There is an analogy for IT being like a car and it often goes something like this:
IT should run like a well-oiled machine. I don’t get in my car and think about how it works, I just work some controls and it does what I need it to and it goes where I need it to go. No assembly required!”
When people think IT, it seems they’re hoping for their IT department to work like a Tesla luxury sedan that drives for you. They like to think of IT in this “it should just work” kind of mentality. The internal dialogue of some may be, “I have this goal, IT is this tool to get it done, and I have paid for it! It should just work by itself! Heaven knows, I have spent enough on it!” They want something that’s comfortable, doesn’t require much interaction and gets them where they need to be.
The problem with the sedan metaphor is that sedans are not really what companies need.
Sedans are built for paved roads, made to go to places that others often go. The average sedan can’t really explore much else other than what is well-paved and well-traveled by others. They’re a comfortable ride for drivers who want all the amenities of the home wherever they are. Anything too far off of the beaten path and the car is being torn to pieces by the rough terrain. Sedans perform consistently and reliably in consistent and reliable environments.
This is not to say that IT should not be reliable. By all means, IT has to be reliable. If IT isn’t operating reliably, much like a broken car it should either be fixed or replaced. Why would anyone pay for something that can’t perform the tasks you need it to do?
However, organizations know they have to take calculated risks, and the larger the risk, the larger the payout. This means going into unfamiliar territory and going down paths that are not mapped out. Even a Tesla is going to struggle over terrain that isn’t already mapped out.
On top of that, we know customers and technologies are constantly changing. There is very little consistency from the world outside of the enterprise. Every day brings new fluctuations and challenges that companies need to anticipate and adjust to.
So why do we expect IT to behave in a consistent way when the environment around us is constantly shifting? We can’t act as though our business can succeed riding around in a comfortable sedan! We need something that can be flexible and can still move us forward.
Think ATV, Not Sedan
The ATV fits this kind of unpredictability perfectly. ATVs can adjust to a variety of terrain. They don’t need paved roads nor beaten paths. They can go almost anywhere and can get there quickly. These machines are rugged; they can adjust to a variety of terrain and, most importantly, they can go anywhere—if the driver knows what they’re doing.
But ATVs are not comfortable. An ATV takes knowledge to drive and it takes engagement. One can’t sit back disengaged and hope to have a smooth ride on an ATV that is going full speed. The places these machines are made to go are not for the complacent or for those seeking comfort.
The business-IT relationship should look more like an autocross driver and his ATV than a suit in a Lexus. In this analogy, both machine and driver are adjusting in unison to the environment around them. The driver (the business) guiding the ATV (IT) where to go and pushing through hills, mud and dirt to make sure both arrive safely and quickly despite the dangerous and uncertain environment around them. At the end, the driver and his machine will have pioneered places many feared to tread and will be rewarded appropriately.
To extend the analogy, this is not a problem only between business and IT; this is the same attitude Dev often takes with Ops. Dev says, “Here’s a build, your environments should be good enough,” and Ops is expected to just make it work. Isn’t this the same disconnect as the IT and the business?
It is so important to collaborate in a large enterprise. It takes investment of not just money but also time. If we have an agile team with no product owner, we essentially have a car with no driver. If we have Devs who don’t talk Ops, don’t we have a car body with no engine?
In today’s world of Agile and DevOps, the companies that build that bridges between Devs, Ops and the business are the ones who take the calculated risks and succeed. These companies win bigger market shares and know confidently what their customers need. They can experiment fast with different business ideas, use the latest and the greatest technology and not comprise on security. These same companies can leverage their IT function to accurately monitor spending while minimizing waste.
When businesses interact with IT, they shouldn’t just toss something at them like an external vendor and expect quality. Collaboration and engagement is the key. When all the necessary members in an organization are talking, communicating and engaged with one another, then we begin to see the true power of IT.
The power of IT is the ability to go over terrain that would destroy other organizations. It is the ability to set any vision and know that your people will have the tools to tackle whatever comes their way. It is the ability to adapt, change and continuously improve while watching organizational goals become reality.
About the Author / Caleb Wolfe
Caleb is an IT professional with a passion for DevOps and transforming the way IT organizations work. As a member of Delta Air Lines, Caleb has a variety of experience from working as a baggage handler, business analyst, software developer and as a technical analyst in IT transformation. Caleb uses his multidiscipline experience to identify and remove constraints, create effective throughput and work to break down barriers both internally and externally. Caleb is a perpetual student of process improvement and IT technology and uses his knowledge for the betterment of Delta’s employees and customers worldwide.