Dear IT: No One Likes Petulant Teenagers - InformationWeek

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Dear IT: No One Likes Petulant Teenagers

Nobody will win if IT and business leaders continue playing Mortal Kombat. Let's step back and redefine our roles.

A recent Harvard Business Review blog post by management professor Terri Griffith finally asks the question: "Are we asking too much of our CIOs?" It is a great question. IT organizations have taken on more and more (and more) as technology pervades every aspect of business and consumer life. Something's gotta give.

From provisioning, operating and securing the sprawling Internet of Things to driving revenue and leading innovation in general, IT is now accountable for the success of virtually the entire business. Almost every important business process innovation of the last two decades has relied on technology: from CRM, ERP and supply chain management in the last two decades to social media, big data, consumerization and software-as-a-service in this one.

As the old maxim goes: Never give accountability without authority. But somewhere in the era of Ethernet and TCP/IP, not only did IT in general start to become mission critical for more and more people, but like a nightmare project, the scope of IT started to creep without commensurate change orders. For example, first IT managers were responsible for building on-premises security systems for their networks, then camera systems, elevators, phones and even fuel pumps became de facto "information technology" objects. Those "things" landed in IT's lap when the folks who installed them went on to spread sunshine elsewhere.

[ If you don't follow this advice, you probably should read this story: 7 Top Career Paths After IT. ]

All of this activity was good, because it avoided building out redundant infrastructure and saved companies boatloads of cash. Trouble was and is, much of this work, even some phone projects, happened without IT's direction, leading to problems that could have been avoided with proper planning. IT organizations started to get used to a pattern of sneak attacks of responsibility without resourcing. It became the new normal.

And so began the pre-pubescent age of digital business. Here's just a couple of many recent examples of digital business accountability without authority.

Retailers and other companies wanted to give customers the curb appeal amenity of Wi-Fi, but they didn't stop to consider that unfettered network access, using the company's public IP addresses, is a one-way ticket to Spamhaus, if not a nasty email from the RIAA or even a visit from the FBI.

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Or consider the company that thinks its IT organization is too slow, so other departments step in by buying software-as-a-service with their credit cards. Their dream turns into a nightmare when their unit becomes hostage to a single provider, that provider gets acquired, its product gets replaced by the new owner's inferior one, and there's no way to migrate to a better competitor's product.

How to fix this mess? Get rid of the middleman! Put the CIO in charge of the company!

OK, I'm kidding. Mostly. Where there's a fight, there's a problem to be solved. We all know that IT pros tend to be too techie and not enough business savvy, but other executives must start carrying their share of the water.

It's fair enough to exhort IT folks to "learn and speak the language of business." But business execs must learn more about technology, learn to "speak the language of digital." Take a class or attend a seminar or two. Get up to speed on the risks of SaaS, the challenges of big data, the true opportunities and downsides with mobile.

Do the math: IT budgets account for 1% or 2%, maybe as high as 5%, of a company's total spending. The people tied to that small percentage can't possibly initiate, manage and lead every single tech-based initiative at a company.

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User Rank: Strategist
8/5/2013 | 6:26:01 PM
re: Dear IT: No One Likes Petulant Teenagers
From memory of my younger years ... petulant teenagers really liked other petulant teenagers. (Definitely still supports the metaphor here, though) ... Solid stuff, Jonathan. With all the chatter on the increasing importance of data in the business, it's only appropriate that the support of data is broken into specified and stronger executive/team functions (i.e. CDOs, "data scientists", etc.).
User Rank: Author
8/5/2013 | 2:04:14 PM
re: Dear IT: No One Likes Petulant Teenagers
The key question here is, what are IT organizations going to give up? Jonathan mentions project management, risk assessment, market and product research and ROI calculation. I'd love to hear from readers whether they consider that realistic in their organizations. And if they have other recommendations.
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