Is IT Really a Cost Center?

by | General

I’ve built my career in Information Technology. It’s been (and still is) a satisfying and challenging ride. Of course it has its ups and down. But hey, what career doesn’t?

During the course of my career, I often hear IT referred to as a cost center. Meaning that IT is not a revenue generating department. Its budget comes from other departments whose main purpose is to CREATE revenue, mostly sales departments.

And by this strictest definition, is absolutely true.

For those unfamiliar with the role of IT departments, they are the umbrella division of a company that handles all technical infrastructure needs within the company.

This includes hardware, software, computer networking, telephony, tech support, business intelligence reporting, database/datacenter and many other technical needs of an organization.

They literally provide the technical “backbone” for any organizations that need to survive and thrive in the 21st century.

Yet from time to time, I hear IT referred to as “a necessary evil” or “those geeks who fix our computers”. Sales reps, especially.

I suppose they think their role within a company is the most important.

I certainly don’t deny the importance of revenue. No revenue, no company. Any company needs to increase sales to grow as a company. Without question.

But I take a bit of offense at the implication that IT is a “necessary evil” cost center department.

Let’s imagine a salesperson is following up on a new sales lead for a new product offering her company has just developed.

Her company has done business with the customer before, and she knows it would be wise to know more about the customer. Their past sales history with her company, key business people within their organization, etc.

We’ll assume her company has a well structured Information Technology division. She asks one of her coworkers who might be able to help provide her with the information she needs.

She’s told the Business Intelligence Reporting division, which handles many of the enterprise data reporting needs for the company, probably has the customer and related sales data she is looking for.

She opens up her company’s wiki software, which contains official company information about each major division within the company and searches for the Business Intelligence Group. Their wiki contains directory/contact information for the managers and employees within the division.

She clicks the link in the wiki for the manager in charge of the team responsible for the reports she’s looking for.

The hyperlink starts up the company’s chat application, which is tied into the internal database of all company employees, and brings up all relevant information about the manager … his email address, his phone number, his physical location on the campus where her company is located.

It even shows whether the manager is currently away from his desk or tied up in a meeting. If the manager does happen to be in a meeting, the chat application can tell her how long his meeting is scheduled for and even all the other attendees of the meeting.

The manager happens to be available so she starts up a new chat window with him and she explains what she’s looking for. The manager instantly recognizes the kind of data she’s looking for. He sends her back an internal url location to a web based report, which she clicks on.

It fires up her web browser and brings up a nice, web based view of the company she is inquiring about. It shows her the org chart of key people within their company, all past sales history her company has transacted with that company, and any other useful information that could help her land a potential new sale.

She begins to collate all this information into her own sales presentation. But she would like to rope in some key business analysts located in an international office in India.

She glances at the clock and confirms she’s in a good time window to initiate a real time chat. Again she fires up her instant messaging application, which can also tie into her laptop’s webcam and soon, she is conducting an international conversation halfway around the world, in a realtime chat and can even share her screen so that everyone in the conversation can clearly see her presentation and offer their own thoughts and suggestions to make it even better.

The amazing thing about what I just described is it’s practical mundaneness of it all. It’s available 24/7, unless of course there’s some sort of scheduled downtime. And if any of the services she uses happen to become unavailable, alerts instantly get sent out to key support people to begin triaging and addressing the problem.

I personally use the kinds of tools and services I just described, and even I take it for granted.

But this kind of always on, always connected, easily accessible services don’t just come for FREE. And it doesn’t come out of thin air.

Like a lot of other things we take for granted in life, like the power and telecommunications services that get routed into our home, IT services can be just as easily taken for granted.

But let’s say none of the services we just described, weren’t available. How long would it take that salesperson to gather and collate the data she needs to help her pitch her sales presentation to her potential new client?

I can’t even imagine what corporate life was like before the advent of IT services. It must have taken FOREVER to retrieve important information from different parts of a company.

Information Technology harnesses the power of computer hardware, software, networking, databases and a myriad of other services and technologies to help people do their jobs more efficiently.

I know from firsthand experience, that it literally takes an ARMY of IT people to help create this kind of always on, always connected digital infrastructure.

Even as a software developer within my IT organization, I often take for granted just how many other divisions I rely on to get my job done.

Sure, I write the software, but I need to put it SOMEWHERE for other people to access it. So we have a whole hardware division within IT to ensure there are sufficient and available computer servers to deploy my code.

But in order for others to actually be able to ACCESS my software, we need a capable computer network so that every other computer within the company can QUICKLY get access to my application. So we have a whole networking division within IT to ensure 24/7 network availability.

But what if I need to restrict access to my application so that only key individuals have the ability to modify important information, say, sales order information? I’ll need to work with the Security Governance division of our IT department to help me lock down my application.

The actual data my application interacts with, will of course need to live in a database and be optimized to ensure that customers can retrieve their data QUICKLY and RELIABLY. Our DATABASE ADMINISTRATORS (DBAs) will help me make sure that happens (shout out to our awesome DBAs who helped me speed up data access for one of my applications!).

And last but not least, our tech support/help desk are our frontline support for both our internal employees AND external customers, anytime we need assistance from any of the services I just described.

Yes, IT centers do not directly generate revenue for the company. But I’d like to see how far anyone can get in their job, without the critical core IT services I just described.

A necessary evil? I think not.

More like a necessary company ENABLER.

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