Many organisations have two distinct tribes. With different values, and even different DNA profiles, it is no surprise that their encounters are hostile. Ideally they try to co-exist in two parallel universes, separated by sandbags.
Skirmishes typically involve one tribe taunting the other with ill thought through requirements. The latter retaliates by pretending not to speak the same language, yet still managing to convey a patronising tone.
The two tribes I am alluding to are the users and the IT department. Enlightened organisations recognise that this scenario includes one tribe too many. Most organisations recognise that there is lingering tension at the IT business divide but have yet to make the link between this and their ongoing sustainability.
Profitability in the face of globalisation and empowered users will increasingly require a sophisticated use of IT. Corporate governance underpinned by wobbly IT will make shareholders nervous.
The traditional approach to addressing this is often referred to as business IT alignment, a much over used term, which generally means that the IT department needs to get its act together and do what the business requires of it. This authoritarian approach is probably a backlash from the “good old days” (pre-PC) when the IT department took great pleasure in letting the business know who was in charge. Need a file printed? No problem. Fill out this complex form and come back in a day or two. Woe betide those who misspelled print.
Alignment initially manifests itself through the IT department having to obediently map its activities on to the needs of the business strategy. The ongoing system development and service delivery are expected regardless of associated cost and risk.
Worse still, the business is not interested in what the IT department has to contribute in respect of the business strategy. Smart organisations recognise that IT can be a value creator, which from time to time should determine the business strategy.
In essence entwinement is a step beyond alignment. I am not advocating that IT leads the business. But I am suggesting that IT should shape the business. The business imperatives need to be jointly agreed by the IT and the business leaders.
Once everyone is agreed on the associated opportunity, risk and cost, then the IT department should be able to deliver to the business without rancour.
There is plenty of opportunity to improve entwinement where users encounter technologists. The trust levels are usually very low and this leads to tensions. These are usually addressed by having intermediaries such as business and systems analysts who traipse the demilitarised zone between the IT department and the users. In an entwined world such roles would be unnecessary.
Organisations need to flush out the inward-looking business-indifferent techies and replace them with hybrid business technologists, who are experts in IT and the business processes. And who have the interpersonal skills to win the respect of the users.
But it is not all IT’s fault. Users who wear their technophobia as a badge of honour similarly need to be smoked out. Users do not need to become technology experts at the bits and bytes level, but they do need to understand how IT can be used to deliver business value and what the state of the art is in respect of new technologies.
Both parties need to develop empathy towards each other.
My vision is that one day there will be no room/building marked IT department. The IT guys will be sitting in among the users, and best of all it won’t be possible to tell who is who. Anorak manufacturers beware.
Ade McCormack (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an IT-value consultant and author of IT Demystified – The IT handbook for business professionals, available via www.auridian.com/book.
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