An Innovative Approach to Liberating IT

One of the conversations that I overheard repeatedly while attending AWS re:Invent 2013 revolved around the concept of a “liberated IT department.” I’d of course known about the stereotypes (and massive workloads) that have surrounded IT professionals for decades, but it wasn’t until I spent some time in the Skytap booth at the re:Invent Expo that I truly grasped the magnitude of liberating this group.

This is about more than removing any false reputation or stigma that people may have about IT; this is about empowering a team with just as much talent, just as much creativity, and just as much care for their organizations customers than any other department.

Even with the lion’s share of credit for having exceptional creativity and the ability to think outside the box, developers and testers can find themselves bottlenecked and unable to deliver great software. While these teams have had their differences over the years, neither of them have had to wear the “blocker yoke” that has hindered IT operations—a yoke that often comes from the limitations of the hardware they’ve been given to work with.

But in today’s software world, IT’s been given a prime opportunity to cast aside any misrepresentations of their work by embracing the cloud and all of the innovation that comes with it.

One way that IT can accomplish this is by being an actively agile participant during the entire SDLC. In an interview with John Gallant at, Intuit CEO Brad Smith explains how his company liberated their IT department—by both involving them more in decision making processes, and by demanding their creativity:

“There is no way I can imagine a company transforming or capitalizing on cloud-based or mobile solutions if you don’t have your engineers, your IT people, your business leaders sitting in the same room, and solving the problem together as equals…What we’ve asked them to do now is to actually be change agents, to innovate, to think about the customer and come to us with different ways that they would deliver the services.”

While those struggling with adopting agile often talk about the difficulties of creating the necessary “agile culture,” many often assume that the existing employees that are used to doing the old way are the problem. In the past, IT would be the first area to blame for any feet dragging to a new, experimental culture. But Smith goes on to point out that wasn’t how Intuit looked at the challenge. Smith states:

“We’ve challenged and unleashed the creativity in our IT organization to say, “Think differently about your job.” We haven’t had to do a wholesale swap-out of people. People are great. We just simply needed to redefine what we thought success looked like.”

Thinking back to the conversations I had with the IT professionals who stopped by our booth, none of them came across as blockers, inhibitors, or members of the dreaded “old guard.” These were innovators just as much as anyone else. Think about it, they attended AWS re:Invent (in the thousands, mind you) not to learn how to make their lives easier. They came to learn how to make their customers lives easier. That’s what collaboration, agile, and the cloud all do together.

In a recent article for, Romi Mahajan echoes these same sentiments. In the most beautifully “agilistic” definition I’ve ever read, Mahajan defines innovation as, “the simultaneity of quality, speed, and originality as they manifest themselves in some usable set of artifacts.” For those who don’t immediately think of IT where innovation is concerned, Mahajan offers an ironclad retort:

“Some examples of an IT-led innovative approach include many organizations’ commitment to continuous efficiency improvements through the application of bleeding-edge technology, the clear and open access many employees have to corporate data for decision-support, the speed of wireless and mobile-enabled work, and the deployment of lightweight cloud-based applications for all manner of productivity improvements.”

The case is right there for IT to prove they’re just as valuable and innovative as any other department, but as Mahajan also notes, IT is going to have to lead the charge. “IT and innovation are facets of the same gem. If you believe it, then make your voice heard by exporting IT’s innovative practices to the rest of the organization.”

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