The Myth of Two-Speed IT
In which Jill explains how IT leaders can change gears.
In working with companies across geographies and industries, I’ve observed six different organizational behavior sets in IT. I call them IT archetypes, and they connote not just theoretical models, but actual structures and behaviors.
These archetypes can either be actual, signifying the current state of IT at your company, or aspirational, serving as a desired future state. Each is distinct in its own right. Depending on your company’s culture, each of them has its own reputation, an internal brand.
-- The New IT: How Technology Leaders Are Enabling Business Strategy in the Digital Age (McGraw-Hill, 2015), page 28.
Literature (never mind popular culture) loves dualism, the tendency to explaining the world using two competing forces. Good and evil. Dark and light. The sacred and the profane. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Chocolate and peanut butter. The list goes on.
There’s been a tendency of late to explain IT in this way, as two-speed or bi-modal IT. In this divide IT can fall into either the traditional model of “keeping the lights on,” or it can be more agile and innovative. Most people who espouse this notion insist that in the new world of digital, it must be both.
This dual construct is a convenient structure that underscores the point that operationally-focused IT teams risk being marginalized or replaced. But it also risks simplifying a complex issue involving culture, personalities, leadership styles, reward systems, and corporate politics to name just a few of the forces that inform IT behaviors.
In The New IT: How IT Leaders Are Enabling Business Strategy in the Digital Age, I lay out six different profiles—I call them archetypes—that describe different organizational preferences of IT teams. They’re summarized here:
I know what you’re thinking. “My IT department is a little of all of those archetypes.” While that is certainly true, there is a dominant set of behaviors that typifies every IT organization. When in doubt, ask people in the company to describe IT. Your IT archetype will emerge in no time. In the book I’ve laid out a series of self-assessments that can help pinpoint your current IT archetype.
Your “as is” IT archetype needn’t be your “to be” archetype. Reviewing the archetype descriptions in the book can help you determine not only what IT archetype is desirable, but which one is practical. It’s one thing to want to be a Brokering IT team, it’s another thing to understand whether the culture will allow it.
No one will argue that IT needs to move faster while satisfying core operational commitments. And that means having more than two speeds.