In Favor of the Process-Centric IT Team

Ann All

I've been a long-time advocate of IT taking the lead on process improvement. Plenty of smart folks agree. When I interviewed Jeanne Ross, director of the Center for Information Systems Research (CISR) at MIT and co-author with Peter Weill of "IT Savvy" (read an excerpt from the book in the Knowledge Network), she told me that making IT central to process improvement efforts is a good way to enhance its status within the broader business. It's not a strategy for the faint-hearted, though. As she pointed out, IT leaders must "believe they really have something to offer."


Anyway, my bias was showing as I read a great post by Sarat Varanasi on the Growing Technology Consulting blog, In it, he considers whether it makes more sense to align IT teams around a business process or around a technology. He lists the pros and cons of both before coming out in favor, like me, of aligning IT teams by process.


The advantages of aligning teams by process mostly have to do with creating a higher level of business knowledge and process understanding among IT staff, which in turn makes it easier to provide solutions that truly satisfy business needs. Another, perhaps less obvious, benefit with this approach is it gives teams a chance to work with a number of different technologies instead of specializing in just one or two. This should keep employees more engaged with their jobs, since most technologists love nothing more than the chance to try new things. It should also help CIOs create teams of IT folks with versatile skills.


Still, there are some positives associated with aligning teams by technology. Writes Varanasi: Teams can provide a high level of service irrespective of business process. Specialized knowledge of systems like ERP and CRM can make rollouts of additional functionality easier. And finally, it provides a clear career path for IT teams. My comment on the career path: I think it's risky for IT staff to peg their careers on a single technology. With the advent of cloud computing and other emerging technologies, forward-thinking folks will focus more on soft skills such as, well, process improvement.


Process-centric teams will generally work more closely with the business and this is largely a good thing. However, Varanasi does note on his list of cons that "ownership of issues or horizontal capabilities can get fuzzy in certain situations." The other con associated with process-centric teams is there may sometimes be a greater learning curve on new technologies. But that may be nothing when compared to the learning curve of technology-centric teams that are asked to switch to a different technology.


Still, I suspect many IT teams are aligned around technologies rather than business processes. What is your experience?

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