I watched somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 soccer games this weekend as my daughter was playing in three of them. I spend many weekends like this throughout the year going to different tournaments that she is taking part in. As I watched one of the games today and the strategies being employed by the two coaches it occurred to me that the same thing was happening in IT today. It is exactly why IT is being left behind and forced to struggle against the business as it does in many companies.
One coach needed only a tie to guarantee the last game and a win would put them into the championship. The other coach needed a win or his team would go home. The first coach, decided to play the game defensively. He took his best players and lined them up on defense. He wanted the security of knowing the other team wouldn’t score. The goal of this coach was to not lose the game. He had a decent midfield but only an okay set of forwards. He was going to be hard pressed to score a goal but cared more about preserving a tie. He knew that was what he needed to get through and that was all that mattered.
Does this sound like IT? Let’s think about the analogy for a second. Today, how does most of IT behave? They’re known as the department of No. They need to preserve the environment that they know. They don’t want to rock the boat. You decide to go to IT with a project you need to get done. They set a meeting to understand the objectives and then schedule another meeting with 30 people to go over a timeline and will get back to you in 6 months. They believe in slow and steady wins the race. A tie is more than okay when one doesn’t need to win. Your current IT department has been working this way for years. They control the access to technology and wrap it up around security, availability and anything else that they can think of to make sure that it goes at their pace. It is a completely reactive setup. This is why IT becomes irrelevant when it plays this way. One can only defend for so long until a mistake is made and then the first goal goes in. This doesn’t mean that IT has lost the game yet. They still have an opportunity to get back into it but it requires a lot of work and they have to switch to a balanced game that includes a lot of offense.
If you were to look at the way the other team played the game, they went for a more balanced approach that was weighted towards offense. They kept their best defender playing defense but then built an offensive team that would keep putting pressure up front where it belonged. Their coach knew that you couldn’t score a goal if you didn’t take any shots. He also knew that if you were playing the game on the opponent’s side of the field you had a much better chance of controlling the game and only needed to be aware of the fast breaks. Sometimes a goal might be scored against this team but more often than not, they would put two or three in the opponents net and emerge victors.
Look at IT departments that are succeeding. They have taken a leadership role in working with the business and looking for solutions. They haven’t forgotten security, regulations, or compliance. They have built a balanced team that spends time partnering with the business and understanding that the business pays the bills. If the business can’t succeed then the IT department won’t last that long.
How does an IT department play offense and balance out its players? They spend a lot of time on the business’s side of the playing field. They partner closer. They embed part of their security team in the business so they can start to balance risk with security. They put engineers with the teams in the businesses that are looking for solutions to make themselves more efficient. They start looking at new technology sooner. They want to be ahead of the business in understanding what’s coming down the pike. They offer some of these new technologies as solutions that they build with the business. IT working with the business begins to understand the end user of the business and can be proactive in creating solutions for them.
The goal at the end of the game is to win. Not last longer and look like you gave it the good old college try. In business you aren’t trying to be second best, you are trying to be the ‘go to’ company that people use for whatever you do. In order for IT to play a role in this game they have to play a good offensively balanced team that partners and helps lead, vs. playing defense and being reactive. It’s the difference between being known as the cost center that always says no and the innovative IT team that enables the business to move forward.
By the way – the two teams were playing each other and the team playing defensively lost 3-1 to the team that was playing more balanced but with an offensive bent. The defensive team went up 1-0 but couldn’t hang on as they underwent an onslaught with the ball almost exclusively in their half of the field for the 2nd half of the game.
Brian is an EMF member who works at pharmaceutical giant Sanofi and has a great blog where he shares his thoughts on enterprise mobility. Brian has graciously allowed us to share those thoughts with you on this site.