CXO

Naked CIO: IT's job must be to ask 'Why?'

It's the big question at the heart of business alignment...

People bang on about IT and business alignment, but most of them are missing a fundamental truth about the concept, says the Naked CIO.

I remember a story, probably apocryphal, about a university student sitting his final exam in philosophy. Turning over the paper, he found the question "why do we exist?". His only answer, which apparently secured an A grade, was "why not?".

Those of us who work in IT are often stereotyped for our supposed negativity and criticised for saying no. Much less frequently we are criticised for being too ready to say yes, when we should actually have said, "perhaps". Rarely though, in my experience, do IT professionals in exchanges with staff or business colleagues ask, "why?".

As I have weaved my path through an IT career, I have found that the best IT troubleshooters and support personnel always address a problem not by applying a solution but rather by asking why something happened in the first place. Rebooting a PC might fix a problem, but if one has no insight into why the problem occurred in the first place, there can be no confidence that it won't arise again.

Improved efficiency and accuracy
Understanding why the business thinks a particular scheme is important will ensure your team gauges success throughout the course of the project or build. Success may not be an algorithm but rather improving efficiency and accuracy of someone's daily task. Understanding that fact is key to ensuring the results are delivered.

A new website or online feature is not about HMTL or .Net coding but rather about conveying a message or a service to your customers and knowing why that message or service is important. That understanding will allow us to align ourselves more precisely not only with the physical construct of delivery but also the conceptual one.

The architecture that the introverted technical genius in operations is proposing isn't about spending huge money on shiny new boxes and networks - it's about ensuring that our systems can support a specific purpose and the growth and evolution of that purpose. That's why understanding the underlying principle is essential.

Business alignment - the words so many people say and yet increasingly few understand - isn't about an MBA concept or buzzword that belongs to some elitist fraternity of CIOs and CTOs bent on confounding people with their brilliance.

It is about ensuring needs are met and that common needs and goals are identified. Don't tell people what they are to do - convince people why they need to do it and more importantly educate them about why something should be done.

Looking beyond the work queue
It frustrates me that so many IT people are apathetic towards what is going on around them. They simply view a work queue that tells them their next task without ever knowing the people or the rationale behind it. It frustrates me even more when IT professionals fail to appreciate that their efforts have a value in making other people's lives better.

It is also infuriating when the business fails to understand that value and opts against sharing their ideas with IT teams to get their input in terms of how something can best be delivered by addressing the true spirit of the problem.

Business alignment - if this is something we seek - is nothing more than asking why. To this concept and improving our ability to understand the business I say, and you should too, "why not?".

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