Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Business vs. IT the battle rages on --Where do you stand?

More transparency in the IT value proposition to the business plus more engagement partnership is needed with the business.

There’re quite a few classic business vs. IT debates last decade long: Does IT still Matter? What will happen to CIO role? 'Business vs IT': where do you stand for? Is the IT/business silo-ing a chronic problem in many organizations? Or have enterprises moved in the right direction, with a few hangers-backs? Yes, the battle rages on, also because 'we' continue to perpetuate the discussion. The positive side is: such debates may help business & IT do more reflection via pondering deeper: 

1.    Why are these Decade-long Debates still on?

 We perpetuate the "two solitudes" of IT and the business when we use the very term "IT and the business", and even more so when we use the term vs., or, of course, that old chestnut "aligning IT with the business." IT is embedded in almost everything we do today and will become increasingly so.

  • Lack of cohesive business strategy that encompasses IT in a single business strategic statement: Too often business strategy and IT strategy are developed mutually exclusive of each other. That is coupled with a pendulum swing back toward solution vendors selling to the business areas directly and by-passing IT, which is threatened to make the situation worse.
  •  It takes exceptionally strong and visionary leadership to see these forces working against the better path of the business as a whole and work together to bring about that significant change in behavior. To harmonize business/IT relationship, all CXOs need play as true business leaders, not as functional manager, that said, share the reward and shame together, if IT fails, it's also business's failure, same, if business is too stifle or slow, IT need take fair share of responsibility, with such mindset shift, "blame game" may be replaced by solution focus.      
  • The Silo Thinking & Culture Thing: many organizations are still running at the industrial speed -with hierarchical decision-making scenario, business is a sum of pieces, not a holistic whole, functional silos compete for resources, rather than work collaboratively & seamlessly to optimize business. There is also a sense of great comfort in 'pointing the finger' at someone else. It is very unsettling to have the arm loop back around and be pointing at yourself. Of course as leaders, we are or should be all in, for collectively being accountable for both successes and failures in business as a whole. 

2.    He Said, She Said

  • He Said: Why Business Doesn't Look To IT For Innovation?       
Firstly, IT has spent the last twenty years creating rules designed to limit what users can do in the name of Security. Thus, it has become perceived as a techno-legalistic bureaucracy. Secondly, when IT is asked to add a feature or new system, the engineers go overboard by adding every bell and whistle in the hopes of impressing users with their innovative skills. This turns something simple into a mesmerizing array of features that the average user will never use and acts only to create confusion and consternation. 

That said: What IT and users define as "innovation" are two entirely different things. To the IT department, it means pushing the limits of technology, whereas to the users it means making their jobs and lives simpler. The business is not interested in the upgrade of servers and desktops or virtualization and cloud computing. The business requires that IT provide solutions to real-life business problems. This can only be achieved by constant engagement and both sides seeing the other as a "partner" rather than an adversary.

IT too often doesn't take the needs of the business into account. How many times has IT develop some great app and rolled it out only to have it fall short? That is because IT so often doesn't listen. You can have the coolest toys and be the smartest guys in the room,  but if you are not adding value, making it easier for your business to do business then what’s the point.

Communication Matters: IT contribution to business value does not come from the technology itself, but from the change that IT both shapes and enables. CIOs and other IT leaders who fail to explain this to organizational leadership, and/or continue to extol the virtues of the technology itself merely perpetuate the problem and are putting their very survival at risk. There are too much tech talk and not enough business talk coupled with a lack of transparency on a financial basis which only fans the flames between the groups as IT has always been seen as a cost center and a rather expenses one at that. Also, don't wield compliance or technology as a weapon.

  • She Said: Business has “Bias” View on IT: 
On the business side: you have an organization that often fails to own its part of the relationship in partnering with IT.  Business leaders who see IT simply as a technology issue. Too often IT sees "business professionals" wanting to go back to the segmented organization and define Technology as something outside of the business as a separate entity. Truthfully,  there is no room for such individuals in the modern organization, and that is the mindset cause such constant battle.

