How business has failed IT like a bad parent

The world has really screwed up with owning IT, like a bad parent screwing up a child's upbringing and letting them develop bad habits.
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Susan Cramm wrote a great HBR blog on IT and Business Leaders: Getting Along Is Not Enough. I agreed with much of it but I feel the business side gets off lightly again.

Business shouldn't be expected to speak in and understand IT language, any more than they should be expected to understand manufacturing engineers, designers, marketeers or HR (nobody understands HR). If you try to be hip and knowledgeable about your kids' culture, you'll only appear faintly (or very) ridiculous.

On the other hand IT are part of the business. It is IT's responsibility to understand the business; where it is headed, what it does, what it needs. Kids exist as a sub-culture within society - they need to know how it works.

So I don't think the getting-to-know-you obligations Susan describes are symmetric. IT needs to know business more than business needs to know IT.

Where the business has fallen down is NOT in understanding IT. That's a big ask. Organisations have fallen down in "parenting IT" in two areas:

1) Failure to govern IT. It is like a wayward unsupervised teenager. Read ISO38500 (the Governance of IT standard) to understand what the Board should be doing, and read SOx to understand why. IT needs a little discipline: it needs to be told what the boundaries are and what is expected. And it needs to be monitored for achievement and compliance.

2) Failure to take responsibility for activities that aren't IT's job: business analysis, requirements analysis, design, change, release, projects, transformation, training... Why is this IT's job? Just because a service has lots of IT in it doesn't make it an IT thing - it's the business's responsibility and we've abdicated that to IT for fifty years. Dump too much responsibility on a kid, or ask them to do more than they are ready for, and you are setting them up to fail. It's just not fair. The good kids will grow up fast and learn to cope, but they will be sub-optimal at it.

Organisations needs to step up to their IT responsibilities: take an interest, get control, set bounds, be involved. Stop blaming all the dysfunction on IT, and most of all stop yelling - you only alienate. If you lay all the burden on IT, one day it will stop calling home.



I just came across this and find it very interesting. I need to ruminate on this one. I may yet change my mind.

I absolutely agree that IT needs to understand the business more than they need to understand IT, and I really like the parent-child analogy. The first point on failure to govern IT is right on target, and ISO 38500 is a great place to start; but isn't the second point really a bi-product of failure to govern? The argument of where these functions should reside isn't that important, is it? (However, as much as I personally love training, I have a hard time figuring our why training is almost always an IT function. Training existed long before IT, so the "it's always been there" argument doesn't hold for that one) As long as the functions are appropriately defined and governed, they should be fine almost anywhere in the business. But there's the rub. Change, release, project management, etc., as you describe well, are part of IT only because that's where they started. I get the point that they are less and less about the technology, but IT is also becoming less and less about technology. We're quickly becoming brokers of technology more than providers. Ultimately I couldn't care less where the functions reside, as long as corporate leadership defines what they are supposed to do, provides resources to get the work done, and hold the functions accountable for results.

In too many organizations that doesn't happen. So IT must take on the work AND take on responsibility for determining what the expectations should be. The remaining question is, how do the children get their parents to take responsibility?

a child of the 70s

Many a child of the 70s had that issue. Perhaps IT will grow up to renounce its hippy parents' long hair and drugs. I guess thats' already what we are doing by running the shop while the business goofs off

Another debate


I think Dan's points are also relevant to the discussion you and I have been having offline about professionalism in IT. We need to train IT managers, and the business (and preferably in the same room) about what each other does. Of course it is traditional in some IT units to deride anyone in the business who claims to know about IT as an amateur, and the business don't want IT telling them how to run their core activities.

Perhaps the future lies in more IT content in generalist business courses and qualifications, with tailoring to enable them to serve the needs of the IT centric business manager and the business centric IT manager

James Finister


totally agree 1,000% ... especially # 2 !!

John M. Worthington
MyServiceMonitor, LLC


Rob, sometimes you surprises me... You are absolutely right:)

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