There is certainly no shortage of books to read about how to do a better job in 2010. One of those just noted is “8 Things We Hate About IT” by Susan Cramm. Given a quick review of the list, probably a better way to title it would be “8 Beaten-to-Death Clichés” about IT-business relationships. Come on, folks, can’t we move past these old saws: IT inhibits change, doesn’t support innovation, condescends about technology, is too reactive, advocates for the expensive (deluxe) solution, yadda, yadda, validated from a 2009 survey. She offers up an equivalent list of complaints from the other vantage point (IT’s) that you can probably imagine without spelling it out. Here’s a teaser to get your imagination going: “IT hates it when the business wants it all right now.” [Caution – if you ask people to select choices from lists — and construct the list with certain choices, surveys tell you about those choices.]
But Susan is on to something — why (if it is the case) are the issues between IT and the business the same as they’ve been since retiring CIOs were knee-high? Here are a couple ideas:
• Tension between IT and line businesses is designed into organizational structures. Hard-wiring organizational lines into centralized IT “shops” assigned to business units or combinations puts IT unwittingly into a self-perceived servant relationship with business units. No doubt in recent economic downturn years, increasing centralization of IT has resulted in a cementing of “us” versus “them” — where as federated and decentralized structures preserve some of “us” within “them” and align attitudes and goals accordingly. HR, Accounting, Facilities, and other centralized services all struggle with balancing acts of meeting the needs of those they service.
• Preserving a request-fulfill relationship institutionalizes disappointment all around. Missed expectations and unhappiness result from a “take a number” approach to queuing up service requests, ranking them according to some criteria, estimating fulfillment time, and attempting to deliver in the face of numerous “Look over there!” distractions. Again, breaking up some of the IT resources into the business units for dedicated and local work would help. CIOs should read and absorb Forrester’s BT model for operating IT.
• IT priorities are too inside-out. A business exec wants to start Tweeting to customers and sneers at the IT folks who are too busy ensuring that Twitter doesn’t import nasty viruses into the firm to help with best practices. As the economy improves, IT must put back the folks who do market scans for how other firms are using this and that tech, scan the departments (especially marketing) for what they might be thinking, and be ready to pilot and roll out tools to maintain competitive parity. Lunch-and-learn sessions about interesting new technologies should be part of the job responsibility of IT. And CIOs should convince peers that sending their staff to participate is also a requirement.
These are just a few ideas — frankly, this list could get pretty long. But I’m tired of living a groundhog day of IT-Business battles, aren’t you?