Is it realistic for IT workers to become business-savvy strategists? James West looks at whether the concept of Total Football popularised by the Dutch national team can be translated to ITSM.
The challenge for IT professionals today is trying to give equal prominence in two distinctive areas of business. At one end of the scale is the imperative – driven by financial pressure to ensure maximum efficiency – to study, fix and every detail of IT delivery. Moving to the opposite end of this scale and IT professionals are being asked to consider the bigger picture – aligning their operations with the business, expanding the services they deliver, and supporting and reacting nimbly to changes in the corporate world.
From this extreme perspective, it appears IT is being asked the impossible. It is now being recognised that good managers (organisers) are not automatically good managers of people and businesses are increasingly using two different people to fulfil what was once a single role. Why should IT be any different? After all, the skill, accuracy and discipline needed to sift through lines of code is very different to the abilities employed by a senior manager responsible for steering the business.
Total Football was a strategy (or philosophy if you are willing to think of sport in such terms) employed by the Dutch national team, which broadly asked that each player on the field be interchangeable. This meant that defenders who would typically be strong tacklers, able to anticipate movement and pre-empt problems, were asked to pass effectively and move forward to support attacks. Attackers and defenders were similarly asked to break down the opposition play, moving ‘box-to-box’ rather than sticking primarily to their designated area of the pitch.
There are lessons to be learnt from this concept. IT staff no longer work in a vacuum, and so must have an understanding of other departments and roles within the business. Applying this knowledge to their working lives will be invaluable in ensuring that projects and services delivered are relevant.
Yet, just like Total Football, there is a limit. As effective and impressive as the Dutch footballing sides were, they would have quickly been exposed if the pre-defined roles were ignored – Johann Cryuff may have been the greatest player of his era, but his effectiveness as an attacking force would have been severely muted were he asked to play the odd game as goalkeeper.
Forcing ourselves to become something we are not and playing against our core strength is ill-advised and will result in frustration. IT is far bigger, and far more important to business success, than it was ten years ago. This expansion demands more, not less, specialisation and we are likely to see new, more defined roles emerging over the next few years.
The growth of IT in the context of a changing business world is the reason why ITIL2011 has expanded in size at an alarming rate. Is IT is now too large an entity to be defined in a single set of books, with a single set of universal processes and managed by a group of people with identical skill sets? Does the fact I have yet to speak to anyone who uses every process in ITIL v3 (2007) prove that there is a limit to how universal you can make the sprawling world of IT?
James West is editor of ServiceDesk360.