William Murphy, CTO of the investment firm Blackstone Group, seemed like a pleasant enough fellow when he came onto the Interop New York tech conference stage this week. He even promised to kick things off on a high note.
Then he proceeded to describe the perception of IT departments as at best adequate -- a cost center and a back-office necessity at many companies. Worst case, "we're categorized as people who say 'No' first and ask questions later," Murphy said. IT's too often considered defensive, late, overprice, uninformed and unhelpful.
"If Coca-Cola had a brand that was the equivalent of IT today, they would just kill it and start again," said Murphy. At Blackstone, Murphy changed the name of IT to Innovations & Infrastructure, and took some meatier steps (more below on that) to reshape the perception of IT.
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Murphy wasn't a lone clarion call to CIOs and CTOs this week. Throughout the InformationWeek CIO Summit that followed Murphy's keynote, IT leaders described their efforts to rehabilitate IT's brand, to cast it in a role of innovator and problem solver and not an obstacle to progress.
Because as bad as IT's reputation is, colleagues know that "it's also central to creating business change, new products, efficiency of their current workloads, really the future of the company," Murphy said.
Murphy didn't just sound the alarm. He offered four operational pillars that are core to IT fixing its brand so it's seen by other business departments as a problem solver.
1. An Open Design process, driven by technology.
IT needs a prioritization process so business unit and IT leaders are working on the top priority problems. But IT needs to consider itself the tech innovator here, not the order taker -- non-IT employees only know what business problems they're having and not what's possible with technology to solve them. Expecting line of business staff and leaders to learn about technology "I think is much harder than for everyone in this room to learn the business," Murphy told the crowd of IT professionals. So IT teams must deeply understand their industry and company to match business problems to the right technology.
2. Iterative release model.
Murphy warns that it can be hard to get both business unit and IT people on board with iterative tech project releases, since people just want to finish projects and move on. "You need to think of your projects as products that need care and feeding over time," he said, or else they'll grow stale and out of date.
3. Transparent cost and decision process.
It's scary to share detailed tech project costs and plans in the early stages, Murphy warns. But doing so explains the "why" of IT projects and avoids misunderstanding and even suspicion later. Be efficient and clear on how you communicate project plans and costs, but "include more rather than less people" of your business partners, he said. If you don't communicate, "people assume you're doing the wrong thing."
4. A simple, honest feedback process.
And when you get it, "you have to translate the feedback into positive change," Murphy said.
So how will IT know when it has built a strong brand inside its company? When a problem arises, Murphy said, business unit leaders "come to us for our wisdom, our knowledge and our help."