IT Should Lead, Not Follow, on Process


About a month ago, I wrote a post in which I tried to convey some of the long-running angst about the role IT can and should play at most companies, especially the responsibilities of the CIO. In the post I shared a report from an MIT-sponsored event during which several attendees said CIOs needed to get more involved in process optimization.


And you know what? I'd written about it several times before, last May noting that not everyone thinks the CIO should be a process leader.


One expert who came out squarely in favor of CIOs leading process improvement efforts when I interviewed her last week was Jeanne Ross, director of the Center for Information Systems Research (CISR) at MIT and co-author with Peter Weill of "IT Savvy" (Harvard Business Publishing). You can check out an excerpt from the book in IT Business Edge's Knowledge Network. Ross told me that during a recent session with some top executives at MIT, it came out that IT folks tend to broadly defer to the business on process, assuming that business folks are the process experts at their companies. She said:

They assume that business people are pretty good at process. And in fact, they are not. Some IT people say, "Business people don't really get process. I need to help drive this through." And that's a real a-ha moment.

IT follks who are willing to take the lead may be able to help increase the value of IT's stock within a company, added Ross. But it isn't always easy, as it takes a certain measure of confidence. She said:

An IT person has to see this and believe they really have something to offer. A lot of IT leaders see it and mumble about it, but they don't quite have the conviction they have something valuable to give the business. So they step back and say, "I need to know more about your process." They wait to follow when they could be effective leaders.

There may be pushback from business leaders, I wrote in a post from late 2006, but IT leaders should persevere. Look for process expertise when hiring IT staff and encourage those kinds of skills with educational efforts. (business analysts are often logical go-to people when it comes to process improvement.) Working in IT's favor: its high-level view of organizations, existing expertise in process modeling and process analysis, and its deep knowledge of technology which can be used to streamline processes.