The divide between IT and…well, everyone else in your business

Back in around 2007, I spent a few a few years working for Rio Tinto. It was my first and only proper corporate job…and it came with a proper corporate IT team. When I started there the IT team was located just a couple of floors below me, but even then I only remember meeting one member of the IT team face to face. His name was George. Unlike the rest of the IT team that stayed at their desks, George use to walk each of 20 odd floors of Rio Tinto employees every couple of weeks. He would drop by each desk, identifying problems people were having, and showing them simple tips and tricks with their laptop or Blackberry (it was 2007 after all).

Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

…That was until the Helpdesk function got outsourced to India and then I never saw George again, or anyone else from IT for that matter. Getting IT issues fixed ended up being a lot harder and often it was just seemed easier to leave them broken.

Many would find this a rather typical experience of corporate IT. The commoditisation of IT services and the pursuit of lower costs have seen many IT functions either outsourced or rationalised out of existence. But the impact of this is much bigger than the pain and frustration of end users not being able to get simple computer issues fixed. The big cost is in the unrealised potential of new technology solutions to be applied within an organisation.

There is little doubt that some of the biggest opportunities in modern business are being driven by innovations in technology. Yet if the people who understand the technology aren’t (or can’t) effectively engaging with people in the operational side of the organisation, many of these opportunities will never be identified, investigated, or ultimately implemented.

This physical separation between people in IT and operations is just a facet of the IT-Operational Divide. In addition to the physical divide, there is often also a language divide (people in IT and operations use different words, abbreviations and terms), a role divide (people in IT and operations work in fundamentally different ways and don’t understand how or why that is the case) and potentially even a respect divide (IT professionals are often seen as a roadblock and struggle to get the respect of their peers).

As long as this continues, the impact on the bottom line has got little to do with what the cost of the IT function and a lot to do with the improvement opportunities that are never identified.

To proactively realise these opportunities, we ultimately need to overcome the IT-Operational divide…and somewhat ironically the best way to overcome the divide would be to get IT and operational people working together to realise some of these opportunities. But left to their own devices this is unlikely to occur (like mixing oil and water this may initially require a bit of shaking, or for the nerds out there the addition of an emulsifier). Instead organisations need to provide a structured ‘learn by doing’ approach that facilitates direct engagement and breaks down the physical, language, role, and respect barriers that are currently holding the organisation back.

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Simon Waller is a author, speaker and trainer helping organisations get more out of their technology. He is also the founder of the Digital Champions Club, a program that develops internal digital experts who can identify, investigate, and implement the technology projects that matter.

Why so many SMEs avoid digital technology

three problems with digital technology

There are three common challenges faced by small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) that have led to a sense of apathy towards digital technology.

Challenge 1: Digital projects under perform

Technology has a history of underperformance. Research conducted by McKinsey and Oxford University suggests that on large scale IT projects (greater than $15 million) the average cost overrun is 45%, time over run is 7% and benefit shortfall is 56%+. As a result it is often challenging to justify the investment of limited time and financial resources for new technology projects.

Challenge 2: Expertise is hard to come by

For small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) with limited resources the IT department may consist of one or two employees focused on maintaining the existing systems. In some businesses IT may be outsourced all together. As a result many CEOs don’t have access to the independent digital expertise to help the identify, assess and implement against digital opportunities.

In fact, according to research conducted in 2013, three in five Australian SMEs claim that low digital literacy is preventing them from running their business more efficiently yet only half have done anything to try and improve their digital literacy++.

Challenge 3: The digital landscape is changing too fast

Over the last decade or so we have quickly shifted from a digital desert with limited technology choices to a digital rainforest where the variety of options is often overwhelming. Both the variety of options and the rate of technology change can be paralysing. It is often difficult to justify the investment in new technology today when it may be obsolete within two years.

The outcome

The result of this is that amongst SMEs there is often limited adoption of new technology, or in some cases active avoidance. Instead of engaging with new technology as it emerges and identifying new opportunities SMEs are instead waiting for a perfect solution that may never come.

Unfortunately this approach is leaving many organisations open to disruption. The power of digital technology continues to increase at an exponential rate and businesses that adopt digital technology have a distinct advantage in regards to speed, cost and the ease of business. 

If you want to move from digital disruption to digital disruptor you might want to start by download my new white paper ‘Be Digital Ready’. It includes details on the nine key activities to move your business up the disruption spectrum.


++ Digital Literacy Among Small Businesses in Australia –

What does it do for me?

CeBit Australia
Today I went to the CeBit Conference in Sydney. Whilst browsing the many exhibitors I came across a startup software developer spruiking their customer relationship management (CRM) solution. There are heaps of CRM solutions out there in the marketplace so I decided to stop and ask what makes this CRM special.

The developer then proceeded to give me the run down on how they had done all the development in Australia, what coding language they had used, how they were going to develop a non-native app in gibberish, gibberish, gibberish…

[tweetthis]We care to know what technology can do for us and what makes it special for us.[/tweetthis]

Call me selfish but this wasn’t the answer I was looking for. To be honest I didn’t care what made his CRM special to him, I wanted to know how it would be special for ME. I didn’t care what it did, I only cared about what it would do for ME.

This is actually a really common problem for people who work in IT departments. The focus too much on what the technology does for them and not enough on what it does that their user actually cares about.

