Over and over and over, I read about projects failing and organizations crumbling because of a divide between IT and the business. Put in other terms, I often read that "IT isn't aligned with the business" or, put more bluntly, "the business has no idea what IT does/is doing." As a result, these organizations fail to use IT to its fullest potential. A few weeks ago, I wrote a posting here entitled Four keys to business intelligence success. The first comment on that article read as follows:
An understanding by all involved that BI is not an "IT project" but is, instead, a "business project" is essential.
Congratulations Scott, you get it. Finally someone at TR actually understands that IT "IS" part of the business and not separate from the business. You get five Gold Stars. Thank You.
Although the "IT/business divide" complaint wasn't the focus of the article and definitely not at the top of my mind when I was writing the posting, since that comment was written, I've read a number of articles lamenting the IT/business divide and have a few thoughts about it. I'll be honest, the whole "divide" debate sort of drives me nuts. You never hear about "sales/business" or "marketing/business" divides. Here we go.
Get over it
There is no such thing as an IT/business divide! As implied by the user comment above, IT is but one cog in the giant wheel that makes the business, in its entirety, work as a cohesive whole. In fact, I often think about IT as the glue that helps to hold various pieces of an organization together. After all, most business processes today rely on technological underpinnings to work. Further, departments communicate with one another using systems installed and supported by technology people. Without modern systems in place, organizations would be left in the dust and unable to meet the high expectations of customers. People - especially the CIO - should stop thinking about IT as an external organization peering into the "business" and instead consider IT to be at the hub of the wheel and holding the whole thing together. Maybe this makes IT seem too self-important; I can assure you that my intent is not to overstate IT's importance to the organization, but to instead provide a possible context for getting out of the "divide" mindset.
Before you can change the mind of others regarding this issue, you have to truly believe that there is no divide and that IT is a part of the business. If you don't, the perception issue will always remain.
Ok, so getting over it can be easier said than done. In some organizations, IT is still considered, at best, a necessary evil. Management and the CIO remain at odds over how to best leverage technology for the betterment of the organization and with some executives having been in their seats for decades, change will come very slowly. In these kinds of organizations - and I've been in them - I can see why the senior IT leader would lament the lack of understanding on the part of the executive team regarding IT's role and possibilities.
When an organization is operating like this, it's time to get creative and force the issue - respectfully, of course. In these kinds of organizations, IT is more often than not shielded from what's going on elsewhere; after all, if IT is considered simply a cost center, there probably won't be too many eyes on it except to watch the expenditures. So, use that to your advantage and unilaterally undertake a project that can help take the organization rise to new heights. I'm not suggesting you subvert marching orders, but to simply take on a project that will lift your standing in the organization and provide a real live demonstration on how IT can help the overall business. Don't go it alone if you don't have to; consider partnering with another trusted executive to make this happen. Pick something that might not be on people's radar that you feel would pique the interest of other executives or of the CEO. It goes without saying that installing that brand new voice mail system probably won't do the trick. However, installing that brand new voice mail system that has interactive voice response that lowers customer complaint resolution time and helps increase overall customer satisfaction just might. The first step is getting people to listen; by teasing them with something useful, you'll get their ear. Then, once they're hooked, make sure to continue to execute well. Obviously, this approach can't and won't work for everyone, but for an organization on the cusp of viewing and using IT as a strategic asset. It could be just what the doctor ordered.
For me, being able to help our President get better and more current information on a regular basis has helped tremendously increase the value of IT in his mind. Now, to be fair, he didn't exactly see IT as a waste before! Far from it, in fact. However, the ability for IT to bring data from disparate business units together into a single pane has been of huge benefit for both my department and for the college in general.
If you're the kind of person that is frustrated by organizational dynamics that reduce IT to an outcast group or a group significantly underutilized and you simply can't do anything about it, it's time to polish up the resume and move on. Someone out there with an interest in being the "computer person" will be more than happy to sit in your chair while you move to an organization that better fits your style.
It may seem like I oversimplify things here. After all, there are probably other in-between choices. My point in all this is that this perception of IT being somehow outside the business simply can't continue if businesses expect to make heavier and heavier use of technology in operations and processes. In many cases, the capability to overcome this perception lies right in the hands of the CIO who must take the charge to close the divide and make IT that central point in the business hub. If you're a CIO in an organization and feel like there is a divide, so something about it. It might take a while, but the effort is worth it.
Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive with CampusWorks, Inc. Scott is available for consulting, writing, and speaking engagements and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.