IT departments as “outside”

Joe Peppard, in a recent EJIS paper (Peppard 2007), makes the point that utility computing (along with outsourcing and ASP) are premised on a gap between IT function and the customer/user. “They assume the user is the consumer of IT services, failing to acknowledge the value derived from IT is often not only co-created but context dependent” (ibid, p 338).

Joe suggest that this is founded upon the ontological position that “IT is an artefact that can be managed”, and subsequently that the value of IT is in its possession.  This leads to the obvious claim that rather than focusing on IT management, we should focus on delivery of value through IT. This brings our perspective of IT function (and of Cloud Computing within the enterprise) from the realm of cost-saving efficiencies (as Carr 2003 might suggest) to a focus on contextual practice – supporting work.  As Joe’s the article argues “to seek not to management IT per se, but to manage to generate value through IT”.

Carr’s (2003) argument is thus that the IT function is not needed since this is outsourced to the ASP/Cloud provider. But a more subtle point might be that it needs to instead be pervasive – IT installed within business functions (so as to better contextualise Cloud Services within business practices). While IT services prior to the Cloud increasingly focused on getting the “plumbing” of the organisation correct (i.e. ensuring the email worked, installing ERP, networking the systems), with the use of Cloud services their role must be focused on improving the integration of Cloud services into the work practices of users  – focusing on both social and technical practices which can be supported or enhanced through IT.

We remain fixated on the CIO and IT department as our focus for Cloud Computing.  This seems odd. For what if this role of contextualising IT is better suited to users (who are increasingly technologically proficient particularly around Cloud Services (e.g. SalesForce / GMail)). With the Cloud users are increasingly powerful actors able to engage with, and even procure, IT infrastructure for themselves. How this might influence the role of IT within the enterprise is far from clear but it will certainly lead to new battles and new challenges.

References:

Carr, N. (2003). “IT Doesn’t Matter.” Harvard Business Review: 41-49.
Peppard,J (2007) “The Conundrum of IT Management” European Journal of Information Systems (2007) 16, 336–345. doi:10.1057/palgrave.ejis.3000697

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