In reading the second of IT Business Edge contributor Rob Enderle's series of blog posts "How to Turm Microsoft Around," I found myself heartily agreeing with his point that most tech vendors, including Microsoft, treat IT executives rather than line-of-business executives as their customers. They're preaching to the choir instead of demonstrating the value of their products to the audience that needs to be convinced. I've often wondered why vendors don't spend more time showing business executives how their products can solve real-world problems and achieve real-world goals.
For my money, Enderle sums it up here:
Line has the ability to drive additional spending based on additional value, but IT generally is stuck in cycle where it justifies additional spending by showcasing cost savings. It doesn't own the line processes it is augmenting, so it isn't in as good a position to argue top-line benefits for new technology as line managers are. And top-line growth assures the sustained use of a technology, not bottom-line savings because savings, no matter how good, tends to hit the law of diminishing returns while there is unlimited upside to growth, particularly during a recovery.
Of course, there are bigger trends at work here, too, including business executives beginning to see cloud computing and other types of outsourcing as a way to reduce reliance on internal IT departments. Keeping this in mind, Todd Biske makes a pretty compelling case for the need for IT to transform itself from an internal service provider to a trusted adviser. This may be a pretty big challenge for IT departments, many of which don't have good track records at transformation.
To do it successfully, IT will need to get a much better handle on business needs. Writes Biske on his Outside the Box blog:
A provider typically needs to only understand their side of the equation, that is, what they're providing. If you're a software developer, you understand software development, and you sit back and wait for someone to give you a software development task. Often times, the provider may establish some set offerings, and it's up to the consumer to decide if those offerings meet their needs or not. An adviser, on the other hand, must understand both sides of the problem: the needs of the consumer and the offerings of the provider.
Biske offers the example of a broker, who performs simple transaction of buying certain shares of stock at a certain price. (Remember, many people are becoming more comfortable doing this themselves online.) In contrast to a broker, a trusted financial adviser discusses his or her clients' needs in detail and offers solutions and advice designed to help clients make smart choices and derive maximum value from them. Guess which one IT should aspire to emulate? Right.
Will this mean that never again will business users make their own technology decisions? Well, no. Some will keep doing it, just as some people base many of their stock purchase decisions on nothing more than a hot tip or rumor. IT needs to accept this will happen and win over those folks by providing great advice, maybe even helping them solve problems caused by rash tech decisions. Biske writes:
The value add that IT needs to offer is the same that financial consultants do. We provide significantly better depth of understanding of the technology domains, along with the right amount of understanding of the business domains of our companies to advise the organization on technology decisions. For the non-IT worker that loves technology, it should be seen as validation of their efforts (not a roadblock).