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IT and business remain apart -- and that's a good thing

Galen Gruman | April 4, 2014
The irony is that some of that divide is healthy, but few companies can tell the good from the bad.

The trick is to understand when the IT/business divide is based on the never-ending desire for more, with the uneven pace of being able to satisfy the desires that matter and learning to let go of those that don't affect the organization, even if they impact us as individuals. "There's a natural limitation to how much technology-based change and innovation that individuals can absorb," Dorr says. "There's no amount of talent management can accelerate that to the point where orgs and people change as fast as the underlying technology, so there will always be a frustration."

That's healthy frustration, a sign that the company's employees are yearning to do better. If the IT/business gap stays relatively steady over time in such a company, it's a benign divide between ambition and capability. After all, you can't always get what you want, at least not quickly, and sometimes you don't need it.

The unhealthy IT/business divide and the IT organization that no longer makes sense
If that divide grows, you have an indication that ambitions are unrealistic and/or capability is inadequate. Solving that may require better management to focus on achievable ambitions as well as better IT to deliver on the capabilities. And "IT" may not mean the IT department, but technology efforts within business units — decentralized IT that a CIO and other business leaders orchestrate. That IT isn't a department but a function more akin to finance, which every business unit partially owns and manages, even if it's ultimately under the stewardship of the CFO.

The consumerization movement ended the era of the IT department as the be-all, end-all of technology. As technology becomes a core part of how we work and what we deliver, the notion of the IT department as the sole tech group stopped making sense. IT folks call this "shadow IT," as if it were a bad thing, but the truth is that IT people are often the ones living in the shadows, oblivious to what's going on in the wider world.

In truth, IT is really several departments: support, operations, design and development, integration and architecture, and assessment and purchasing. IT should be decomposed along such lines. Maybe they report to a CIO in the kind of dotted-line relationship that sales, marketing, and manufacturing typically report to the CFO, to ensure overall alignment. How you federate the technology efforts across your company is partially a matter of your industry and culture, but it is -- or should be -- a federation.

The relative balance in that federation is likely not right in your company, though. "Now that technology is no longer just about the back office of processing transactions, the real challenge is to pivot around revenue generation, not just about how to keep the lights on," says Mark Peacock, the IT Transformation practice leader at Hackett Group. When I go to CIO conferences, "keeping the lights on" dicussions still unfortunately dominate, a sign that IT is an operational group, not a strategic one. That's fine as long as you admit it -- and allow someone else to be strategic.


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