No doubt you’ve come across them, termed a ‘shared service’ or ‘support function’. They are meant to be there as an enabler to support core and other business activities. Generally termed ‘Information Technology’ or IT, they are often a world unto their own.

As of late, I am beginning to seriously challenge the view of this function as an enabler. More often than not, I hear so many reasons why things cannot be done – problems instead of solutions. Sometimes these problems become so insurmountable that it seems the rest of the business exists to support IT.

Now this view may be rather simplistic, but let us consider who the customer is here. Yes, the business is a customer, because most times they are paying for this shared service. As a paying customer, they want solutions, not problems. Not a hundred reasons why this or that cannot be done.

In essence, this says one of two things. Either the IT staff cannot do the job they were employed to do, or if this is not the case, they won’t do the job they have been employed to do. The answer is academic though, as neither of these are acceptable.

Let’s imagine IT as an outsourced function now – would the approach to customer service be any better? Perhaps, but not always. In many outsourced deals, the outsource staff are the same ones originally employed by the organisation. The organisation now pays a premium to be told by the same people that something is not possible.

Next consider IT services as a commodity – would these barriers and problems still exist? Probably not, and I suspect this option is not too far from becoming a realistic one. But until then, IT manages to surround itself with a certain element of mysticism, in the same way that Lawyers and Pharmacists do. Perhaps this may be an aspirational thing, but that’s a discussion for another day.

What then is the solution? Well for me it’s a change in corporate culture. As everyone knows, this is not an easy thing to achieve, sometimes taking years. The first step therefore is a change in mindset, and Tom Peters promotes some interesting ideas around individuals seeing themselves as a Professional Services Firm (PSF). It’s around employees using their intellectual capital to provide value to the organisations that employ them, rather than just being a ‘bum on a seat’.

For someone in an IT Services function, it is only an amount of time till your position is either outsourced, commoditised, or even worse, made redundant. How are you going to differentiate yourself? How are you doing to demonstrate your value to the organisation?

For more information on Tom Peter’s PSF concept take a look at http://www.tompeters.com/blogs/freestuff/uploads/PSFIsEverything.pdf

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