Is IT's Invisibility Ducking An Issue Or Facing It?

A recent column about the lack of visible presence with digital signage prompted some interesting reader responses, but our favorite was the comment from the CIO of a large national chain who pointed out that IT's lack of visibility is more likely an indication that IT is spotting problems others don't want to see.

"Occasionally, Marketing, Purchasing, Operations, or the Facilities Management group have researched a topic, vetted vendors, purchased product and only then considered that they might need IT assistance in order to provide whatever it is with a connection to the Internet," said the IT leader, who asked to remain anonymous. "Then, when IT takes a look at this new technology and tries to bring up all the issues that should have been considered (security, reliability, support, incompatibility with other systems in the store), IT gets labeled as being difficult to work with and not team players. It isn't a fair rap."

The CIO argued that it's a mix of actors that can cause these problems. "I've worked hard to try to get in front of this and to get the other departments to think of IT as the ally and a resource to be leveraged, but still these things occur. Often, the people in the other departments just don't see what the big deal is," he said. "It's a sign of the times that people take Internet and network connectivity for granted and see nothing wrong with plugging whatever into the store's hub just like plugging a lamp into a 115v outlet. Add to that clueless and unscrupulous vendors who try everything possible to get a deal signed without bringing IT into the loop."

He gets a sad but true point. I'm reminded of a conversation with another CIO from a years ago. It was Charlie Weston, the CIO of Winn-Dixie back in 2005, when they were working through a bankruptcy.

Weston described the radically different way other departments starting treating IT when budgets were being slashed and everyone had to get creative finding ways to do their jobs.

The IT department is the support facility that keeps the rest of the company functioning. It's the adult who has to say, "Great idea, people, but it won't work for these six detailed reasons. Sorry."

It takes a disaster—like Winn-Dixie's bankruptcy—for departments to give up their turf battles and come running to IT for help.

But there is the other argument as well, that IT can't get that respect and be seen as strategic if it allows itself to consistently get weighed down in the tactical and, well, nerdy.

Yes, there's plenty of blame to share in most board rooms, but I still believe that most IT departments will be seen as more strategic if they can force their IT team members to truly think that way. Sometimes, it's OK to let others be the adults.