Why Do IT Organizations Spend More Time Playing Defense than Offense?

Sales, marketing, R&D, manufacturing– they all have one thing in common that sets them apart from IT. Most organizational strategies are focused on playing offense, while IT organizations continue to play defensively. Why do IT organizations tend to fall in a defensive pattern, and what could they gain by adopting more offensive strategies?

The Origin of the Defensive IT Posture

Once an enterprise infrastructure has been established, IT becomes primarily defensive. IT organizations generally don't develop a strategy toward offensive maneuvers; instead, they react as upgrades are necessary.

Rather than innovating or creating, a team usually looks toward other organizations in a reactive fashion, finding ways to improve upon existing infrastructure by utilizing the tools created by others. The emphasis within the majority of IT organizations is to facilitate rather than alter, and thus it's very rare for the organization as a whole to react offensively.

The Traditional IT Aversion to Risk

Generally, when IT does embark upon an offensive strategy, it’s still a reactive one– and it is usually a conservative, quick-hit project that carries very little risk. But risk management can ultimately snowball into risk avoidance if an organization isn't careful. Innovation is absolutely essential for an IT organization to remain relevant and demonstrate value, otherwise, they’re always playing a game of "keep up" with the industry.

Risk can be effectively managed without having to forego any potentially risky techniques– there simply needs to be a strategy in place and conditions for potential failure. Moreover, IT organizations must not be too afraid of failure to commit to potentially promising strategies.

The Value of Offense > Defense

Once a team shifts to an offensive strategy, others must keep up with them. Rather than being reactive, the organization becomes proactive. Offensive IT strategies vastly improve a company's efficiency and consistently move the needle toward better, more productive technology.

Best-in-breed IT organizational services prove the team’s value and will produce more budget for the IT infrastructure; in turn, this budget can be reinvested into additional improvements. Essentially, innovation can be used to grow the IT department and prove its value.

The Curse of the Defensive Strategy

Defensive IT departments, on the other hand, will often find their budget shrinking the more effective they are. The fewer issues that arise– and the better these issues are handled– the less the organization's value may seem obvious to those who are in charge of the budget. A defensive IT strategy will generally end with an IT department being as small as it can conceivably be before issues begin to crop up. It becomes more useful to be inefficient or ineffective, as this will not result in budgets being slashed.

If IT wishes to remain relevant and impactful, it has to adopt an offensive strategy in addition to its traditionally defensive techniques. Offensive, innovative strategies are what build IT value– while defensive strategies are only used to ensure the continued strength of the existing enterprise. Defensive IT teams will manage and maintain, but truly offensive IT teams will be able to develop and grow.

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