Behind Closed Doors: Let's organise and take power

Tired of being seen as a bit-player in the business? Colin Beveridge says careful rebranding could take IT departments a lot...

Tired of being seen as a bit-player in the business? Colin Beveridge says careful rebranding could take IT departments a lot closer to the seat of power.

Lean a little closer because I don't want everybody to see this yet. I think I may be on to something very big - perhaps even the keys to the kingdom.

It all started the other week when I was at another of those scintillating e-government briefings. One of the speakers casually remarked that "the UK is not very good at process" - a fairly innocuous comment that passed safely over most of the audience but instantly triggered alarm bells in me. They haven't stopped ringing since.

It could just be tinnitus, but I fear this is something more serious and I feel obliged to share it with you. Just don't tell anybody outside IT. It's an idea about how we can all strengthen our position as information technologists - by stealing the real corporate power while nobody is looking.

I am not advocating armed aggression in the accounts department. Nor am I suggesting a bloodless boardroom coup by the IT director. No, my plan is simpler than that and far more effective.

All we have to do is quietly rename the IT function by adopting an earlier nomenclature - "the Organisation and Methods department".

Going back to our roots
Back in the early days of commercial computing, some 50 years ago, almost every substantial undertaking had an Organisation and Methods function. From this emerged the mysterious disciplines of Computer Programming and Systems Analysis.

As it was in the beginning, O&M begat the computer department, which begat the data processing department, which begat the IT department, which begat the O&M department.

This makes a great deal of sense to me, turning the wheel full circle and bringing us back to where we started, metaphorically speaking.

Even discounting historical symbolism and symmetry, there is a truly compelling business case for making this change back from IT to O&M. Most companies are crying out for the application of better discipline and management to business processes.

Over the past 50 years, we have almost universally abandoned the formal management of business process, relying instead on organisational models that struggle to sustain successful operation. Our businesses are often profitable, despite our inefficiency - rather than because of our efficiency.

Of course, this struggle has been apparent for decades but it has become particularly noticeable over the past couple of years, largely because of the advent of Web technology.

The copious innards of inefficient and inadequate business process have been thoroughly exposed, usually whenever we have tried to introduce efficiency through the application of Internet technology.

Too often it has not been a case of "Webifying" existing business process, it has been more a case of re-establishing a formal process from a number of informal processes that can then be automated. Workflows have become convoluted and confusing - and all because the O&M function was allowed to disappear from our companies.

If you don't believe me, just pop along to your favourite Internet search engine and look for "O&M" or "Organisation and Methods". I'll bet that you will struggle to find any recent references and the search results will bear out my thesis that this discipline is a long-lost business art.

On reflection, none of the many blue-chip companies that I have worked with over the past 10 years has had a discernible O&M function. No wonder then that their Business Process Re-engineering and Balanced Scorecard programmes have struggled to achieve results.

Before those initiatives nobody had been maintaining the helicopter view of the organisation and methods. Work happened but very few people genuinely knew, or understood, exactly how it happened.

IT at the heart of the business
We now have a clear window of opportunity to move the IT function fairly and squarely into the core of the business - as the O&M department for the 21st century. It's obvious that the role has fallen into disuse, so why don't we just take it for ourselves? Nobody else seems to want it, or even recognise the need. At least, not yet.

For once, we should take the initiative, assert our systems/process management expertise and position Organisation and Methods as a key business enabler. This could be the silver bullet that every IT department has been looking for - and perhaps the long sought-after shortcut to the boardroom table for IT directors.

In these days of the technology downturn, IT is supposed to be all about taking cost and friction out of the business process - the one with the least friction wins.

What better way to fulfil this ambition than by adopting the orphaned processes and taking full responsibility for their management and future development? Go on, I dare you. Who's to stop you?

Perhaps then I will find that the ringing in my ears has been transformed from a grating alarm bell to a peal of triumph for reborn O&M departments, spreading like wildfire across the land.


Do you agree? Is it time the IT department to have a change of name and focus? CW360.com reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the Web site. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Colin Beveridge is an independent consultant and leading commentator on technology management issues. He can be contacted at colin@colin.beveridge.name

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