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The IT Department and SaaS: When Your 15 Minutes Are Up…?

I’m deeply cynical about American work culture when it comes to being “humane.” In general, an employee is only as valuable as the money they help a company make. We are capitalists after all, not pinko nut-jobs. Put another way, ever type of employee has the metaphoric 15 minutes of fame for corporate America, and then it behooves corporate America to get rid of that employee before those employees become a “cost center” instead of profit machine.

I could go on, but it’d be silly.

I (hear) IT

One thing that’s struck my interest this week is the number of times I’ve found myself in a discussion that concludes with the thought “we outta get rid of the IT department.” John Milan capped it off with this nice piece on the link between Web/Enterprise 2.0 and incumbent IT departments. To summarize by way of a comment from IT management exec I talked with a little while ago, “the IT department is desperate to show that it brings value instead of loss.”

The context of most of these discussion has been talking about Software-as-a-Service. The idea is that once someone else is hosting and running your business software, the role of the IT department shrinks.

Meeting with The Two Bobs

In the primarily behind-the-firewall, packaged software world of today, what does the IT department do? Let’s think:

  • Keep software, hardware, and networks — or “services” in ITIL/BSM slang — running and functioning.
  • Fix problems that arise with those services: bugs, viruses, hardware failure, upgrades (need more storage!), etc.
  • Deliver more capacity in those services as needed: more customer demand, more employees, more data going through the system, more processing going through the system.
  • Get IT setup and configured for new employees. As we call it, “provisioning.” Implcit, but often forgotten here is “de-provisioning.” Even more forgotten is the idea of ongoing provisioning as an employees needs, roles, and, thus, grants of IT resources change.
  • Make the current “services” comply with outside, unavoidable demands, e.g., regulations and compliance. Chinese Walls!
  • Create new “services” for the business “as needed.”

The last point is the one folks focus on the most, and yet it seems like the thing IT does the least. Maintenance is boring. Installing Windows for the 130th time is even more boring (no offense to Windows). IT’s mission, essentially, is to keep things running and, in doing so, be as frictionless as possible. That is, IT is in the most helpful and worse position for any corporate department: if you notice they exist, they’ve failed at their mission.


Of course, we all know that rewards in any large — organization, commercial, non-profit, or government — rely on being noticed for doing great things, most easily by making the organization money (or otherwise fulfilling the over-all organizational goals). Saving money works, but only if you’ve been wasting money recently, and now you’re saving that money. But, soon, the baseline gets reset, and everyone forgets that the IT department’s efforts are saving money that would otherwise be wasted. I guess you could call that part of commodifaction. No one goes up the IT department and says, “thanks again for email, I sure am glad I don’t have to type up memos on a Selectric!”

As the Moorinan canon will tell you, new software doesn’t sell well to the IT department. As with PCs, Apples, and the magic catalyst of VisiCalc, new IT innovations are delivered through users (in the worse case, end-user’s command-and-control bosses) and then thrown over the wall to IT once the need and delivered solution matures.

IT Management in a SaaS World

Back to SaaS. What does the IT department do in a more SaaS centric world? I’ve outlined what it might look like from a provider side, but not so much from the IT department’s angle. Before I compose up my thoughts, I’m curious what other thinks. The big question is: does the IT department’s role get reduced to just desktop and network management?

Of course, I’m not one to run around pronouncing that things are “dead.” Our resident “Legacy Boy” is a good reminder of the danger of that way of thinking. Instead, as ever, my goal is figure out how incumbent groups of people can transition to The New Way (if/when it occurs). 15 minutes isn’t long enough to pay off a mortgage and put the kids through school, so we’ve gotta figure out how to extend it a bit ;>

Disclaimer: Microsoft is a client.

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Categories: Enterprise Software, Systems Management, The New Thing.

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3 Responses

  1. The IT department can only provide value by being contrarian – as the ReadWriteWeb post suggests: "f there is no variation, then there is no advantage" – but it takes a willingness to move away from "safe", homogeneous. packaged applications. Identify what your business "does" – and I believe that most value is derived from ignoring packages in that area and developing your own. This makes me unfashionable (no more so than at my own place of work) and unpopular … but it's where the leverage is.

    The other source of value for an IT department is to be an enabler of the business finding and using the "other" 70% of its information – the stuff locked in people's heads.

  2. Perhaps “IT Department” should not be generalized and instead look at the various parts of IT such as IT infrastructure and IT (in-house) software development. I think the latter will definitely be impacted more by SaaS than the infrasture folks.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. […] People Over Process » Blog Archive » The IT Department and SaaS: When Your 15 Minutes Are Up…? does the IT department’s role get reduced to just desktop and network management? (tags: IT departmet work culture) […]