Redesigning the structure of the IT organization

Redesigning the structure of the IT organization and the role it plays in the company is a huge job, and not something you can do on your own (or even with your own leadership team)! You’ll need help from allies throughout the company.

Kristina Podnar
March 4, 2021

In my last insight we discussed the rebranding of the CIO and the transformation of IT. Assuming you are ready to make the leap, let's talk about the tactical steps to make sure you land on your feet. Here are a few critical steps I think everyone should follow. Depending on your situation, you may need to add more.

Step 1: Gathering input from other functional leaders

Before you even start imagining how you can reorganize IT, remember that it’s not all about you. Your job is to transform IT into a service organization -- a group of in-house consultants. So your first step is to talk to other functional leaders to find out what they need from you, since many IT professionals are used to telling functional leaders what they can have and do, not what IT can provide and do for them.

You may feel like this is an example of “Be careful what you ask for.” And it’s true that some of the people you talk to will have long lists of requests (and probably some complaints they’ve been stewing over for a long time). But not stepping up and taking your medicine guarantees failure. If your rebranding efforts are to succeed, you have to listen to your users, even if it’s painful.

Some things you may hear:

  • Listen to my problem, and tell me about all available solutions (not just the ones you want me to have). Tell me which solution will best fit my needs and why. If there’s a solution I haven’t mentioned that you think will be a better fit, tell me about it (but also be ready to tell me why, from my perspective as well as from yours.) If there are obstacles (like integration), let me know how you can help overcome them. And if you don’t currently have those skills in-house, tell me what you’re going to do about it.
  • Stop getting in our way. Business moves fast, and sitting around waiting for you to provide solutions is one of the main reasons we go outside and do our own thing. We can have an external SaaS solution up and running in 72 hours.
  • If I’ve already found what I think is the best solution (like a particular SaaS platform), help me vet it. I can find out what customers think, and I can ask people in my network who use it. But I don’t even know what to ask about when it comes to security, compliance, the stability of the platform, or whether the systems they’re built on are becoming outdated or are up to handling the next advance in technology. That’s what I need from you.
  • Work with me on contracts and service-level agreements. I know what I need from the solution I choose, and you know what it will take to make it play nicely with what we already have so that they meet both my needs and your specifications.
  • Once we’ve chosen a solution, help me set it up or be available for questions. And check back with me in a few weeks to see how things are going and to make sure I’m using the solution to its maximum potential.
  • Fill me in on any logistical details I need to know about this new relationship. Is there anything I need to know about budgeting, timetables, technical support, etc.?

Leaders of other functional areas might need some time to research and brainstorm. Marketing will probably have a multipage wishlist right off the bat, for instance, while maintenance might not be aware of how connected devices could make their jobs easier, safer, and more efficient. These people will need time to go away and do some research.

As for their permission to “do the work”

We’ve all heard about news crews being embedded with military units so that they can see first-hand what battle is like instead of reporting on it from a cushy office. Similarly, you can learn a lot by embedding some of your IT employees within the various functional areas. And don’t have them just look over people’s shoulders, either. Have them sit down in the proverbial hot seat and do the job. Have them ask about things that cause friction or don’t make sense, and decide whether it’s just the nature of the job or it’s something IT can help with. That information can be invaluable when it’s time to figure out how to best serve that particular functional area.

Step 2: Figuring out which jobs your new IT organization will (and won’t) need

Once you’ve gathered input from the people you’ll be serving, it’s time to make sure your organization has the skills to meet those needs.

You probably already know which jobs are likely to be phased out in the coming cloud-based, connected environment. An article in CIO  labeled them “the working dead.” They include jobs like:

Language, product, and anything-else specialists

Things are changing too fast now to tie your career to a particular product or programming language. They rise and fall faster than the latest fashion trends. Windows admins, for instance, have become practically obsolete, overtaken by the rise of Azure and Linux. But even experts in those languages have to keep looking over their shoulders to see which new language or product is yapping at their heels.

Similarly, roles like an SEO expert, webmaster, graphic designer, and social media specialist were once separate jobs. Today, they comprise a broad skill set needed for many technology-based jobs, whether those jobs are in marketing or IT. Being the best at any one of them will no longer be enough.

