IT Lacks Brain for Business (No, Really)

Ann All

One of my husband's favorite movies is "Cool Hand Luke." He's been known to use its best-known line (No. 11 on the American Film Institute's list of the top 100 movie quotations of all time) during debates with me or our 8-year-old son. Not having seen the film, my son doesn't get the reference. It's a little ironic, of course, since the quote is: "What we've got here is failure to communicate."


The line also sums up the relationship many IT departments have with their business users. I've written about this seeming lack of communication a number of times. I generally advise IT to save the geek-speak for their tech buddies and to use terms the business can understand and appreicate. Instead of dwelling on the technological capabilities of XML, for instance, emphasize the improved integration with clients and partners and other benefits that should result from using it.


That's not bad advice, but it doesn't account for the fact that IT folks also need to try to hear and really understand what business users tell them. This may be a challenge, thanks to their Myers-Briggs personality type. According to this piece, some 60 percent of tech pros who have taken Myers-Briggs assessments administered by CPP Inc. have Introverted Sensing Thinking and Judging (ISTJ) personality types.


This means they don't like ambiguity and risk and favor facts over intuition. ISTJs typically view situations in black-and-white rather than seeing shades of gray. Sherrie Haynie, an organizational consultant with CPP, the exclusive publisher of the Myers-Briggs assessment, describes tech pros as "more set in their ways when it comes to what's right and wrong and what won't work based on the past." Receiving input from others is a challenge for them, Haynie adds.


I touched upon this in my recent interview with Michael Harris, owner and president of David Consulting Group and one of three authors of a new book titled "The Business Value of IT: Managing Risks, Optimizing Performance and Measuring Results." Harris told me:

Often IT isn't able to flex in the way business would like to see and would expect it to. IT's view of the way the business should run things is, they should make their minds up, decide what they want to do, and then stick to it. And they should understand that some IT projects are worth spending money on, even if they take five years to implement. The business doesn't understand that at all and doesn't care about it.

The business is always seeking to become more flexible, which is anathema to IT. Maybe that's why IT types tend to resist the idea of cloud computing, which is all about making computing resources more flexible, and collaborative technologies, which are all about making business communications more flexible. To throw another "Cool Hand Luke" reference out there, many IT folks would probably rather spend a night "in the box" (a punishment suffered many times by Newman in the movie) than a meeting thinking "outside the box."


Can IT accommodate the business need for more flexibility? Harris suggests including IT in regularly-scheduled strategy sessions, during which the business should be able to tell IT whether it views each business line as being in investment mode or in cost mode. The implication for IT? Says Harris:

It needs to plan each implementation it does knowing that in each strategic time period it might change from being in investment mode to being in cost mode.

Sounds like a start, anyway.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
May 14, 2009 8:19 AM Glenn Whitfield Glenn Whitfield  says:


Very true!  Communication means making sure I understand what you're saying and you understand what I'm saying.  Too often we leave the room "thinking" we know what the other person means.  I comment on this more here:

Nice post!

Glenn Whitfield

May 14, 2009 8:20 AM Peter Thomas Peter Thomas  says:

Liked the article Ann - IT people introverted? who would have guessed :-).


May 15, 2009 12:02 PM Eric Veal Eric Veal  says:

Hi An,

I liked this article but had some concerns about your logic.  You wrote, "I generally advise IT departments to save the geek-speak for their tech buddies and to use terms the business can understand and appreciate." I think that's good advice, but don't you think there's also a role for IT to train the business about how things work?  Would business be able to make good decisions if they didn't understand how they worked?  Maybe the business just doesn't want to learn new things and be flexible?

You wrote that Mr. Harris says that in IT's mind, the business should "decide what they want to do and then stick to it".  Don't you agree?  Shouldn't they?  Wouldn't doing so be good commitment,  leadeship, and business?

The flip side of this argument is that since technologies and markets keep changing, and one of IT's main roles is to understand the market impacts of technology innovations, why would it be in IT's interest to have the business lock on a particular path?  Aren't they the ones who are the beatniks, artists, and change agents and just use the business to get the message out and execute? 

You suggest in your article that it is the business and not IT that is seeking to become more flexible.  I disagree with your point.  Take the Agile/Scrum process, for example.  Didn't that come from IT and not the business?  Wouldn't you agree that most process innovation and flexibilities come from technology innovation and not the business?  (the cloud and collaboration technologies, for example)

And please tell me, what's your evidence that IT isn't into cloud computing and collaborative technologies?  Didn't they invent them?

Maybe IT people and artists aren't always great communicators but they are leaders through action; not knowledgea and talking.  Now I call that intuition!


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