8 Signs Your IT Team Is Too Slow

Aug 31, 2011 (10:08 AM EDT)

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There are worse things for an IT organization to be labeled than "slow." But not many. IT pros take pride in keeping up with the rapid pace of technology change--constant change is what drew many to the profession. The challenge is meeting the expectations set by consumer tech while still providing systems that meet the reliability, scalability, and security the business needs. And do all that within budget.

Bad things happen if an IT organization gets a reputation for being slow. Business units then work around IT and don't consider broader company needs. And IT ends up coming late to initiatives where its expertise was sorely needed.

Here are eight warning signs that your IT organization is too slow-- or that business units are perceiving it that way. It's based on interviews with IT executives throughout this year--including CIOs of top companies in our upcoming InformationWeek 500 ranking, which we'll announce Sept. 13 at our conference and online, and in our magazine.

IT Is Left Out On Mobile Apps Mobile apps are the hottest area of enterprise software, so chances are that several business units are working on or thinking about smartphone and tablet apps for customers or employees. Now, IT shouldn't worry just because the company hires an outside firm to do the actual development. That's happening at many companies, since mobile app development involves some specialized skills that most IT shops haven't nurtured in-house. But if those business unit leaders want a mobile app and the first call they make isn't to a peer on the IT team, chances are they don't trust IT to meet their aggressive timeframe.

Security Trumps All Information security's one of IT's fundamental roles--if IT doesn't marshal it, who will? Nonetheless, if business units feel like there's no risk the IT organization will accept, that IT won't move forward until every security contingency is closed, they'll just start making those risk judgments without IT's input. And that's scary. Business teams need IT's security expertise, but they need to know IT will make risk assessments in a business context.

New Computing Capacity = Months Companies need a data center architecture that can react to changing demand and new projects. The simple fact is that Amazon can deliver server capacity in minutes, and internal IT will be compared to that standard. So the standard month(s)-long server provisioning process is unacceptable. Your organization doesn't need to match Amazon, and in fact a good answer might be, "Well, use Amazon if you really need generic server capacity in minutes." However, IT needs to map out the options, and help business colleagues understand where public cloud services do and don't make sense.

Marketing And IT Don't Talk Marketing is now a tech-driven discipline, but the historical gulf between IT and marketing departments remains at many companies. This gulf exists partly because marketing pros just don't believe IT understands digital marketing, but it's also about speed. Nearly two-thirds of respondents to a survey of chief marketing officers and CIOs last year said they had problems implementing marketing technology systems. The main reason cited? IT gives it a low priority.

Employee Gadget Policy: iPhone? What iPhone? Do employees sneak their smartphones and iPads into the company rather than risk having them banned if they ask IT what they can do with them? Letting employees use their personal devices to access company networks is becoming routine; even regulated businesses such as banks and investment companies allow it with certain controls. Employees who aren't allowed to use what they consider to be cutting-edge mobile devices on the job will inevitably see IT as behind the times.

Shadow IT: SaaS Explosion Shadow IT--when employees launch software or systems without the blessing or input of the IT department--has always been a red flag for some need that IT isn't meeting. When business units turn to software as a service without IT's help, often that unmet need is speed to market, our research finds--even more so than the capital cost savings of SaaS. So IT shops that find shadow SaaS implementations need to ask whether business units went rogue because they worried IT would take too long.

IT's Not Part Of New Product Development IT is becoming a customer-facing discipline in more and more companies. From making cars to marketing running shoes to running hotels, companies are embedding IT into the product experience. Fast-paced IT organizations must be part of the discussion of what's possible. Is there a way for an embedded sensor to collect data--whether it's a car's engine performance or miles run in a shoe--that could change how people value that product? People carry their mobile devices into hotels, grocery stores, and cars--what opportunities does that create for new interactions? Are there elements of the product development cycle that could be done digitally, in order to speed products to market faster? If IT isn't a part of these conversations, it will by definition be lagging behind the company's best ideas.

IT Doesn't Work with Startups Who's got time to work with unproven technology and companies? IT teams can't chase every startup's flashy new innovation. But IT organizations need to spend time with startups on the cutting edge of products and processes that augment a company's particular competitive advantage. IT will be judged not only on its speed of implementation, but also on it's speed of thought--whether it's sparking new ideas ahead of the competition.

What's your biggest warning sign that an IT organization's too slow?

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