Asuret, Inc. CEO Michael Krigsman, a well-known expert on the causes and prevention of IT failures, started an interesting line of discussion on Focus.com by posing that old chestnut of a question: Why do IT and lines of business have so much tension?
While the answer will vary from organization to organization, a number of readers chimed in with some of the most commonly mentioned reasons:
- Lack of leadership (from the CIO, CEO and/or other business leaders)
- Lack of communication
- Lack of understanding (IT doesn't understand business needs and/or business doesn't understand underlying technology)
- Internal politics
- Lack of flexibility (mostly from IT, but some mentioned business as well)
Other reasons that aren't cited as frequently but were mentioned in the discussion thread:
- A lack of ITIL processes and procedures
- A fundamental tension between systems and users (Any IT system or network works best without users)
- Inevitable tension as the IT function matures
- IT staffers who earn more than their business counterparts
John Bagdanov hits on a point that often seems to get downplayed but I think does more than perhaps any other to drive a wedge between IT and the business: directives that are in direct opposition to each other. Writes Bagdanov:
Business units (BUs) need technology that will help them deliver products/services to their customers. Each BU has specific technology needs that differ from other BUs in the same company. IT's directive is to provide technology to its clients (BUs) at a low cost. Low costs are achieved by managing standardized infrastructure that are leveraged across all BUs. Anything a BU needs that falls outside of standards requires specialized support which increases IT costs. Consequently, for IT to deliver on their "low cost" directives, they must deny "specialized" technology that may be required by BUs.
IT's typical response is to adopt a locked-down, centralized (and less expensive) infrastructure. As I've noted before, many technologies that qualify as truly disruptive -- PCs, the Internet and mobile telephony -- have been part of this centralization vs. decentralization battle. Cloud computing is the latest to excite users and vex IT. (Though vendors are pushing the capex vs. opex angle in hopes of winning IT's support for the cloud.)
Sean Madian makes a similar point and ultimately faults senior leadership:
Companies virtually guarantee tension if IT is held accountable to providing basic technology at the lowest possible cost while line staff wants the best technology, customized or non-standard applications, 24/7 support, and a 100% open platform (i.e. no restrictions on access or usage). IT management, justifiably, complains that it is set up to fail when it is held accountable for "Controlling costs and delivering exceptional service." The responsibility for this tension rests at the feet of the organization's leadership and to an extent IT and line management who struggle to communicate openly around the tension.
Much of this tension would vanish, opines Bagdanov, if senior business leaders (many of whom see IT as a cost to be cut) would allow IT to focus on helping business units achieve revenue growth. Such a shift won't come easily, says Bagdanov, so "the assistance of a third-party advisor can often help drive this type of organizational change." Perhaps not coincidentally, Bagdanov runs the IT Answers 4U website, which offers both free content and fee-based advisory services. Still, as I wrote earlier this week in a post on application consolidation, sometimes tough advice is easier to take if it comes from an outsider.
Readers also offered what I thought were some great suggestions that may help improve IT/business relations. From Joe Natoli, whose bio says he's a chief UX architect at Mind Over Machines:
Projects are usually tagged as either a "business" project or an "IT" project, and that's a mistake to begin with. The "or" should be replaced with an "and". When companies set up this kind of us vs. them environment where one side is in a position to overrule the other, the results will never serve either side properly.
From Glenn Marshall, who is an IT consultant for Grok-A-Lot, a company specializing in health care IT:
Senior leadership must also set the expectation that all part of the business will jointly resolve any differences promptly so as to continuing meeting the requirements. And there must be clear consequences, positive and negative, for exceeding or missing those requirements.
And from Madian (sorry, no bio):
In my experience, training IT to recognize that its customer is the USER of the technology is helpful first step. I have had my help desk staff do weekly "walkabouts" to talk directly with users and proactively spot issues before outright failure occurs. While time-inefficient, avoiding the use of remote desktop technology in favor of walking to the customer's location to provide support, humanizes the support process and dramatically increases customer satisfaction.