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Rosy outlook for services broker model may have hidden thorns for CIOs

What’s in a name? Sure, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet — but what about a CIO? If you referred to him or her as a services broker, what would change? On you’ll find my story on the growing trend of businesses of all sizes adopting the IT services broker model. Sometimes referred to by analysts as “hybrid IT,” this model makes IT the services facilitator in order to address the business’ desire to consume IT as a service. The story also explains how, rather than hiding from it, a services model confronts “shadow IT” — the dreaded and growing tendency among business users to take IT into their own hands. Many CIOs and analysts agree this evolution is the way of the future for IT, but one CIO I spoke with, Dan Petlon at Enterasys Networks in Andover, Mass., is rather sour on the moniker.

What is it that makes this title such a thorny issue for Petlon? After all, by his own account, he embraces much of the ideology behind the services broker model. He estimates he spends about a third of his time talking with leaders in the business about what they’re working on and how technology can help them move forward — enough to exorcise the specter of shadow IT. And he’s a self-professed “huge cloud fan,” counting about two dozen cloud-hosted applications in use at his company. So, is the issue just a matter of semantics, then? Yes and no.

“My job is to provide appropriate technologies to meet the needs of the business, whether that’s in the cloud or in-house, but I don’t think of myself as a service broker,” Petlon said. “I’m still a value-added function in the business; I’m not someone who arranges for someone else to provide a service.”

And therein lies much of his concern — CIOs and IT leaders devolving into a strict interpretation of “services broker.” He’s seen it happen to IT leaders who’ve given up on keeping up, Petlon said. They become glorified outsourcers, fighting with vendors and shuffling contracts while their relevance within the company diminishes.

“Increasingly, a lot of IT groups are finding themselves in that role, managing contracts, executing [service-level agreements] — and other than that, they’re not improving the business process,” he said. “It’s kind of like admitting defeat, saying ‘we’ll take that contract management vendor relationship role instead of being an active part of the business and trying to help the business compete on a higher plane. I think it’s the wrong path.”

If the title “CIO” becomes synonymous with “services broker,” will your role smell as sweet? Certainly there are benefits to the services broker model. But you should be aware of whether you define the label or it defines you.

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