One of the greatest challenges we, as IT organizations, face today is how to balance significant operational demands with innovation. In the past few decades, we’ve built up so many networks, so many systems, so many servers, that we now feel like Sisyphus rolling our boulder up the mountain. Given that burden, we find it hard to be nimble and innovative.

At the same time, we are facing extraordinary changes in our industry. We are so overwhelmed, our customers are seeking alternatives . . . social networking tools, the ‘cloud,’ outsourcing. We are no longer the only game in town.

Many strategists are warning that IT organizations need to adapt or die. At the very least, we need to make our organization relevant and flexible. We need to consistently assess the value we bring to the organization.

IT is a campus utility

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Our network and communication systems are like electricity and phones. They need to be consistent and reliable. Our information systems need to support the business of the University: teaching, learning, research, administration, and outreach. We need to provide readily accessible, yet tightly secured services in a era evolving threats to identity management.

We need to reevaluate why we provide IT services in the traditional mode. Maybe we don’t need to control everything? Maybe we need to engage our users and enable more sharing of control? That doesn’t mean we throw caution to the wind. Rather, we explore alternatives, discuss options, make intelligent decisions…and train users to do things we’ve traditionally done.

Many IT services are being commoditized. Options are available like never before. In light of that, we need to transition from developing applications to contracting and integrating software to best meet our user needs. We may not need to buy hardware and software to provide the applications. A quote from a recent article Ovum: The cloud and the public sector “CIOs will come under increasing pressure to explain why in-house [IT] services take so long to deliver, are so much more expensive and are so difficult to consume compared to those available from cloud services providers.”

There will always be applications and data we host ourselves. Systems with sensitive or private information must be owned by us. We should elevate our services and support to provide high value to the University. Yet we should start to explore alternative models in the cloud. “As with most things in the IT world, reality is somewhere in the middle, and following fundamental best practices can help IT leaders successfully navigate through the clouds — mitigating risks, realizing benefits and meeting the organization’s needs.” (Cloud Computing: CIOs Should Consider its Benefits)

It’s a tall order, but we need to get there. Otherwise, as we continue to push our boulder up the mountain, we may find that the task itself is less and less meaningful to our users. Like the rest of the IT industry, there will always be a cheaper alternative waiting in the wings.