Government // Mobile & Wireless
Commentary
8/2/2013
12:30 PM
Connect Directly
LinkedIn
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Dear IT: No One Likes Petulant Teenagers

Nobody will win if IT and business leaders continue playing Mortal Kombat. Let's step back and redefine our roles.

A recent Harvard Business Review blog post by management professor Terri Griffith finally asks the question: "Are we asking too much of our CIOs?" It is a great question. IT organizations have taken on more and more (and more) as technology pervades every aspect of business and consumer life. Something's gotta give.

From provisioning, operating and securing the sprawling Internet of Things to driving revenue and leading innovation in general, IT is now accountable for the success of virtually the entire business. Almost every important business process innovation of the last two decades has relied on technology: from CRM, ERP and supply chain management in the last two decades to social media, big data, consumerization and software-as-a-service in this one.

As the old maxim goes: Never give accountability without authority. But somewhere in the era of Ethernet and TCP/IP, not only did IT in general start to become mission critical for more and more people, but like a nightmare project, the scope of IT started to creep without commensurate change orders. For example, first IT managers were responsible for building on-premises security systems for their networks, then camera systems, elevators, phones and even fuel pumps became de facto "information technology" objects. Those "things" landed in IT's lap when the folks who installed them went on to spread sunshine elsewhere.

[ If you don't follow this advice, you probably should read this story: 7 Top Career Paths After IT. ]

All of this activity was good, because it avoided building out redundant infrastructure and saved companies boatloads of cash. Trouble was and is, much of this work, even some phone projects, happened without IT's direction, leading to problems that could have been avoided with proper planning. IT organizations started to get used to a pattern of sneak attacks of responsibility without resourcing. It became the new normal.

And so began the pre-pubescent age of digital business. Here's just a couple of many recent examples of digital business accountability without authority.

Retailers and other companies wanted to give customers the curb appeal amenity of Wi-Fi, but they didn't stop to consider that unfettered network access, using the company's public IP addresses, is a one-way ticket to Spamhaus, if not a nasty email from the RIAA or even a visit from the FBI.

Global CIO
Global CIOs: A Site Just For You
Visit InformationWeek's Global CIO -- our online community and information resource for CIOs operating in the global economy.

Or consider the company that thinks its IT organization is too slow, so other departments step in by buying software-as-a-service with their credit cards. Their dream turns into a nightmare when their unit becomes hostage to a single provider, that provider gets acquired, its product gets replaced by the new owner's inferior one, and there's no way to migrate to a better competitor's product.

How to fix this mess? Get rid of the middleman! Put the CIO in charge of the company!

OK, I'm kidding. Mostly. Where there's a fight, there's a problem to be solved. We all know that IT pros tend to be too techie and not enough business savvy, but other executives must start carrying their share of the water.

It's fair enough to exhort IT folks to "learn and speak the language of business." But business execs must learn more about technology, learn to "speak the language of digital." Take a class or attend a seminar or two. Get up to speed on the risks of SaaS, the challenges of big data, the true opportunities and downsides with mobile.

Do the math: IT budgets account for 1% or 2%, maybe as high as 5%, of a company's total spending. The people tied to that small percentage can't possibly initiate, manage and lead every single tech-based initiative at a company.

Previous
1 of 2
Next
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Threaded  |  Newest First  |  Oldest First
RobPreston
50%
50%
RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
8/5/2013 | 2:04:14 PM
re: Dear IT: No One Likes Petulant Teenagers
The key question here is, what are IT organizations going to give up? Jonathan mentions project management, risk assessment, market and product research and ROI calculation. I'd love to hear from readers whether they consider that realistic in their organizations. And if they have other recommendations.
IMjustinkern
50%
50%
IMjustinkern,
User Rank: Strategist
8/5/2013 | 6:26:01 PM
re: Dear IT: No One Likes Petulant Teenagers
From memory of my younger years ... petulant teenagers really liked other petulant teenagers. (Definitely still supports the metaphor here, though) ... Solid stuff, Jonathan. With all the chatter on the increasing importance of data in the business, it's only appropriate that the support of data is broken into specified and stronger executive/team functions (i.e. CDOs, "data scientists", etc.).
DDURBIN1
50%
50%
DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
8/5/2013 | 7:39:16 PM
re: Dear IT: No One Likes Petulant Teenagers
Today more than 65% of the head IT positions still report to the CFO. Yet more than 70% of data used by the business does NOT have a direct impact on the G/L. The penny pinchers will always sell IT short of the authority (and budget) it needs to equal its responsibilities. The Mortal Combat isn't going to change until the lead IT position has a seat at the evaluative table. Only then can the necessary changes this article identifies can happen. Otherwise its off to battle as usual.
Shane M. O'Neill
50%
50%
Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
8/5/2013 | 10:57:31 PM
re: Dear IT: No One Likes Petulant Teenagers
I agree about the relationship being a two-way street. If IT pros are asked to step out of their comfort zones and learn about business best practices then business execs should do the same with technology.
Sacalpha1
50%
50%
Sacalpha1,
User Rank: Strategist
8/6/2013 | 8:37:06 AM
re: Dear IT: No One Likes Petulant Teenagers
I agree with the sentiment of this article, but disagree a bit on how to solve the problem. In my opinion there are two main problems. Yes, IT needs to change. There needs to be a greater focus on a business mindset, a better ability to speak about solving business (not technical) problems, and no more technology because it looks cool or would be a great skill to have. However, the biggest change needs to come from business leadership with the Finance, Marketing, and Sales organizations being the main culprits. Finance has to STOP pushing IT as a cost center and thinking they know more than the IT organization about how to save money. Marketing and Sales have got to stop being cowboys and start engaging with IT in cooperatively solving problems and also in providing some lead time on needed capabilities. Too many times their poor planning and knee jerk reactions to the marketplace are what creates the problems with IT....demanding something be delivered in a couple of weeks that takes months in reality to deliver. And finally, the biggest issue, every business function needs to stop playing arm chair quarter back for IT. They all think because they bought a smart phone or laptop they can run the IT function better than IT management and know what it takes to deliver IT projects, when in matter of fact they don't have a clue. It's interesting, that IT is the only functions where this happens. You don't see IT or Marketing or Sales, or Operations trying to create their own A/P functions and make payments themselves. You don't see anyone other than HR trying to dictate personnel policy or set up benefits programs. The expertise and boundaries of every business function except IT are respected. Until this changes, the in fighting will not stop. Unfortunately the best IT can do is encourage the change by doing their part, but the rest of business leadership must change to be successful and CEOs need to start stepping up to force the accountability and the needed changes.
Ultimate Consumer
50%
50%
Ultimate Consumer,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/6/2013 | 9:13:29 PM
re: Dear IT: No One Likes Petulant Teenagers
"The best IT can do" pretty much means that the widespread and deep-rooted dissatisfaction with IT - which has many causes, and potentially many cures - will continue.

