In prior articles, I have noted that my years of Information Technology (IT) experience has been balanced between being a professional consultant and a corporate employee. A benefit of this type of experience allows my mind to ponder a lot of "what if" questions as I grow older. In this article, I ask the question, "what if corporate IT was run like a consultancy?"
To clarify some assumptions, below are comparisons between most corporate IT departments and consultancy firms.
In most medium to large-sized companies, the top IT position is the Chief Information Officer (CIO). Whether reporting directly to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or another C-level position, all IT direction is intended to stem from the CIO. Under the CIO, there are often a series of Senior Vice Presidents (SVP) or other C-level positions, like a Chief Technology Officer (CTO). The SVP positions, often encapsulate positions for Software Engineering, Enterprise Architecture, Infrastructure, Support, and even Agile Solutions.
Often these Senior VP positions have either Senior Director or Directors reporting to them. From there, different layers of managers, supervisors, and scrum masters come into play, which rounds out the reporting structure for the technical staff that makes up Information Technology. As one might expect, the larger the company, the more layers that tend to exist between the CIO and a given technical person.
In most cases, the corporate IT individual is following a corporate directive or working toward a goal that was set at a higher level. In some corporate positions, I have been able to drive my own destiny, but that has been limited to the bounds in which the management structure agrees upon. In my experience, my income was driven by my ability to work within this model and go the extra mile, where possible.
I have found that most corporate IT jobs draw from the revenue the business is producing. At a high level, they are an expense (or cost) for the business. While this is not a bad thing, it is the reality.
Sticking to the medium to large-sized metaphor, consultancies in this space tend to be flatter than Corporate IT. In this case, there is a CEO who often has a strong background in IT. There are similar C-level positions, but they are focused on breaking down the business between sales functions, technical/pre-sales functions, and the different practice levels. These C-level positions often introduce one or two layers of managers at the discipline or practice level, before introducing the technical team members.
As a consultant, I was able to drive my career forward doing the things I enjoy doing. This, in turn, drove my income as well. Staying on top of technology was exciting and somewhat required, which kept me abreast of the concepts being sought by my customers.
Most consultant positions have a focus on generating revenue for the firm. As a result, these positions contribute to the profitability of the company. This provides a bit of excitement, at least in my view, since I can recognize that my work is providing funds to the firm, that not only cover my costs as an employee but help to grow the business as well.
Blending Both Worlds
With this high-level overview in mind, I wonder how different corporate IT would be if the focus was to run the business as a consultancy. To do this, consider the following changes to the current Corporate IT model:
Focus on generating results/value - A core cultural difference between a corporate IT employee and a consultant is the daily focus for each team member. More often than not, corporate IT employees can fall into the thought process of simply doing their job - which can morph into a set of routine tasks. An area for improvement is to focus on generating results or providing value with each task that is being performed. However, it is important that the management structure above has bought into this concept and is providing tasks that are results-based.
Take meetings seriously, including not having them - I can't state this enough: meetings can draw the life out of a team's productivity and a person's drive, especially technical staff who are driven by producing or development. I will even take a stab at the Agile shops to challenge how many meetings are really required as part of the lifecycle. Meaning, some teams don't really require a daily stand-up. A retrospective may not need to happen after every sprint too. When having meetings, take them seriously, reach your objective and then end the meeting. Just because it is scheduled for an hour, doesn't mean you have to stay 45 minutes after your objectives are met.
Results-driven compensation - A number of corporations have moved toward a results-driven bonus plan, which basically rewards everyone when the company is doing well. The problem with this approach is that most corporate IT staff have little to do with making a difference to the profitability of the company. Sure, they can work hard and produce bug-free code, but that should be a priority regardless of a bottom-line bonus. What would be more effective is to reward employees based on their results. Like everything else, this has to be driven down from the CIO's office, so that everyone is aware of how individual results drive each employee's compensation.
Reduce the layers - The number of layers between technical staff and the CIO always concerns me when I review corporate organizational charts. While I am not going to denounce or defend the number of layers that exist within most corporate IT departments, I do wonder how these layers would change if the items noted above were put into place.
These are just four aspects that I think can be improved upon when casting a broad-brush stroke as a whole across most corporate IT departments.
While I believe it is possible to implement some of the suggestions noted above, I think the effort to transform corporate IT into a group functioning as a consultancy is a long-term strategy. If the desire is there, I believe that it's possible. In the end, I believe this approach would have a favorable impact on not only the morale of technical staff but the health of corporate IT as a whole.
Have a really great day!