What is one of the most wicked problems in large organizations seriously adopting digital today? Many digital leaders would say it’s the challenge that Grey IT brings; some board members would turn to them and say, what is Grey IT?
Digital functions the world over have adopted a multitude of phrases to describe a core issue that manifests in many ways and for many reasons. Grey IT is ultimately the organization voting with its feet (or its projects) and buying and implementing technology without going through any digital function or digital governance. It’s a problem with its genesis in technology teams not meeting customer demands and the consumerization of technology.
There is an element of being careful what you wish for. In the 1990s, technology leaders bemoaned their business functions for not being engaged in digital transformation. Often the National Programme for IT and its perceived ‘failure’ within the NHS is accredited to the lack of business engagement; and now here we are a decade later complaining that the business is so engaged that they can deliver solutions without digital teams getting involved.
The management training catch phrase of the 1980s — “Don’t bring my problems, bring me solutions” — needs to be turned on its head. When the business has an issue, the ask needs to be, “Come to me with your problem, and let’s together come to a solution for it.” This will be a first step in preventing the Grey IT issue from getting worse. Once instigated, the digital function needs to be able to react to all the issues that are brought to the door, quickly, and in an agile manner that truly delivers on defined customer needs.
I propose that Grey IT is often rife in large public-sector organizations because of two key reasons: a capacity to keep up with consumerized technology delivery, and an often-backward view of innovation that comes from the business by digital professionals. The expectation that digital innovation can only come from those within technology rather than those at the cutting edge of business delivery has to be reconsidered by digital leadership — sometimes the customer does truly know best!
We must combat these root causes if we are to remove the negative outcomes of Grey IT’s existence. Technology outside of a decent governance capability is ultimately dangerous for business, and healthcare delivery in particular. Grey IT does just that; it delivers a layer of technology that does not have any governance to it. The real manifestation of Grey IT in the NHS today is often seen 12 months after the initial project go-live, when the bill for the second year of the license arrives or the need to upgrade becomes obvious and technology professionals are called to assist. Worse still, Grey IT becomes clear the day the system built, supported, procured, and run outside of IT doesn’t work anymore, and suddenly falls back to its base colors, black and white; whose problem is it, and who is going to fix it?
My organization was on the receiving end of one of the worst outcomes of Grey IT. Many years ago, we suffered a significant outage in the digital systems used in the Pathology Lab. Whilst the solution had been bought through a governed and appropriate manner, it had not been taken into the technology team within the trust it had been developed, evolved and supported by keen and enthusiastic users, but rather, a workforce that had moved on, had a higher priority (patient care), or simply had forgotten how to do stuff, was left supporting a solution that was on legacy infrastructure. So when a server went pop, a disc array went AWOL, and a back-up was missing, disaster struck. These are things ITIL teaches digital professionals to avoid, but once the grey mist has descended upon it, even the good book couldn’t help! All the technology team could do in this case was take control of the recovery and work hard to ensure the right lessons had been learnt and applied to the future.
Originally published on his blog, this piece is the first in a three-part series by Richard Corbridge, Chief Digital and Information Officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, and a member of KLAS’ International Advisory Board Member. The second installment will identify the most common types of Grey IT, and explain how they can negatively impact the organization. To follow him on Twitter, click here.
healthsystemCIO’s Interviews and Podcasts are sponsored by: