How to Bring Your Application and Infrastructure Teams Together at Last
There’s an unspoken law in the world of IT: apps and infrastructure teams don’t mix.
It’s like the movie, “The Outsiders” with the app teams playing the part of the “Socs” – the ones that get all of the attention – and the infrastructure guys playing the “Greasers” – the ones that get their hands a bit dirty. Each side looks down on each other thinking that their world view is the right one. The sides rumble periodically trying to stake out the moral high ground, but never quite reach the point of understanding each other.
No one really knows why it is this way in IT; it’s just the way it’s always been. The problem is that it just doesn’t work.
In today’s environment, CIO’s and senior IT leaders need to break down the silos and get their teams working together. The invisible barrier between the teams has led to inefficiencies and unnecessary complexity – and IT simply can no longer afford to operate this way.
OPPOSITE SIDES OF THE TRACK
In The Outsiders, the “Socs” and the “Greasers” were physically divided by the railroad tracks cutting through town. In the IT world, it’s all about code. The apps guys own the code and the infrastructure guys own most everything the code runs on. With this divide comes some very different ways of looking at things.
The apps guys can sometimes look at everything below it as just plumbing and a commodity. The infrastructure guys can look at the code as nothing but the tip of the iceberg.
Both views are wrong.
The reality is that apps and infrastructure are a purely symbiotic relationship. Neither has meaning without the other, and the value they produce can only be realized when both sides perform their part of the intricate, synchronized dance flawlessly.
Yet realizing this is the easy – and obvious – part. Finding a way to actually bring the teams together, in a meaningful and lasting fashion, is another matter entirely.
A PROBLEM OF FOCUS
The real issue is one of focus. Both sides are fundamentally focused on the wrong things – driven mostly by the need for high levels of specialization in complex environments.
Most people on the outside of IT have no idea how complex IT systems have become. All of this cool technology that the world has become accustomed to, and now takes for granted, is not nearly as simple as it is made to look. Throw in the security and compliance needs of an enterprise organization and you can almost cut the complexity with a knife. All of this complexity requires hordes of specialists to be able to keep each cog working. While this is needed, it also makes it very easy to lose focus.
Teams lose sight of the fact that while their job is to tweak and tune their cog of choice, that tweaking and tuning only has meaning when all of the cogs come together to create exponential value for the business in some way. It’s when that critical connection to the business is lost that the divide between teams grows. Each team is focused on only their issues, their challenges and how they can make their cog work better. It’s all they know. Throw in a dose of corporate politics (because there’s always plenty of that to go around) and it’s easy to see why the divide exists.
THE POWER OF A SHARED VISION
It’s important to recognize that you can’t force your teams to come together. Efforts driven by reorganization, joint task forces, etc., will have no effect if you don’t address the issue of what people are focused on. The continuing complexity of IT systems has created a vast army of technical specialists who know their domain inside and out – but know little else. Reorganizing or creating joint task forces does nothing but provide a forum for disagreement as each side and team continues to stay focused on their issues and needs. Anything else will require that they step out of their comfort zone.
To break through this, you must change the focus to one of solving specific business problems.
By elevating the focus out of the technical realms, you will take everyone out of their comfort zones. This will be like transporting them into a boat adrift in the ocean with no oars. They must find a way to work together to survive. With a focus on a business issue, no one has the moral high ground or can rely on their tired technical arguments. Their only choice is to come together, ask what’s stopping them from solving this specific business problem and then work together to find the solution.
This approach of creating a shared vision driven by specific business problems and outcomes has within it the power to dramatically affect how your teams view each other. By creating a common challenge and an open forum, they are able to freely discuss roadblocks and barriers they see with each other’s team within the safety of a mandate that everyone must change. It ceases to be about right or wrong, finger pointing and protectionism. Instead, the teams are challenged to envision a new way of doing things and come to realize that their counterparts are often the ones that can provide the greatest insight into areas for improvement.
MAKING IT LAST
While this approach is both simple and powerful, there are always those who are cynical and jaded by the many failed reorganizations and restructurings of the past. This is why the early efforts are the most important and most fragile for an IT organization. To build lasting relationships between your teams and permanently tear down the silos, you must ensure that the first effort succeeds – and succeeds wildly.
You must be careful to start with small and simple steps. Begin with a business goal that is meaningful, but that is selected to provide a ready opportunity for both sides to make meaningful contributions and changes within their organizations. This will ensure a balanced effort and a shared success. It will cement the relationships and demonstrate to your entire organization that it really can be done. From there, it will be much easier to build upon this success to create more significant change throughout the organization.
With this approach, you will build lasting relationships within your teams and across silos. At the same time, you will be affecting business-meaningful change that has measurable and demonstrable impact on the organization. That creates a self-feeding cycle whereby your teams are able to see how they were able to have a positive impact by working together.
Perhaps most importantly, you will have planted seeds that over time will fundamentally and radically change the attitudes, relationships and views between your teams. After finding success through this process and understanding how both camps are integral to achieving it, they will realize that while they may live on different sides of the tracks, their problems are very much the same.
About the Author:
Founder & Institute Fellow
Charles Araujo is a technology analyst and internationally recognized authority on the Digital Enterprise and Leadership in the Digital Era who advises technology companies and enterprise leaders on how to navigate the transition from the Industrial Age to the Digital Era. Having spent over thirty years in the technology industry, he has been researching Digital Transformation long before it became the uber-buzzword of today, and is now focused on helping Digital Era Leaders prepare themselves and their organizations as the macro trends of the primacy of the customer and the primacy of the algorithm collide, ushering us into what he calls The New Human Age.
Principal Analyst with Intellyx, founder of The Institute for Digital Transformation, author of three books, and most recently the co-founder (with his wife) of The MAPS Institute, he is a sought-after keynote speaker and has been quoted or published in CIO, Time, InformationWeek, CIO Insight, NetworkWorld, Computerworld, USA Today, and Forbes.