The Pogo comic strip famously coined the phrase "We have met the enemy and he is us," a quip that unfortunately can be applied to many IT departments. Here are a few tips to avoid sabotaging IT's reputation and stay relevant.
Don't be "the department of no"
A sure way to relegate IT to irrelevance is to continue the tradition of saying "no" to any and all new requests. While less obvious than Seinfeld's famous "Soup Nazi," who would shout "No soup for you" to unfavored customers, many IT organizations subtly use "department of no" techniques daily.
IT leaders lament that there is never enough money, time, or people; the technology isn't ready or is incompatible; or a request didn't fit within some grand (but as yet unpublished) technology strategy. When IT was the sole source of corporate technology this approach worked quite successfully, but with the dual trends of consumerization and cloud computing, users can now get technology on the open market.
If you continue as the "department of no," you're likely to wake up one day and find employees have simply gone around IT and sourced their technology elsewhere.
Watch the consumer space
Traditionally, corporate IT purchased "enterprise" products and services that are supposedly designed to handle the rigors of corporate computing. The latest technical innovations emerged from the enterprise space, and consumer technology was largely a late recipient of these technologies. While no one would suggest running your ERP on consumer hardware, innovation in many areas has shifted from the enterprise space to the consumer space. If you doubt this assessment, ask BlackBerry how they've fared recently.
There will always be a need for powerful and highly reliable hardware in corporate computing, but in some cases innovative hardware and software are hitting the consumer space first, and can be acquired at significant savings versus the "enterprise" equivalent. This trend isn't only relevant to small businesses trying to skimp on costs, but massive Fortune 500 conglomerates are using consumer technologies since, in many cases, they're superior to the enterprise equivalent on their own merits. A blanket dismissal of consumer technology is made at IT's peril.
Many IT leaders tend to underinform their counterparts. This is often due to a "language barrier" of sorts, where IT people speak technology, their counterparts speak in business terms, and each side glazes over while the other speaks. This, then, creates an unconscious avoidance on the part of both parties, until communication dries to a trickle. The good news is that the average executive is now more technically savvy and has a better grasp of basic technical concepts that largely didn't exist in the past. However, it behooves IT to simplify complex technical topics and wrap them in business concepts like return on investment and business value.
Once speaking a common language, strive to speak with your counterparts more, rather than less. Areas like marketing that have traditionally had a minimal reliance on corporate IT are now on the forefront of digitalization, just as companies continue to merge, spin off divisions, and evolve into new markets. Over-informing your counterparts will keep you abreast of these developments and allow you to articulate how internal IT can help these high-level strategic objectives. This may be painful initially, but you'll gradually change your perception from incomprehensible "tech guy" to a strategic player who can articulate how technology can help accomplish critical business objectives.
The bottom line
While it may be comforting to blame "the business" or some other outside force for the woes of IT, we're often our own worst enemy. Consider how your IT organization and your own personal style impact how IT works with other leaders within your company, and make sure you're not sabotaging the organization you work so hard to build and advance.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.