Ten signs of IT isolation

With technology moving so quickly, it has never been more important for your IT department to be in sync with the rest of the company. Here's how you can tell if they're operating in isolation.

Around this time companies usually hold their annual IT kick-off and present their 2013 IT strategy. The kick-off meeting offers a unique opportunity to assess IT, its role in the enterprise, and its goals for the coming year. These sessions also provide insight into how isolated IT is from the rest of the enterprise.  So, in no particualar order, here are ten tell-tale signs that IT is on an island and seen as apart rather than a part of your company.

1) Isolation by irrelevance.

The IT strategy talks about IT without putting IT in a business context or connecting what IT does with what the business needs to do. An IT strategy that only talks about IT tells the business that they do not have to worry, care or expect much from IT because it’s more of a functional appendage than a core capability.

2) Isolation by the ordinary.

The goals, targets and outcomes in the IT strategy are vague, unclear, and centre on doing your current job better – high quality services, managing costs, delivering projects on time, etc.  Sure it is great to know that doing your job means success, but often doing your job is the best way to lose your job.

3) Isolated by monetisation.

The IT strategy is presented in financial terms, with nature only expressed in terms of budgets, costs and the need to control both.  Reducing IT to its input costs is the epitome of commoditisation as everything can be expressed in terms of money with little regard to the capabilities and results returned for that investment.

4) Isolated by a lack of prioritisation.

All projects, services, imperatives are equally important.  If everything is equally important, than nothing is particularly important to IT or the business.

5) Isolation in time.

The high level initiative or project Gant chart has the vast majority of projects completing at the end of 2013 or beyond.  What happened to last year’s projects – the 2012 initiatives that were planned to complete in 2013?  If everything is expected to complete 9 months or more in future, then how connected is it to the rest of the organisation.

6) Isolation by generalisation.

The stated IT vision could apply to any company, any year or any industry.  How relevant and connected could your IT strategy be if anyone could fulfil the IT goals?

7) Isolation by repetition.

This year’s goals are the same or very similar to last year’s plus or minus 10 per cent.  Is IT delivering new results or repeating the same results year over year?

8) Isolation by ability.

There are limited investments in IT skills, capabilities or capacity to execute the strategy.  Given the growing and changing demands of new technology it is difficult to see how you can connect business and new technology without also gaining new skills.

9) Isolation by organisation.

The IT strategy describes new governance arrangements, processes and policies for engaging the business.  This institutionalises the separation of IT from the rest of the business via formal processes and procedures.

10) Isolation by stability.

Does the rate of change in the IT organisation its structure and teams match the rate of change in the rest of the organisation?  If IT remains the same when the rest of the organisation is changing, then it has to be isolated.

These are just a few observations of IT strategies that indicate that IT is isolated from the rest of the organisation.  An introspective IT organisation represents a reasonable response to past pressures for cost, quality and risk.  However, this introspection is no longer valued in the emerging world of digitalised business it’s time for IT to re-integrate with the rest of the organisation to prevent isolation from becoming banishment.

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs.