Blog Posts Process Management Service Oriented Architecture (SOA)

Role reversal… Do you think you are an IT person?

Blog: Application Platform Strategies

Posted by Mike Rollings

Catalyst2009 Today Richard Watson is posting in the EAP blog so I decided to return the favor and post to the APS blog.  Richard typically speaks to the application platform audience and I speak to our executive advisory audience.  The segregation is based on audience interest and the continuing story that evolves in each blog post.  But, does the segregation have to mean anything? Is Richard an APS analyst or an EAP analyst?  Are you an IT person or a business person?

These questions relate to a discussion we have been having within Burton Group about the personification of IT.  They also relate to the divide between business and technology professionals. When “IT” means the department as opposed to the contribution that information technology provides to the business, then you have personified IT. 

A tale of two perspectives… First, the perspective of businesspeople.  In many organizations saying “IT” inspires the meaning those people in the IT department.  The association of “IT” to the “IT department” evolved from the days of the mainframe.  All the IT resources were consolidated in a mainframe computer—and many times in a single computer room. Centralized planning fostered the personification that “IT” was an autocratic ruler—if you want to play with my toys then you play with them under my terms.  Like some societies, autocratic rule may have worked when the mainframe was the only choice, but it did not work when choice was infused into the environment.

Distributed and decentralized implementation became the norm with the advent of personal computers and local area networks.  Decentralization of computing increased choice—for many businesspeople it was easier to create solutions without the aid of IT. For some the personification of “IT” devolved from the autocratic ruler to being a business roadblock based on fighting the loss of control.  Many IT departments evolved to counteract this perception.  Leadership changes occurred — new CIO, new regime, new ideas — but the perception does not change in an instant.  For some IT organizations the new tools opened up the possibility to enable new business capabilities.  For them, the personification became business enabler.

Complexity has also taken its toll on the personification of IT. Many IT organizations have defined their value based on the ability to deal with complexity.  Many times we pride ourselves on how much complexity we deal with.  We may even say “you don’t need to know, it is way too complex for you to understand.”  The message sent is “if it is complex IT will do it”, however the perception can become “if it does not appear to be complex then I don’t need to involve them”.

Next is the perspective of ITpeople.  The business of IT — It is likely that you have heard this phrase.  The phrase evolved from a time when many IT departments were failing to manage costs and generate value. They realized that like any good business it is important to focus on efficiency, effectiveness, and the value proposition for your customers.  However, some IT departments took this too literally.  The business of IT became our business is IT.

Sure, some organizations provide IT services to other private or public sector organizations as their core business.  These types of organizations have a business model based on revenue from IT services.  This does not describe the IT departments I refer too.  Even if you are a financial services firm where information technology is embedded into most of what you do, your business is not the sale of information technology services, it is financial services.

Back to the questions — Are you an IT person or a business person?  Is IT the department or the enabler of business capabilities?  I suggest that whether you are a business or technical professional, we are all businesspeople.

So, is this blog post about role reversal or just a necessary adjustment to perspective? You decide.

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