Corporate IT is Fracked!

Gene Rogers

I am on a quest to define IT Quality. As far as I can tell, there isn’t one. Skeptical? Try finding it for yourself. Ask anyone in IT. Ask several anyone’s. My bet is that you will not get the same answer twice and here’s why; IT is fracked.

Both meanings are correct, but in this context I’m referring to a gas drilling company that uses fracking (hydraulic fracturing) to create fissures in shale rock deep underground to extract the gas. IT organizations are full of fissures.

IT is also organized like that TV show Manhattan, where scientists are creating the bomb. The military have the science teams compartmentalized and no information is supposed to pass between the teams. IT groups don’t intentionally keep information in compartments, it’s just turns out that way because of how IT is organized.

Combine the two examples and you get a good description of typical IT teams: fracked compartments.

Still skeptical? Okay, let’s count the departments of a mature IT organization.

1. Architecture

2. Security

3. Data Warehouse

4. Application Development

5. Infrastructure

6. Project Management

7. Services Management

8. Internal Audit

9. Help Desk & Desktop Support

10. Shared Services (Finance & HR)

Within these there are at least two (sometimes three or four) sub teams. (If you are a recipient of an IT project, the reason for long, over-budget, under-preforming projects should start to become clear. Oh, but I digress.)

So, now we know why no two IT people can come to the same conclusion on IT Quality. From the IT perspective, the quality of IT depends on where you sit in the organization. For IT Infrastructure, availability and capacity are generally the measure of quality. For Application Development, software defects are used as quality measures. For Project Management, on-time and on-budget is used. For Data Warehouse, it’s processing speed. These measures aren’t bad, (yes, IT needs availability, and fewer defects, and on-time projects, however, those are just table stakes) but they are deceptive in that they can give the organization a false sense of thinking they are better than they really are.

From a customer’s perspective, quality is completely different. For a customer, quality is based on value. Did IT solve my business problem? Can I make more widgets? Can I sell more? Can I make more profit? Can I expand our capability? Our product line? Our global reach?

IT organizations need to think like customers; value, value, value. One way to do this is to organize like a business; by product line. A product line is supported by a value stream with a single point of accountability. For those not familiar, a value stream consists of all the activities an organization must complete to generate a product, from start to finish. This type of structure would radically alter how IT interacts with customers, increase the value proposition of IT, and therefore generate higher quality.

Some Application Development shops are unknowingly headed in this direction by using the Agile Development method which include frequent customer feedback loops during sprints of activity. This issue is that generally the Infrastructure, Security, and Help Desk teams are not part of the process, so critical parts of the value stream are missing. (By the way, if you are including everyone in the value stream, you are genuinely unique and I would love to visit with you.)

My advice to corporate IT: change your definition of quality and change the way you are organized. If you don’t, someone outside of IT may change it for you.