Do we need to call time on the IT department?

Despite the rapidly-evolving, forward thinking nature of technology itself – sometimes old habits die hard.

Let’s go back to the 1990s. The IT department consisted of people that nobody had heard of, often seen emerging from eerily dark basements at unusual hours of the day. Those people were there to keep the mystical machines working at a time when a computer was merely a small part of day-to-day business life.

Fast forward to the present day and things are very different. The country’s fastest growing bank isn’t really a bank, it’s a software company. The world’s most valuable car manufacturer differentiates itself not on the prowess of its vehicles, but the capabilities of its software. These businesses don’t have IT departments, instead they place IT skills wherever they are needed within the business. This shift is both significant and necessary.

For years the IT department has been the enemy of the average user who just wants to get something done – it’s the function that is there to fix issues, is entirely focused on reliability rather than innovation, and seems to be unable to react rapidly to business needs.

Blaming the team members or leadership is entirely unfair, when the issue really lies with the fundamental concept of an IT department in the first place.

It’s a function that is expected to answer to everyone and must be seen to treat everyone equally, whilst being excluded from understanding the business’ wider goals or strategy. Such an approach will never deliver good business outcomes.

Then there’s the cultural gap – people who work in tech usually do so because they like tech. By clubbing all these people together, organisations create much bigger cultural differences and the gap between departments widens.

It might not surprise you to know that at razorblue, we don’t have an IT department – but what we do have is a lot of specialists embedded within the relevant parts of our business that are empowered to build and maintain the tech they need.

Take for example the data analysis function we’ve got in our finance team. This is headed up by an SQL-script writing, DAX programming expert – someone you’d typically find in an IT team in any other business. But for us, they’re in exactly the right place, focused and bought into the goals the finance team is trying to achieve.

But what about control? Standardisation? Risk? De-centralisation doesn’t have to create these problems. By setting out common principles and standards – such as the programming languages that we’ll use, or the security standards that applications we build or deploy must adhere to – we can enable rapid change and innovation without risk.

When unbound by traditional concepts, organisations have the opportunity to embed technical knowledge and expertise within every department. Not only can subject matter experts understand what the business wants to do from a strategic standpoint, but they can bring innovation to the table and often foresee challenges that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

The benefits of tech minds need to be embedded, embraced and equitable throughout every part of the organisation, because they are the organisation. So, whilst we don’t think every IT department will be disbanded tomorrow, it’s a cultural shift that we’re watching closely.