Why does IT have to do the business's job?

One of the reasons IT is sinking under the burden of our work is all the projects and new services we are dealing with. This shouldn't be IT's job.

Look at the IT industry’s development of thought leadership in so many non-IT disciplines: Requirements, Development, Change, Service, Security, and lately Project Portfolio. Think about it: there is an IT component of design, change, release... but there are also components from other departments. We design systems to run business process; we change the business; we release new services to the organisation. There is nothing unique to IT about that. These activities should be run by the business.

The only reason they aren't is that historically much of that stuff could be done in an ad-hoc manner without structured disciplines. The exceptions evolved project management, which is why it is one of the only decent bodies of knowledge independent of IT. Modern complex change almost always involved IT, which made it mysterious and inaccessible to the rest of the organisation,. so they left IT to it.

So IT developed these capabilities because the business was failing to do so.

Every year in every survey “coping with change” is listed as one of the top concerns of CEOs (and CIOs). Yet seldom does the Change Manager report directly to the CEO. The majority of organisations have no corporate change function. IT provides it for them by default.

When new services fail because of poor user acceptance, somehow it is IT's fault for not changing them, training them, involving them...

When the new service doesn't meet business needs, it is the fault of the requirements analysis done by BAs that IT provided, the business process design that IT did, the workshops and walk-throughs that IT ran...

Why do we do this? Sometimes I feel like a parent who is still dressing their teenage child. As I said in a recent article for CC Learning, it is time the business grew up, and stepped up. Michael Krigsman has been saying similar things on his blog, and so too have several others lately. I think there is a dawning realisation that IT carries only part of the blame here.


Business leaders determine the use of IT in their organisations

In his February newsletter, Mark Toomey said (and he should know):

ISO 38500 can be applied to the supply side of IT, and when overlaid on established frameworks such as COBIT and ITIL, can serve to provide additional insight and control to the supply activities. But it is when ISO 38500 is used to guide the demand side of organisations that the major benefit emerges.

Consider an analogy: Many motor vehicle manufacturers of today produce efficient, safe and reliable motor vehicles. But these manufacturers do not control the choices of their customers regarding which vehicles they drive, nor the manner in which they drive, nor the tasks to which the vehicles are put. The manufacturer, together with the sales and service agents, provide the supply. The owner and driver determine the demand. If they drive badly, in inappropriate places, or carry inappropriate loads, they are responsible for the consequences, which may include unexpected cost, loss of the vehicle and in some cases, loss of the privilege of holding a driver's licence.

Business leaders are like the car owners. They determine the use of IT in their organisations - if not overtly, then covertly by their behaviour in respect of IT investment.

Getting the message to CEOs

I dread to think how few CEOs in the UK are even aware of ISO 38500, never mind that it imposes responsibilities at board level. I'm beginning to get some interest in it at CIO level. Let us be honest those business leaders who put their weight behind COBIT did so in the majority of cases only because SOX provided an external imperative.

Much has been written in recent years about the apparantly irrational way the consumer behaves. If we expect our business side consumers to suddenly start acting as economically rational beings then we are fooling ourselves and failing to understand our customers, which in turn leads us to fail them.

IT should be so lucky

While I don't disagree that IT is often blamed disproportionately when things go wrong because it was forced to take the lion's share of the risk, it may be a blessing that IT departments have developed those capabilities... they may be among the only things left of value in those organizations as business users increasingly turn to outside technology solutions that are cheaper and more effective than what their own IT departments have been able to provide. Regardless of who is to blame, IT departments are going to lose if they stand back and wait for "the business" to fix the problems.

I argued recently that ultimately this all comes back to the CEO allowing this sort of disfunction to grow and thrive inside the larger business and I continue to believe that to be the case. At the same time, I don't think that IT departments have too much claim to victimhood in the matter, as they and their managers have often encouraged the problems for their own reasons over the years. Even if they had not, they are probably the party with the larger motivation to fix the issues... particularly considering they may be the only ones who understand them.

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