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Taking IT reorgs to the extreme

Kim S. Nash | March 31, 2015
IT departments are constantly reorganizing, but a few companies have gone so far as to break the traditional IT department into pieces.

Last year, IT got a makeover. The company took the two branches of IT--development and operations--and split each one into daily work and strategic work. New directors of strategy for each branch make technology plans for one, two and three years out, says Chris Patti, vice president of technology.

A relentless march to digital business has also influenced IT changes, and AccuWeather looks to technology companies like Google and Yahoo as models, Patti says. After all, major sources of revenue for AccuWeather are advertising sales at its Web properties, as well as mobile applications and its API business. And, like Google and Yahoo, "we produce tech to empower people," he says.

Meanwhile, AccuWeather has moved some functions that were historically part of sales and other business groups into IT. The company has always sold weather information, starting with forecasts in print and on video. Now the products are mainly data files and application programming interfaces (API) for digital services that customers can build on the fly.

The sales team had been managing these offerings. But as the products grew increasingly technical, sales would often have to email IT engineers with customers' questions. Then the norm became having IT staffers join customer calls to explain product details.

Last year, to field these calls, the company created the role of technical account manager and filled the jobs with technology leaders. "It's more appropriate to put them in IT," Patti says.

He advises fellow technology leaders to accept that today's IT group must work in multiple ways--as developers, consultants and facilitators. Sometimes you'll build a mobile app to realize a business goal. Other times you'll consult with the marketing department as it buys its own technology. You might help HR negotiate a contract with a vendor. As technologists at AccuWeather delved into different roles, they received training in soft skills such as listening and phone etiquette.

Avoiding Trouble
With big change comes the potential for big problems. Approach is everything, says Horne at the Corporate Executive Board. While the CIO might absorb the new world order, staffers can easily revert to safe old ways. This underlines the dangerous perception that IT is bureaucratic and undermines the new image IT is trying to project. "IT often runs to make organizational changes and [everyone is] underwhelmed by results because they have the same people and often the same processes," Horne says.

One advantage GameStop has is a built-in culture of lateral communication, Donaldson says. There may be titles and hierarchy but discussion and decision-making cross those boundaries. "You need that," he adds.

Even at Zappos, where processes very definitely changed for everyone, Cromley finds that he must remind himself to break a habit of making decisions for others. "Yesterday, someone came to me to sign off on something. I had to say, 'I can give you my advice but this is your responsibility to decide,'" he says. "That's one thing that's hard for me to give up."


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