The battle is really much large than IT and the business: It involves a similar (non-value added) perspective of all overhead functions including accounting, finance, HR, IT, customer service, etc. Without a direct tie to the P&L, all general and administrative functions are the object of scorn by the business. They siphon off money that could be used for the 'real' business. We are part of the inanimate object called IT that inflicts pain on them and makes their lives less productive.

Invite the CIO to Big Table: The CIO has the same responsibility for creating value across the business as the COO, CFO, CXO, etc. Invite the CIO to the weekly operations meeting and sincerely partner with IT, keep in mind on business risk matters, comply with the burdensome standards security advocate.

3.    The Business Value of IT

The more salient points of the "ongoing debate," the irony is there should be no debate. What is the real business value of IT? IT leaders may still need to ponder more:  

  • IT must prove itself to be a business partner. They must show that they are as interested in the bottom line as the sales or operations. Many IT departments need to reach out to business leaders and find ways to enable and work together. Technology should be an enabler, not an end in and of itself. Business is at odds with IT when they feel that IT isn't solving problems. In many cases, IT hinders business through restrictions and so forth.
  • IT leaders need be accountable to "organize IT financial, technical, and human resources around business value," IT is also responsible for ensuring that the non-IT business leaders understand the people, process, organizational and cultural changes that will be required, and for which they must be accountable, if they are to create and sustain value from their "IT investments" - more accurately, investments in IT-enabled change, such that they make investment decisions balancing attractiveness and achievability, and manage the required business changes.
  • Oversight Business Strategy: The role of IT is to enable the business by ensuring that there is a strong and clear relationship between IT investment decisions and the organization’s overall strategies, goals, and objectives. To achieve this, IT leaders must ensure that IT funding and solutions align with business strategies; they must organize IT financial, technical, and human resources around business value; and they must provide oversight of IT-related activities to manage IT-related risks.
  • IT departments need to innovate towards simplicity and discover new secure ways to allow users to do the things that have not been allowed in the past. Rules and complexity stifle user innovation and hold the enterprise back like a master holding firm to his dog's leash. IT/business intend to make villains of the competing interests and forget the underlying motives are often very good. Over engineering can easily happen when development is done in a vacuum.
  • Ultimately, More transparency in the IT value proposition to the business plus more engagement in partnership is needed with the business. IT should be creating value across organizational lines and not silo-ed as in years gone by. The cloud further complicates the relationship as now IT isn't the only delivery mechanism in town but proceed with caution as everything cloud isn't really the cloud.
  • CIO’s main focuses in running IT as the business:
a)     Customer Relationship Management: no matter it's executive peer relationship or business partner/user relationship, communication is key, deeply understand each other's world, and manage IT/business with empathy.

b)     IT Project/Program/Portfolio Management: IT investment/project delivery will also directly decide how effective IT is, always remember software's golden rule: work closely with customers to understand what they truly need, prioritize and optimize projects accordingly.

c) Vendor/Sourcing Management: There are more sourcing choices and quality vendors for CIOs to select now, but also bring up "complexity", CIOs need to evaluate solution more objectively, think effectiveness/efficiency on one side, and value/cost/agility/innovation /flexibility on the other side.

d) Talent Management: due to the changing nature of technology, talent management is also critical for CIO and IT leaders, think talent strategy as human capital investment, for business's long-term growth, rather than just fill out a position, and talent perspective will also shape business/IT culture, which is the most influential factor for IT/business performance.

Metaphorically, business vs. IT battle is just like our left-hand battle with the right hand to see which one is stronger, or the left brain and right brain compete to see which part is smarter. The beauty is in harmony, and they are all part of the body, only through coordination or corporation, the full business potential can be unleashed. To both business & IT: Make yourself and them a part of the solution, and make yourself and them as big WE-to stop arguing, and start partnering. 


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