Circumventing the IT Department: ‘It’s Kind of a Given’

Don Tennant
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Let’s face it: Whether or not policies are in place to prohibit it, business units frequently  circumvent the IT department and go out on their own to source the IT products and services they feel they need to stay competitive. So when that happens, who’s really at fault—the business unit, or the IT department?

I recently discussed this topic with Kent Christensen, virtualization and cloud practice director at Eden Prairie, Minn.-based cloud services provider Datalink, who sees the circumvention all the time.

“It’s kind of a given,” Christensen said. “Every organization knows it’s either happening, or somebody has a desire for it to happen.”

So when business units do circumvent the IT department, I asked Christensen, who tends to be more at fault: the business unit or the IT department? He said no one is really “at fault” when it happens:

The business units are trying to drive a business outcome. They’re under pressure from the CEO to meet their objectives, and they have a legitimate beef, that given the existing way IT is operating, they can’t be as optimized as they would otherwise like to be. So we see it’s very common for the business units to take things into their own hands. It could be, “I’m going to get this application from a SaaS provider,” or it could be, “I’m going to go out and get IT services from a third party.” Is that wrong? Technically not. They don’t want to admit this publicly, but a lot of times, even up to the CEO, they’re saying, “Just let it go for now. We’ve got to come up with a better answer, but for now, it’s driving a business result.” So it’s hard to assign blame. We would certainly say IT needs to be more proactive, and needs to be offering the services that the business units need to get the business outcome. Until that happens, we’ll see this trend.

The problem, Christensen said, is that the business units typically haven’t thought it through:

When the CFO or the CEO says, “I want to go to the cloud to save money,” have they actually done any analysis to see if it does save money? Have they thought all the implications through? More often than not, they haven’t gone through how much it will cost, whether it’s secure, etc. The business unit might just be going in and doing it, and it’s acceptable under their budget, but it hasn’t boiled all the way up to ask whether this is an acceptable way to be getting IT services. Most organizations don’t really have a good understanding of how much they’re spending externally vs. internally.

I asked Christensen if this phenomenon has changed the way Datalink markets its services—that is, whether they market to company leaders outside of the IT department. He said they’re trying to:

We’re admittedly not aligned with them, because we’re a technology company delivering IT as a service. We recognize that the customer we’re most comfortable with is going to be IT. So what we tend to be doing is helping IT say to the business units, “These are things we can do to deliver IT as a service,” and repatriate these things. That said, we are working more and more with the different business units. There may be a beverage company where we put stuff in every brewery. That will having nothing to do with IT. But I would say probably 80 percent of our business is still dealing with IT.

So when they’re approached by a business unit rather than the IT operation, do they encourage them to bring IT into the loop? Christensen says they do whenever possible, but every situation is different:

Something like the app dev team sneaking out to get service from Amazon would be the most common thing that probably happens on everybody’s watch. But everybody’s situation is different, so in the brewery example, if they came in and said, “This is what we need to run our business,” there was no need [to bring IT into the loop] because they already had control of the infrastructure. A lot of times we’re trying to help them marry themselves together—it would be common for us to say to the business unit, “I don’t think you want to run the storage for this, so maybe you should be working with IT while we build the application layer on your side.” So a lot of times we are helping people bridge those gaps. It would be very common for us to go to IT and say, “If you’re sitting there waiting for the business units to bring you their requirements, you may need to be more proactive, and go out there and think about helping them get their job done.”

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