Business and IT – Why can’t you guys just get along?

About 6 months ago I wrote the article below but didn’t publish it at that time. I remember that I thought it was too off topic and that I was ranting a little to much…. Today I read an interesting discussion on the collaboration between IT and Comms on the G+ Intranet and Digital Workplace forum and remembered this one and now is the time.

I’m still making gross generalisations in the post but since I am one of the people who have crossed the chasm from business to IT, I also feel that it is worth sharing these observations which are rooted in my own experience as seen from both sides of the divide and I feel quite confident that this will not be my last post around this topic 🙂

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Some months ago I was attending an internal course in IT Service Management. I can honestly say that I didn’t find it particularly interesting. Half way through day two and in the middle of a very exciting *ahem* presentation of the process for implementing changes I started to think about how the entire system was designed to limit human interaction! Everything was neatly divided into boxes and workflows made sure that everything was moved along to the next step as soon as you had made your contribution. Very smooth.

Elaborate standards are put in place to ensure this: Standardised solutions, a predictable future, smooth transitions and continuity. Why do we then still talk about the chasm between IT and Line of Business. The processes are very linear and leave little room for learning in the process and it’s when that happens that things start to go pear shaped. The system and workflows grind to a halt and all of a sudden you NEED human interaction to get things moving – the very thing that the processes and systems have eliminated.

I am aware that the above is a rather crude generalization, but I’m taking it a step further by stating two hypotheses:

1) IT put their trust in having proper systems and procedures.
2) ‘The business’ put their trust in having proper colleagues.

In IT it’s about ensuring business continuity and that’s about rigid systems and procedures – people are by no means robots but they are there to make sure things are running as smoothly as possible so that technology helps rather than obstructs work. In the business it’s about profit, business development, and innovation – things that require research and often a lot of trial and error. Certainly not something that fits nicely within rigid systems but some times a rigid system can also help you be more efficient. The challenge is that it is not nearly as interesting to fill out an online form than it is to walk over and have a chat with the cute receptionist.

No wonder that we all too often find ourselves caught up in the ‘them and us’ discussion. As long as you have these two organizational silos we will not get rid of this. The radical solution is to get rid of the IT department and integrate the people in the organisation. You may argue that this will require more coordination but I’m not so sure about that. It will be a different kind of coordination and that is of course a daunting obstacle. Either way, you certainly need to cultivate the competence of mutual understanding or – at the very least – find someone who can translate and challenge. I’ll end this post with a few well-meant words of advice to both sides of the divide:

Hey ‘IT guys’…
1) If you insist on referring to your business counterparts as “Customers” – treat them as such or the WILL take their business elsewhere. A place to start: Ask if you would do business with yourself if you received the same treatment.
2) There is ALWAYS a business reason! It may not be evident and it may not be good, but it is not something you can determine on your own. You need to explore it together.

Hey ‘Business guys’…
1) You are very vocal about don’t understanding any “computer stuff” but have no problem telling when something is too expensive, complicated, etc. – and then you go off and buy a system or tool that you heard about at a random conference. Where’s the credibility in that? Why would I, as the IT guy, take you seriously?
2) You have many great ideas that “just” or “simply” need to be made. There’s no such thing as “just simply”. I usually say “just” takes 4 hours and “simply” takes 8. Do the math.

…and Hey! Both of you!
Pick up the phone. Grab a cup of coffee. Open up. Ask questions. Try to understand. Ask more questions. Yes! It takes time and effort and you may even find it frustrating but in the end you will find that it has been worthwhile building the bridge and there is no question that your colleagues will benefit from much better solutions than they have been used to.

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5 thoughts on “Business and IT – Why can’t you guys just get along?

  1. Too many organisations are still fundamentally structured in the same, top-down fashion as they were a century ago. They just have this extra leg called IT. It would be a brave company that changed this though – which means it’s unlikely to happen to any FTSE or Fortune 500 company.

    1. I hear ya! At my current company IT mgmt are talking about how we need to get more “business integrated” and yet we remain a relatively large silo. Business integrated would mean that the IT organisation as we know it will disappear and largely become a networked organisation with some operational functions (like server and network maintenance) remaining classical departments. This doesn’t happen over night and the first step is still to build a better mutual understanding of eachother’s work.

  2. I was basically exploring for points for my very own weblog and found your
    blog post, “Business and IT – Why can’t you guys just get along?
    Connaxions”, do you care if I start using a few of your ideas?
    Thank you ,Nora

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