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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.

In smarter companies, the Hackett Group sees a split between the "run" crew -- app maintenance and infrastructure -- and the technology-expoitation staff. Peacock says the "run" crew is composed of "basically plant managers." For exploiting technology for new, often new-revenue-oriented purposes, Hackett sees companies having a separate build organization that is project-oriented.

But most companies still seek what Peacock calls a "unicorn" -- a magical CIO who can make all facets of IT work perfectly, both operationally and strategically, both to support everything that now exists and anticipate and exploit all new technologies so that no one has to think about what might be missing or could be improved. That magical thinking is where businesses create some of the IT/business divide they so dislike.

If you can separate the various aspects of IT, you can then understand which of the divides are healthy and which are not. My guess is that when most businesspeople complain about the IT/business divide, they mostly mean the technology support group and the (often nonexistent) technology development group.

The support staff is an easy target, especially in companies where IT tends to live in the shadows and doesn't interact with users -- you know, the kind of shop that assumes no trouble tickets means everything is fine. No, as any parent of a small child can tell you, silence means something bad is probably happening. In the case of support, it means employees went off on their own to find and use solutions that work for them. That's actually a healthy response, and a smart company will take advantage of it by creating a framework that allows safe use of idiosyncratic technology choices.

The lack of (apparent) technology exploitation may be exacerbated by an operationally focused IT department, but it's a sign that no single organization can handle all technology. A good example of such a nonstrategic IT department is one still obsessing over the BYOD notion. Peacock does note that many CIOs were forced to lay off their strategic IT staff during the 2008-2012 recession, so that operational focus may not be in fact by the CIO's fault.

Which brings me back to the notion that IT should be thought of as a federation of roles, but more than as simply a federation of technology departments. The federation must include business units that buy, manage, and even create their own technologies -- marketing, for example -- as well as individual users who tend to explore new tech, such as those who adopted the iPad years before IT would admit its existence, who relied on Amazon Web Services to spin up test bed environments, and who adopted consumer technologies like Dropbox and Google Calendar to more easily collaborate with each other and outsiders.


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