Clash of clans

Stressed IT professional
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IT departments see themselves as a class apart from their business colleagues and that’s a huge opportunity for channel partners

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Billy

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16 September 2016 | 0

Billy MacInnesIs it really possible for IT departments to understand business?

I ask because a survey conducted by Vanson Bourne for Clarinet found that only 28% of European IT departments thought they fully understood the needs of their wider business. Should we be surprised by that figure? Not really, except perhaps to wonder if it might be on the high side.

The same research found that only 26% of European IT leaders believed the wider business had a complete understanding of the role of the IT department. Which suggests a big gap in the middle between IT and the wider business.

But how does the wider business gain a better understanding of the role of the IT department when most of the understanding the wider business has of IT is probably gleaned from its dealings with the department in the first place. Andy Wilton, CIO at Clarinet, places the onus on IT leaders to play a key role in “building understanding between their department and the wider business. Those IT leaders who aren’t prioritising developing an understanding between IT and the business are harming their own career prospects and the prospects of their business”.

He has some good advice when he urges IT leaders “to be more visible and proactive than ever, because if they aren’t evangelising about the importance of the role of IT in a business, who will”? By encouraging dialogue between teams, the IT department can gain “a much better idea of what individual teams do and how to support them. Equally, business functions will benefit from innovative approaches to IT that will aid their performance”.

Deliverables
But this assumes IT departments are capable of understanding what the wider business requires rather than what they think they can deliver. Too often, different parts of an organisation gain the impression that the technology dictates what the business can do rather than acts as an enabler for the business to do what it wants to do. In other words, it is more of a barrier than a support.

Frequently, IT departments are urged, as Wilton does in the announcement of the research, to focus more energy on the applications and data that are key to business success, and less on day-to-day technical management and infrastructure maintenance. That’s all well and good but is it really as easy as it sounds?

IT may have dealings with most, if not all, of the other departments in the wider business, [but] it is not seen as part of the wider business. Nor does it view itself as such

Wilton is correct to argue that IT departments are often “stuck in a reactive mode” which prevents them “from driving the wider business agenda”. But it’s not easy to break out of that mode. Sometimes, the technology at their disposal doesn’t give them the option to be imaginative or proactive, or the freedom to have a more open mind to business requirements. Also, the investment they have made in the existing infrastructure could make it too valuable to risk making as many changes as they would like, lest they interfere with normal operations.

It’s hard to look outside the immediate environs of any department to completely understand the requirements of a different part of the business. Admittedly, it’s probably easier with some business departments if only because certain disciplines enable staff to move between them, from sales to marketing, for example. That’s far less likely to occur between the very specialised world of IT and an organisation’s business departments. And that’s the other point here, while IT may have dealings with most, if not all, of the other departments in the wider business, it is not seen as part of the wider business. Nor does it view itself as such.

Intermediaries
Wilton suggests that IT should work with trusted third parties can help to reduce the burden of daily tasks (which is good news for channel partners I suppose). He believes this will allow the IT department “to be proactive and contribute directly to the business’s future. Ultimately the businesses that succeed will be those with IT leaders who can deliver cross-departmental understanding and free up their IT teams to innovate”.

In theory perhaps, but in practice it’s probably harder than it sounds. Remember that many IT leaders are unlikely to be conversant in the workings of wider business departments. Nor are they likely to be much interested in becoming more knowledgeable about them. Should they have to? The main requirement on IT is to be able to to deliver the technology that helps people in the wider business achieve their goals and objectives. Unfortunately, the technology they have at their disposal to try and do this can sometimes be the inhibitor to fulfilling that objective.

Here we come to the classic tension that exists between what can be delivered by IT and what the business would like it to deliver. In other words, the difference between the beta and the final product.

There’s a possible a role for channel partners or third parties in all this as honest brokers between IT and the wider business. If they can come to the table with a neutral perspective (and are perceived as such by the business and the IT department), then they can help to bridge that gap by providing a better understanding of the business to IT and vice versa. In other words, they can speak both languages, IT and business, and act as a translator for both.

To achieve this goal, channel partners would need to gain a greater understanding of the needs of the wider business, which would require some of them to step outside their technology comfort zone. But if they can do this, it could prove an attractive proposition to companies when set against the alternative of trying to turn their IT leaders into experts in the wider business.

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