And how do you find out what your user cares about? Well, you have to start a conversation and ask them.

Don’t outsource IT. Insource digital innovation

Outsource IT, insource digital innovation

For many SMEs IT services has become a commodity purchase, ripe for outsourcing and cost reduction. But while there might be a few dollars to be saved in outsourced IT the real value proposition is in insourcing digital innovation.

For many organisations IT is considered a non-core activity. We value it based on price, uptime, security and timely support. Although these are valid drivers of value, they ignore the big picture. Technology is one of the key drivers of change in the business environment. IT, or more broadly, digital services are increasingly important source of innovation and revenue growth (a recent McKinsey research report suggests that 1 in 5 CEOs expect revenue from digital to increase by more than 30 percent in three years’ time).

[tweetthis]IT can drive value through innovating business processes to improve productivity.[/tweetthis]

To tap into this potential we need to start thinking differently about our IT partners. We need to stop looking for a substitute service provider (where value is driven by cost) and instead look for ways that technology could drive value through augmented or modifed business processes (where value is driven by productivity and improved decision making).

The fast pace of technological change and limited IT budgets means most SMEs cannot afford a full time digital innovation resource. To access emerging value opportunities (such as cloud and mobile technologies) SMEs will increasingly need to partner with external suppliers with the requisite expertise.

But to do so many SMEs will need to dramatically rethink the role of technology in their business and will also need to trust external providers to deliver the expertise they choose not to maintain in-house. Ultimately, whether they are looking at technology as a cost or an opportunity they will probably get exactly what we are looking for.

Do your executives really want Android?

Android has a keen following in enterprise IT circles because of its openness and customisability. But before you embark on an Android deployment ask yourself, is Android usable enough to build engagement amongst your workforce?

Many IT departments prefer Android over iOS because if its openness and customisability. Although this makes IT’s job of managing and supporting devices easier it is actually not something that the end user generally cares about. There is a genuine risk that if IT doesn’t take the end users needs into consideration, they may end up implementing a safe, secure system that people struggle to use effectively.

I find that most executive teams ultimately care about usefulness and usability. They want a suite of apps that helps them do their job more effectively and that are easy to learn and use. Although these tools should also be safe and secure, this is not their primary concern.

It should be pointed out that this isn’t so much about the Android platform as it is about the apps. Although there are plenty of Android apps in the Google Play store there is still only a limited range of tablet optimised apps and many of these are either buggy or have limited features compared to their iOS alternatives.

Although this will close over time I don’t see it happening soon. I have contacted a couple of app developers to see if they were planning to release or update their Android apps and both said they were focusing on the iOS platform at the moment and didn’t see the value in dedicating resources to Android development at the moment. Their reasoning for this was that the Android user base was less willing to pay for apps and the cost of development was higher due to the variety of hardware and screen sizes.

So if you are looking to implement a mobile technology program my advice to organisations is not to rush towards Android without taking into account end user needs. Although it may cost less in terms of hardware and support than an iOS or, even better, a cross platform solution, you may ultimately pay for this in lower levels of engagement and use.

Remember, the value of a system is not what it costs you. Cost is how much you pay for it, value is what it returns to the organisation in terms of greater productivity and effectiveness. And value is only created once the platform is both used and useful.

Tablets in business are inevitable: Only training and support will keep information safe

The other day I presented to the Knowledge Management Roundtable Victoria whose members includes  knowledge managers from across the public and private sector. The presentation was on the inevitability of mobile technology such as iPads and tablets in workplace and the opportunity that they offer in supporting ‘personal knowledge management’.

From the discussion it was clear that many organisations have been holding off on implementing a tablet strategy until there is a suitable enterprise grade solution that will let them control the information on the device. Although I understand why organisations are taking this approach I think it might be a risky strategy and based on some unsound assumptions.

The first assumption is that people need IT to deliver a ‘personal knowledge management’ solution and that they are willing to wait until IT is ready to deliver it. The second assumption is that unless organisations have an enterprise level of control over tablet devices information will be less unsecured

Reality Check 1: People don’t need IT to deliver personal knowledge management solutions

There are already countless consumer grade solutions that are allowing people to use their iPads to be more effective in business. Individuals who are willing to supply their own device no longer need an IT department to deliver a solution you can visit the App Store and set this up for less that $50. Unless your mobile policy is so strict that people are not allowed to bring devices onto the premises then there is a good chance that this is already happening.

Reality Check 2: Organisational information is already unsecured, you just don’t have any visibility over it

The majority of the information that people capture on their tablets would normally be captured on paper. This means there is actually a massive opportunity to increase information security, even without an enterprise solution.

In general employees do not set out to steal or maliciously share information (and if this is there intent Wikileaks has shown that even the US army can’t stop this happening). Most often information leakage (such as people emailing documents to their personal email accounts) is a result of a lack of understanding or training. What’s more, for most individuals the desire to be more effective in their work will override any small concerns they have about information security (because they get rewarded for being more effective).

I believe that the way forward has to be for organisations to accept the inevitability of people using tablets in the workplace and take a proactive approach to making the people more effective, and in doing so keeping information safer. If organisations don’t take a proactive approach, you can guarantee that people will take it upon themselves to deliver their own personal knowledge management solution.

The infographic below helps illustrate the inevitability of people using tablets in business