The Partnership model is premised on the IT unit as a distinct organizational unit that contains most of the knowledge and expertise (i.e., people) it needs to achieve the functional objectives of building and keeping IT systems working, delivering some IT services itself and managing vendors that deliver the rest. Typically having its own management structure and budget, the IT unit’s leadership team manages around the unit’s boundary to access any knowledge the unit lacks and needs to meet objectives. This is usually achieved through the creation of mechanisms such as liaison roles that establish relationships with other areas of the business. A mature Partnership model also includes governance structures that engage senior non-IT executives to provide additional necessary knowledge such as strategic objectives and future plans or technology investments priorities.
Reinforcing a silo mentality, the Partnership organizing model has seen prescriptions advising CIOs to manage their IT unit as a business. Perhaps as a consequence, references to customers are invariably to internal employees. Moreover, despite the best efforts of IT unit staff, a consequence of this model is the struggle to generate expected returns from IT investments. Merely deploying technology is insufficient to ensure delivery of any expected business benefits. Ensuring the necessary organizational changes that will unlock benefits is a perennial challenge with the Partnership model, as making those changes is not the IT unit’s responsibility. This model also sees companies struggle with digital innovation; innovation does occur, but it tends to be haphazard. The model also encourages so-called bimodal IT[foot]Bimodal refers to the practice of managing two separate but coherent styles of work, one focused on predictability, the other on exploration. “Bi- modal,” Gartner website, https://www.gartner.com/it-glossary/bimodal/.[/foot] delivery.
The Pervasive model maintains that the “IT unit” is not a separate distinct organizational unit, but rather that it is embodied in a set of intra- and inter-organizational networks of connections providing access to distributed knowledge. It is through the coordination and integration of this knowledge that capabilities and products underpinned by technology are realized. This happens by bringing together—usually in teams—people with diverse discipline knowledge and experiences, and giving them resources and the freedom to do what is necessary to achieve outcomes, unhindered by functional silos, hierarchy, multiple handovers, unclear responsibilities, conflicting metrics, bureaucracy, and budgets.
This coordination and integration of knowledge to leverage technology takes place through collaboration and dialogue across an organization, not in an IT unit acting quasi-independently in a command and control manner. While there may be no explicit IT unit, architectural cohesion, data integrity, and cybersecurity are paramount, often maintained by principles-based governance structures. In addition, the traditional budgeting process is being ditched in favor of new funding models.
Although it is just emerging, we are getting glimpses of how the Pervasive model might evolve and the model’s likely variants. For example, a number of incumbent banks have expanded the role and scope of their traditional IT unit. DBS Bank organizes around what it calls “platforms,” a collection of business capabilities, technology assets, and people. In its quest to become more like a software company, Spanish bank BBVA replaced the role of CIO with a Director of Engineering and Organization who runs technology and business operations and is also responsible for digital products. René Deist, CIO of automotive supplier Faurecia, argues that in “three to five years everyone will work in IT.”[foot]René Deist (Chief Information Officer, Faurecia), MIT CISR interview, April 11, 2019.[/foot] Global energy company Enel is looking to a future where its IT unit, in the words of Head of Global Digital Solutions Carlo Bozzoli, will be “completely diluted” in the business.[foot]Carlo Bozzoli (Head of Global Digital Solutions, Enel), MIT CISR interview, September 13, 2018.[/foot] Starling Bank, a bank in the UK, is explicit about not having an IT department.