presenting at the 360°IT event later this month have warned that IT departments could become extinct if they are unable to support technology-savvy users using their own IT rather than corporate-approved systems.

"I'm seeing a risk that technology could become extinct. Technology needs a paradigm shift to become a business partner. Technology needs to be a business enabler," says Ian Alderton, an international CIO and former European CIO at Wachovia Bank.

The problem IT leaders face is that too often IT is regarded as a barrier. Corporate IT security limits users' flexibility, which in turn, acts as a barrier to business, he says.

"There's a great amount of confusion over who owns social media. You need to understand the security risks and the value of social media to the company's brand. If you over-control it, social media will be driven underground," says Alderton.

Out of control

According to David Chan, director of the Centre for Information Leadership at City University, the command and control mentality is out of control.

He says, "In the public sector, there is a belief that you can control information. In social media there is very little control. We need situation awareness."

The US army is often held up as an example of command and control, but in many ways, responsibility rests with field officers whose actions are based on the situation they face.

For Chan, IT must improve its understanding of the business. "One of the biggest problems is the cultural issue. If the IT community realises that it controls all the information in the business, that's a very powerful place to be. You need to find the right levers to pull. However IT people are not well-equipped to do this. We're not well prepared to leverage boardroom influence," Chan says.

Denise Plumpton, non-executive director for the 360°IT show and former director of information at the Highways Agency, agrees. "CIOs are still looking at aligning IT to the business. This is an area that was a hot topic 15 years ago," she says.

Clive Longbottom, service director at analyst Quocirca, says the IT department is caught between a rock and a hard place. "About 98% of an organisation is using technology and worried if it breaks. This is putting a lot of stress on IT. IT needs to take a more advisory role. IT needs to look at data-loss prevention. All technology needs to be secured, not locked down," he says.

In practical terms, Longbottom recommends that the business defines a risk profile then builds a taxonomy for the information it creates and uses.

To support the consumerisation of IT and social media entering the business, the panel urged IT managers to aim to offer the business best-endeavour support. In this way a core IT system is fully supported, but users can use other tools so long as they comply with certain IT standards. Users generally have to support the systems they bring in, more or less independently of the IT department.

The consumerisation of IT will mean these standards need to be granular, such as approving the iPhone or Android application programming interface, rather than stipulating a corporate IT-approved product like Internet Explorer.

Is a locked-down desktop really the cheapest option?

Command and control has led to the locked-down desktop environment, which IT departments have attempted to deploy in a bid to curb rising costs associated with PC support. In the late 1990s Gartner shook IT departments by revealing that unmanaged PC desktops were costing £5,000 per year. If everyone runs standard PC images, and cannot add or remove software, then the desktop support costs can be slashed.

However, while IT costs have gone down, no one has really measured the true impact of a command and control structure on the business.

Lee Bryant, founder of consultancy Headshift, says, "System costs are a fraction of the cost compared to staff time."

For instance if it takes 15 minutes to log onto a virtual private network (VPN) and the VPN is used every day by 100,000 staff, the real cost to the business is 25,000 hours or 2.85 man years.

360°IT - The IT Infrastructure Event will be held at Earls Court One in London from 22 to 23 September 2010

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