Maybe it's time to get rid of your IT department

Kevin Jones has a radical solution for organizations where the IT department is standing in the way of user productivity: Get rid of the IT department completely.

Jones, who is speaking at the CITE Conference, is a consultant on organizational strategy whose clients include NASA. His big message is that companies cannot embrace new technology, like enterprise social networks or BYOD, unless they are organizationally prepared for it. 

I asked Jones about a hypothetical situation that comes up from time to time in our Tales From The Cloud series. Say employees are using a consumer-focused service like Dropbox or YouSendIt to exchange files, and IT decides that a more secure solution is required. How can IT convince users to make the switch?

"My solution is kind of radical, and it's difficult to do, but it works," said Jones. "If IT is getting in the way of getting work done, there maybe shouldn't be an IT department. I'm not saying every company needs to go that radical, but at least they should be thinking about that. If HR is making it hard to get work done, why have an HR department? So why not completely revamp the IT department in a way that makes sense for everyone?" He continues, "That pushes accountability to employees. To get my work done, I need these computers, this software, this collaboration system," then it's up to IT to make it work.

That does not mean that all IT employees should be fired. It simply means that IT becomes the province of each business group, rather than a centralized department that can wield power over every technology decision. Jones has seen that it's almost impossible for IT to drive users to use particular tools. Change has to come from managers and employees themselves, and has to be supported by the company culture.

He has learned this again and again through experience. For example, bit before he started consulting for NASA, some interns created their own collaboration network outside the organization's boundaries.

"Their managers said 'you have to let us in to see that,' they said 'no we don't,' and it went back and forth." Eventually the organization created a rival internal social network -- and nobody used it. Jones explains, "Internal social is very different from external social in that they're used for totally different reasons. Interns who'd be all over social in their personal life will never touch social or collaboration spaces internally because it's not part of the way that their group works." There were other organizational barriers as well, such as a budgeting process that pitted groups against one another and discouraged collaboration. 

In the end, NASA abandoned the project altogether.

In case you think getting rid of the IT department isn't radical enough, Jones has an even bolder suggestion for some companies: Get rid of management. As an example, he points to WL Gore, a manufacturer of medical devices, Gore-Tex fabric, and other products.

"They have 3,000 products and 9,000 employees," Jones explains. When a new project starts, "They will find within their ranks who can lead this, and ask 'will you be the leader?' That person becomes leader, then at some point transitions back out to a regular team player. The leadership changes constantly according to the company's needs. The CEO doesn't appoint leaders. The employees appoint leaders."

He goes on, "When we talk about the consumerization of IT, if you have that kind of model, that kind of push of accountability down, all of a sudden the employees will start doing what's right. They won't feel the pushback from management because the controls don't come from management anymore. It comes from themselves. They're accountable."

Be sure to catch Jones at the CITE Conference from June 2-4 in San Francisco, along with keynote speaker Gary Hamel, who runs the Management Innovation eXchange that Jones participates in.

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