“Many IT departments are kicked around by the circumstances: fighting fires wherever they appear, dealing with botched-up, antiquated systems, heterogeneous infrastructures, incompatible interfaces, undocumented specifications and shattered, often overlapping applications. Between two breaths, business and IT people may find a few moments to discuss requirements, ideas, plans (speed-dating, really). Then it is back to the usual.”
The above quote was from Ron Tolido, CTO of Capgemini and a frequent IT industry blogger (I highly recommend his blog). It brings up an issue with the challenges of IT as being perceived as more tactical versus strategic to the business.
In many cases IT is seen as an operational function that provides services to the “business” people in their respective companies. As such, they are considered a great asset having technical skills and knowledge that others in the organization lack. However, even though they are skilled and respected they are often just seen as service providers and fundamentally a necessary overhead to the business. However, when IT combines both right brain creative thinking with left brain logical thinking greater leaps in value are achieved. I hate to go to the default of Google as a company as the best example of this – but fundamentally IT is their business and as such it informs nearly everything that they do.
IT needs to be invited to the business table not just to provide operational services – however valuable they are. Additionally, IT should also be consulted on what new ways technology can increase market share, raise brand awareness, improve revenue, increase profitability and develop new products, services and markets.
That is a tall order but if it can be achieved great things can happen. Asking IT professionals to be more creative in their day-to-day business isn’t crazy. Most IT guys that I know have dozens of ideas and opinions on improving products and services. They are constantly pushing their vendors for better features, they are often adopting new gadgets for personal use, they are up on the latest technologies and trends, and they love mixing it up with their peers. The problem is that they aren’t often asked (or more to the point – listened to) to provide feedback for the companies they work for specific to the businesses they are in.
We are in a tough economy and it is at these times when we can instigate change. Companies should look to IT for new ideas and should create a culture that includes them as a part of the business process. CEOs need to overcome their intimidation of IT – which I think is one of the big reasons for the divide. More CIOs need to become CEOs – which is not the typical trend. Additionally, CIOs need to see themselves not just as service providers whose primary job is keeping the lights on – but also helping to make sure the light bill is paid by generating income for the company. Essentially it is easier to just be overhead – and do your job well – then to go out and be responsible for revenue. An old manager of mine told me once that there was nothing more strategic than revenue to a business. If IT wants to become truly strategic to the business – beyond the necessary role of keeping the databases running and email working – then it must also generate revenue for the company.