Systems administrators and other jobs managing IT infrastructure

The cloud has already made many of these jobs obsolete, and there’s no reason to think it won’t continue to do so. But a new breed of systems administrator will have an important role to play. One likely scenario is that the future will find systems admins poring through service-level agreements and making sure providers live up to them. Some systems admins may find new homes within functional areas, managing things like CRM platforms.

Your more experienced employees still have value (even if they’ll need to evolve or go extinct)

Don’t be too quick to shove your old-school IT professionals out the door. While newer entrants to the workforce already understand the future of IT -- after all, they were born in the early days of the digital generation -- they lack certain types of experience, especially when it comes to linking the cool things they can do to their organization’s business strategy. They may know everything about AI or edge technology but do not have the faintest idea of how those tools could help your company generate revenue. Your more experienced employees can help them make those connections.

Step 3: Figuring out how to get there

Your job is balancing all of these somewhat conflicting needs. In the end, I think the best idea is to work to create a synergy, where legacy employees can educate the new workforce on business basics while the new digital natives can bring older employees up to speed on the latest in technology.

Believe it or not, that synergistic working group just might be the best tool you have for redesigning roles and organizational structure within IT. Hopefully, they’ll be quick to see the opportunity to pair business experience with the latest technology skills. It seems like the perfect use case for teams that can be aligned around functional areas, technical specialties, or some other mission.

There will definitely be resistance. Not all legacy employees will be thrilled with changing their careers mid-stream. And some Millennials may expect to have big titles and big salaries right off the bat, thinking that “paying your dues” is just a quaint notion.

So even the most seasoned CIOs may find the rebranding of IT’s role in the company to be taxing and stressful. Those with some experience in change management will have a head start. ( That’s why change management concepts are woven throughout the rest of this whitepaper.)

Step 4: Making sure your plan is ready for launch

Before you launch your rebranded IT organization to the rest of the company, do a soft launch with the C-suite and your own IT organization, even if you’ve been working hand-in-hand all along. People get busy, forget, change their minds, have a change in priorities, etc.

Solidify buy-in and support from the C-suite

Not even weeds will grow without support from the C-suite. No matter how enthusiastic they may have been in the beginning, once you’ve finalized your plans for transforming your IT organization, it’s time to circle back and get C-suite approval on everything from how you plan to restructure jobs and processes to how you plan to work with internal customers.

It’s really about making sure your cheering section is fully in place and has the information it needs to respond when the inevitable complainers show up on their doorsteps. The folks in the C-suite need to be very clear on why and how maintaining an internal IT department can add value: Advice from experts who know both the business and the various IT solutions inside out and who can help cut through all the jargon you get from salespeople serves not only a specific function but the business as a whole.

Confirm you have buy-in from within IT

A good way to accomplish this is a method popular in the 1980s: management by walking around, or MBWA. By now, some of your organizational changes should be well underway, and you may even be seeing some early success. But trouble could still be lurking beneath the surface, ready to derail your efforts at the most inopportune moment.

The best way to head off that possibility is MBWA. Wander around. Talk to people. And I do mean talk -- don’t interrogate. State specifically that you want to know how things are going and that negative answers are more than OK because they’ll give you the information you need to fix problems.

Let me warn you, though: You won’t be able to make everyone happy. There will be some employee complaints you can’t fix without ditching your plans. In that case, you have to be resolutely unapologetic that change is going to happen despite anyone’s personal feelings. You can reassure employees that you’ll make the changes as painless as possible, but quitting isn’t an option.

And please be aware that deep-seated negativity can spread like a virus. If you have an employee or two who are undermining you at every turn, call them in for a private chat. Let them know that while you’re willing to do whatever you can to make this digital transformation easier for them, it’s time to either get on board or make other employment plans.

That can be hard to do with longtime employees with whom you’ve built trusting relationships. If you don’t, however, that’s the very thing that will be your undoing: If other employees see respected employees actively working against you, they’ll start wondering whether you really know (and are committed to) what you’re doing. And you can’t allow that to happen.

Now that you’ve got those bases covered let’s talk in my next post about your big debut to everyone else.


This insight is the second one in a series of articles around rebranding, redesigning and reestablishing IT within the enterprise.

Part 1: The rebranding of the CIO

Part 2: Redesigning the structure of the IT organization and the role it plays in the company

Part 3: Launching your rebranded IT organization to the rest of the company


Photo by Laura Hayek

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