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From Different Planets: IT and Non-IT

Last week’s Wall Street Journal had an article that was spot on to my focus as a coach and was introduced with a brilliant headline:  “IT  is From Venus, Non-IT is From Mars.”  Wish I had thought of that!  Never before have I found such rich evidence to prove the point that business and IT are from different planets, which means something is lost when they talk to each other, because they don’t know how to engender trusted communication with each other.

Dr. George Westerman, a research scientist at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, who I am trying to connect with, likens the relationship to a troubled marriage, where there is miscommunication, begging the need for ‘a clearer understanding of the needs of both sides.’  He adds, in line with many of my blogs which talk about communication, that ‘…means business and IT executives talking with each other about their operations and about how IT can help…instead of talking past each other.’  The tit for tat that ensues from a poor relationship damages the business and makes for an unfriendly and ineffective business relationship.

The four separate MIT studies the writer mentions ‘show that transparency — clear communication about IT performance and decision processes — is the best predictor of the business value of IT.’   His cases demonstrate that it is transparency which improves not just IT performance but the IT/Business relationship.

Summarizing the four:

  1. IT Cost and Performance:  we all know this is an ongoing battle.  What Dr. Westerman learned is that IT must understand exactly its costs and objective performance assessment and explain them in a way ‘everyone [in the business] could understand’ and trust.
  2. Risk:  most CIOs and technologists are viewed as overly risk adverse — their initial response to a new idea is ‘n0,’ often based on not fully understanding the business’ objectives and desires.  It’s not pleasant dealing with someone who is likely to say ‘no.’  What Dr. Westerman suggests is that IT leaders don’t say ‘no’ without clearly explaining why, or having an alternative solution.  IT needs to treat its non-IT counterparts as intelligent and well-meaning partners who are not trying to undo what IT has created.  At the same time, the business should demonstrate flexibility by requesting a function or capability rather than coming across as demanding a specific solution.
  3. Prioritization:  a big role of the IT organization is to make sure that resources (i.e., investment) go to the projects with the highest value.  Thus, to not alienate non-IT units, a clear and agreed methodology has to be in place to select — with extreme transparency — ‘which projects are most worth doing.’  The burden for making these hard choices cannot fall on the IT department alone.  Further, the business should have the onus of showing evidence periodically proving the project is meeting its goals.
  4. Accountability:  IT groups have always appeared process bound.  Yet process is essential to repeatability and consistency, and fairness.  Instead of IT clamping down and demanding that everyone must follow the process, IT has the responsibility to demonstrate why the process is vital to the proper allocation of resources and amending it as necessary.  Per Dr. Westerman, you want a process everyone understands and knows what to do and why.

As with all successful human relations, we need to think about our partner and how he or she might be viewing the problem.  Dr. Westerman writes it is all about transparency.  I think he’s right.

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