Does The Business (Still) Hate IT?

There is certainly no shortage of books to read about how to do a better job in 2010.  One of those just noted is "8 Things We Hate About IT" by Susan Cramm.  Given a quick review of the list, probably a better way to title it would be “8 Beaten-to-Death Clichés” about IT-business relationships. Come on, folks, can’t we move past these old saws: IT inhibits change, doesn’t support innovation, condescends about technology, is too reactive, advocates for the expensive (deluxe) solution, yadda, yadda, validated from a 2009 survey. She offers up an equivalent list of complaints from the other vantage point (IT’s) that you can probably imagine without spelling it out. Here’s a teaser to get your imagination going: “IT hates it when the business wants it all right now.” [Caution – if you ask people to select choices from lists — and construct the list with certain choices, surveys tell you about those choices.]

But Susan is on to something — why (if it is the case) are the issues between IT and the business the same as they’ve been since retiring CIOs were knee-high? Here are a couple ideas:

• Tension between IT and line businesses is designed into organizational structures. Hard-wiring organizational lines into centralized IT “shops” assigned to business units or combinations puts IT unwittingly into a self-perceived servant relationship with business units. No doubt in recent economic downturn years, increasing centralization of IT has resulted in a cementing of “us” versus “them” — where as federated and decentralized structures preserve some of “us” within “them” and align attitudes and goals accordingly. HR, Accounting, Facilities, and other centralized services all struggle with balancing acts of meeting the needs of those they service.

• Preserving a request-fulfill relationship institutionalizes disappointment all around. Missed expectations and unhappiness result from a “take a number” approach to queuing up service requests, ranking them according to some criteria, estimating fulfillment time, and attempting to deliver in the face of numerous “Look over there!” distractions. Again, breaking up some of the IT resources into the business units for dedicated and local work would help. CIOs should read and absorb Forrester’s BT model for operating IT.

• IT priorities are too inside-out. A business exec wants to start Tweeting to customers and sneers at the IT folks who are too busy ensuring that Twitter doesn’t import nasty viruses into the firm to help with best practices. As the economy improves, IT must put back the folks who do market scans for how other firms are using this and that tech, scan the departments (especially marketing) for what they might be thinking, and be ready to pilot and roll out tools to maintain competitive parity. Lunch-and-learn sessions about interesting new technologies should be part of the job responsibility of IT. And CIOs should convince peers that sending their staff to participate is also a requirement.

These are just a few ideas — frankly, this list could get pretty long. But I’m tired of living a groundhog day of IT-Business battles, aren’t you?


re: Does The Business (Still) Hate IT?

Sharyn, thank you for your thoughtful post on my forthcoming book. Yes, I certainly agree that everybody is tired of the clichés. But the fact is, after all of these years, they still exist given the inherent conflicts of service vs. control. With only 25% of business leaders feeling IT-smart, I started with the assumption that there was a need to lay out IT leadership principles in a simple, yet comprehensive manner, in order to make sure that IT and the other parts of the business are shooting for the same goals and understand their respective roles. The purpose of the book is to outline the leadership principles that should be followed (humbly, a type of 10 commandments for IT). Awareness is a necessary condition for any positive change. Then we can dig deeper on the root causes that are holding us back. I’d be happy to engage further if you are interested.

re: Does The Business (Still) Hate IT?

Whether we use old or current cliches really is not the issue. The issue is the relationshp between IT and business organizations. Always has been - people focused. Some organizations have built good, trusting relationships between IT and business organizations. Addressing your three points certainly will help, but will not suffice in relationship building. If IT and business organizations will:
1. Build trust
2. Align with each other (services and projects)
3. IT understands the business
4. Business understands IT
5. Both adapts to change
6. Both lead people and manage things
7. Both deliver on commitments (based on measurements)

good to great relationships can be built and endure.
And the issues you bring up are reduces or eliminated.