In August 2011, Mark Andreesen wrote Why Software is Eating the World. It will continue and accelerate:
"More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online servicesGÇöfrom movies to agriculture to national defense. Many of the winners are Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurial technology companies that are invading and overturning established industry structures."
Most IT organizations are protectors of the old guard and bear little resemblance to the winning entrepreneurial tech companies.

IT needs to be held accountable for the business objectives, just as the business leaders are who depend on them. IT can't be it's own business, or divorced from the realities of the business. It starts with shared accountability to common goals. Some of those goals will be reliability and low cost. Others will be increased revenues, new services, and dealing with more customer and product variation. Collectively, IT may be more structurally setup to do the former, and is rarely set up to do the later.
dchasselshp5
50%
50%
dchasselshp5,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/6/2013 | 6:53:13 PM
re: Dear IT: No One Likes Petulant Teenagers
Have we forgotten what a "mess" enterprise software is - ironically led by the marketing departments of the vendors.......sounds familiar...? Until the vendors can produce software technology that business can understand and see it deliver exactly what the business needs including that in built flexibility with front and back office then IT will not get to that top table. What happened to the 6GL vision that was the next step after Progress pioneered 4GL....30 years ago? Why are we still coding business logic that has not changed since commerce started.......time for change?
ChrisMurphy
50%
50%
ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
8/6/2013 | 10:12:44 PM
re: Dear IT: No One Likes Petulant Teenagers
Despite all the panic about marketing outspending IT on tech, what's happening around marketing tech is actually the map for what IT can give up. Yes, marketing tech often is acquired without the coaching and consulting that Jonathan encourages, and marketing misses some opportunities when it does that. But it's an example of technology that is very domain-focused being pushed (or often pulled) into the department to run.
jfeldman
50%
50%
jfeldman,
User Rank: Strategist
8/6/2013 | 10:21:07 PM
re: Dear IT: No One Likes Petulant Teenagers
Totally, totally agree, Chris. Where IT adds value, it should be involved. When there's no value to be added, get out of the way and let people do the equivalent of drive a car without a third party driver. Yes, IT used to be race cars and back hoes, but now there are lots of cute little subcompact automatic transmission jobs. Train folks and let 'em drive!
Ultimate Consumer
50%
50%
Ultimate Consumer,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/6/2013 | 10:39:31 PM
re: Dear IT: No One Likes Petulant Teenagers
You're spot on with what they need to give up. It's been my experience that IT may want to control the technology spend in these areas, but they don't want to be accountable for the process capabilities and the results.
Sacalpha1
50%
50%
Sacalpha1,
User Rank: Strategist
8/8/2013 | 6:13:57 AM
re: Dear IT: No One Likes Petulant Teenagers
That's great until Marketing wants the system integrated with core ERP and/or CRM applications. Then you have a mess. If a function wants to go it alone, that's fine as long as there is a business case to support the stand alone system, but it should be understood that it will ALWAYS be stand alone and IT will NOT support it. If Marketing later wants integration, then there must be agreement to reevaluate the stand alone solution and throw it away when necessary because Marketing may have made the wrong long term decision considering the corporate whole of systems, integration, data definitions, etc. This kind of problem is the reason why IT does not like having rogue systems and departments. Chris, you are pretty naive if you think its about a contest to see who can spend the most on IT. In all but the most immature of organizations, its about have an integrated solution that serves all parts of the business and follows standards on data definition (e.g., the difference between customers, prospects, and consumers is clearly understood and dictates both data and process usage in systems), tools (so you have a skilled staff to adequately manage the systems), security, etc.
Michael A. Davis
50%
50%
Michael A. Davis,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/8/2013 | 2:18:14 PM
re: Dear IT: No One Likes Petulant Teenagers
Marketing, HR, of whatever group wants to move forward with more of their own decisions have a big problem though. They don't know what they don't know. Moving IT to a true IT as A Service platform with real consulting and advisement services makes getting into the conversation with those groups upfront easier. Otherwise, interjecting the CIOs opinion into a process may be seen as taking control or playing mom and dad.

It may sound weird, but the more internal IT companies become similar to IT consulting firms and focus on the results of their work instead of the work itself, the more likely they will get called to help with the new tech marketing project.

This is a soft skills and a internal sales/marketing job that most CIOs are clueless about. It isn't about the technology and that mixes up many CIOs.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest - July10, 2014
When selecting servers to support analytics, consider data center capacity, storage, and computational intensity.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
Join InformationWeek’s Lorna Garey and Mike Healey, president of Yeoman Technology Group, an engineering and research firm focused on maximizing technology investments, to discuss the right way to go digital.
Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.