Do other departments – HR, finance, PR, marketing, FM – see IT is a key part of the business or as simply a support function?
It’s a central question and one which always generates heated debate as it did when Jeremy White posed the question “Is there a gap between IT and business” on this forum. The gap refers to the perception that IT is not driven by the same aims and objectives as the revenue generating parts of an organisation.
Some members thought the division is shrinking, others that it remains as it ever was. And when it came to expressing views, punches were certainly not pulled! Fred Held was scathing: “I have never met a CIO with business knowledge of the company they work for,” he said. “IT management does not understand business and top management is afraid of IT.”
Johan Maartens suggested the narrow focus of an IT team can be detrimental to a business. “According to IT, they are the ones that empower the business. However, due to their focus on technology and the threats to the business they are often the hindering force in the business. They normally think about reasons why something cannot be done due to risks like hacking or viruses while the business thinks about what possibilities the new technology provides.”
He added: “When do you know when your IT is a hindering force? When they have a notice at their offices stating that only IT personnel are allowed entrance.”
According to Mark Weaver: “IT is driven first by the need for security then productivity, where as the business units’ priorities are typically opposite.” Aleksander Brankov added: “The sole purpose of IT is user support for business performance.” Mark Reynolds was very precise: “The business unit is looking for solutions, IT is looking for projects,” he said.
Geoff Downer commented: “The typical IT mindset is to support the business’ established needs or processes (and make them more efficient or comprehensive). The business mindset is to progress forward by thinking of, or finding, new needs and processes it can use to its advantage. The tricky bit is to combine these different mindsets synergistically.”
“Where there is a gap,” said Bryn Morgan, “it is about IT not understanding the business or the business not understanding IT, or specifically their own IT and what their IT department are there to do.”
Is all of this fair? It seems IT has a bit of an image problem within some organisations.
Could it be more that any perceived misalignment comes down to much of the traditional work of the IT department migrating elsewhere? A recent survey of 1,469 chief executive officers, chief financial officers, and chief information officers by McKinsey highlighted a growing gap between the IT head’s perceptive and the business head’s.
Whereas 40% of CEOs think they will invest 3% of total corporate costs on cloud computing, mobility, analytics and digital media initiatives this year only 12% of CIOs thought the same. (The assumption being the rest considered it less that 3%.) (http://www.mitcio.com/files/mckinsey-minding-digital-business.pdf)
The survey highlights how detached the two functions can become. “That surprising disconnect between how much chief executives think they are investing and how much chief information officers think they are investing may be a sign that computing resources are now dispersed and accessible by many, as public clouds become more popular, with easier to use interfaces. CIOs, who traditionally look after the corporate servers, may not have as good a handle on what is being used in their companies,” said McKinsey. That implies the role of IT is being sidelined to some degree with technical needs being met outside of the CIO’s domain. However, this very shifting of roles may actually bring IT into a more central position within a business.
“Technical teams are turning more business-savvy by necessity,” said Jeff Reser on the forum. “Business development and line-of-business managers are becoming more fluent in technology. Business negotiations – both internal and external – are more often than not handled by these experience ‘hybrid’ managers.”
James Ollerenshaw from Forrester Research said his organisation has recognised the convergence of business and IT by redefining ‘information technology’ or IT as ‘business technology’ or BT. “Thinking about it in this way makes complete sense for how IT not only impacts (even drives) the business, but how it is bought, implemented and owned,” he said.
So perhaps IT is, by default, starting to address the gap, and the perceptions. But it’s not just up to IT to make the moves. “IT can do a better job of aligning itself with the business than it already does. We can better understand the businesses we support. We can be more diligent about tracking our resource allocation relative to the priorities of the business. We can also help business leaders better understand what it is we can do for them,” said Christopher O’Malley on Computer World. (http://blogs.computerworld.com/19823/should_business_align_with_it)
“It does, however, take two to tango. So while IT continues to try to better align itself with the business, it might also make sense for the business to participate more aggressively in achieving that alignment.”
Do you think a shift in the way businesses use technology has led to IT being sidelined? Or it is, as a result, moving more mainstream?
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