“IT is the Business ” and ” The Business is IT”. What do you think? What does this mean exactly?
It is no longer possible to separate The IT department from the process of delivering the “End
Product” of the business as the IT is now truly “customer facing” in most organizations. It is
also fair to say that the Business cannot ignore or underestimate the importance of IT to its
own survival. The relationship is now a true symbiosis where both sides have to work as one
to survive and prosper.
IT Management & Business Process Re-engineering Practitioner
IT (Information Technology) isn’t the business. But, it should be a strategic partner. Unlike accounting or corporate real estate or payroll or (to a certain extent) HR, it shouldn’t be commoditized as a generic service. There are elements of IT that fit into that category, but to treat all of IT as a commodity would be as naive as considering your sales, marketing or new product development to be commoditized functions. They all require a strong alignment with the business strategy, an in-depth knowledge of the business and continual adjustment based on feedback from the business or they simply won’t provide maximum value.
IT can provide functionality to the business that the business never even considered. I don’t mean to get preachy, but It can enable huge paradigm shifts in customer contact, marketing, sales, service, delivery, process management, quality improvement, etc. By providing a seat at the table to IT and developing a strong knowledge and consideration of the needs of the business within IT, IT can bring appropriate new technologies and models to the business to solve real business problems.
The business can continue just fine with commodity IT. Focus on KTLO (Keep The Lights On) activities and keep IT away in a closet away from the discussion of the actual business issues and strategy and you might as well outsource the whole organization. But if the business takes full advantage of the capabilities of an aligned, mature and engaged IT organization, the benefits can be incredible.
Unfortunately, the trend seems to be to further commoditize IT through outsourcing and offshoring rather than treating it as a potential source of innovation for the business. It’s fine to commoditize operational aspects, but don’t go overboard. Don’t lose sight of the solutions that IT has brought to the table in the past (PCs, PDAs, mobile salesforce, databases, email, web, etc.) and think about what the future may hold. An outsourced organization isn’t going to understand *your* business or see the opportunities that a strategic partner will.
Just my two cents worth.
Clarification added October 22, 2008:
I just want to address the “IT is a just a tool” argument, since it’s such a common theme these days. I understand the position and it certainly has some credence when I.T. is nothing more than desktops and email. But, it breaks down in the context of more complex infrastructures.
Yes, IT is a tool. As an analogy, you could also make the assertion that Medicine is just a tool:
For bandages, aspirin, vitamins, antacids and the vast majority of your daily needs, the pharmacy works just fine. It’s a commodity service that doesn’t need to know much about you to be effective. You can walk into any pharmacy and have your needs addressed. However, you wouldn’t go into a pharmacy and expect them to blindly dispense prescription drugs simply because you asked for them. Some businesses go even further and essentially demand scalpels, anesthetic and operating room equipment to do surgery on themselves based on a procedure that they read about in an in-flight magazine. Of course, when the business lies bleeding on the table, they blame it on bad tools or broken technology and expect IT to fix the mess. This is, unfortunately, a very common situation in Corporate America today.
Like a responsible doctor, IT needs to understand your history, your general state of health, any of your goals that may require their help and any potential activities that may put you at risk. If there’s no dialog or partnership, IT can’t do an effective job. Like the Doctor analogy, the business can choose to ignore the advice and expertise. But for long term survival, you’re better off working together as partners. There’s no question that the Doctor/IT is a service provider. But they’re an engaged, informed provider who provides not only a tool, but the associated knowledge, expertise and advice (not directives, but advice!) to use it effectively.
I’ll admit that many IT organizations do take the “We are Gods and you are idiots” position. But that’s just as bad as the business relegating IT to the role of technology janitors. There needs to be a balance and, as I was careful to say, a partnership. The good of the business ALWAYS needs to take precedence. But IT should to be a participant in the dialog and not just a glorified order-taker.
To reiterate: I do disagree with elevating IT to the status of the Business. But in a complex organization, there is a “symbiosis” and IT should have a role in the strategy and decision making processes.