From service mindset to partner

Photo by Henning MühlinghausIt disappoints me when I hear people talk about their internal tech department as a “service operation”. It disappoints me even more when I hear that from the people in the tech department. We can do so much better. We need to do so much better.

The service mindset is almost a servant mindset: you tell us what to do and we’ll just do it; we are at your beck and call; we are second class citizens in this organisations; we know our place.

This is not to say there aren’t impressive service organisations. There clearly are. But they are service organisations that can determine their own future. Your phone company or bank—key service providers—are masters of their own destiny. Within the bounds of law and regulation they can set their own strategies, choose their investments, refuse unattractive opportunities, and pursue promising new lines of business. We in internal departments can look to those organisations to help us understand better what it means to do a job well and make our stakeholders happy. But we cannot be compared very effectively with them too much more because they operate in an entirely different environment, with very different freedoms.

The service mentality is not entirely without merit but it is damaging. It is damaging not only to our ourselves in the technology teams, but to our own organisations, too. For any company today whose information or technology is a key differentiator, or a key asset, its success is tied to the success of its technical department. We technologists must regard ourselves as partners, and must be regarded as partners in our organisations’ success.

This is true even for those who wish to outsource their technology functions or offload services into the cloud. Even there, the organisation needs technological intelligence: it needs to know what to offload and what to keep in-house, how to manage those offloaded services, how to review and change providers, how to develop and maintain the retained skills, and how to ensure the offloaded functions can be brought back in when the situation changes.

The partnership perspective is also helpful when we think about building the future of our tech departments. We must move our investment cases from “this is how we’re going to improve our departmental operations” to “this is how we’re going to deliver the company’s future”. Ultimately a partnership is a more sustainable relationship.

[If you want to read about partnership for external operators then take a look at Alex Adamopoulos’s blog post on that subject.]