Picture a muscle bound brainiac, truculent yet cerebral, testosterone-driven yet deeply educated in software engineering; he is the “Bully Geek” and he represents what many large IT organizations have become. Anyone who has worked in software has encountered it or been a part of it – the closed-door IT shop with a “not invented here” philosophy and a “we know better than you Luddites” attitude. IT organizations like this often seize their business peers in a choke hold, controlling all things technical and tolerating no criticism or questioning of its assumptions.
Okay, this is an overly dramatic depiction, but it speaks to a common problem. While business owners and executive management are often culpable for creating and exacerbating the political divisions that generate inertia within CSPs, IT groups often play the game as well. As the infrastructure they’ve built has become more business critical, they’ve gained power. And as forces ranging from COTS to Cloud have emerged over the years, IT groups often have become more insular and defensive, seeking to maintain control for control’s sake.
Managed services may be breaking the Bully Geek’s Kimura lock. CSG International’s Alam Gill says in the past, managed services were technology-led and transformation focused, and slow for those reasons. “Now, things have accelerated,” Gill says, “so the managed services model isn’t about ‘your mess for less,’ its about adding value to the overall business.” The ‘your mess for less’ approach keeps IT in control. Massive transformation efforts, on any basis, give IT significant budget, leeway, and authority. In many cases, those approaches have empowered the “Bully Geek” to go on a self-gratifying ego trip that costs millions and may or may not deliver much at all.
The subtle shift in philosophy that focuses managed services on business value measures success based on business results, Gill says, and de-emphasizes the technical approach to achieving them. Managed services vendors should be held accountable for what they deliver in terms of value and performance. A managed service approach should re-emphasize a CSP’s strategic goals, like improving the company’s long term cost base, innovating services, and bringing them to market faster and more competitively. An intense focus on complex, long term technical schemes often weakens a company’s grip on its original strategic goals. That, for example, is how IT organizations get lost in endless data consolidation programs when the stated strategic goal was to reduce cost and improve operational performance.
We’ve seen a weariness develop among senior managers who don’t like technical fishing expeditions that cost more than they produce. Failures to perform are not the fault of any one group – everyone is culpable if they fail to communicate well and work together. But when IT resists visibility and accountability and uses opaque language to divert attention from judgments about its actual performance, all sorts of companies tend to suffer, CSPs among them. If a new approach to managed services is going to emerge, as Gill suggests, then some of the best contributions it can make will be to drive accountability; gauge success based on performance; and break cultural power plays including those perpetrated by the “Bully Geek.”