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Towards Singularity: A False Separation of IT and Business
It's time for the IT group and the business units they support to put aside historical and perceived differences. The two have to think as one.
For decades, we have been writing, thinking, and preaching about the need for a harmonized relationship between IT and Business. The notion was that as long as “IT” and “The Business” worked on different timescales and had different prerogatives, agility would be impossible.
Countless laments ensued, with the business side of the house resenting the “command and control” aspects of IT and the IT side of the house resenting the business for flouting the important doctrines of security, privacy, and governance. The struggle persists -- of that there is no doubt -- and to understand why it does, it is important to look at our own role in keeping this separation alive.
Before diving into that, let’s visit some common perceptions one group has of the other:
Business teams (sales, marketing, channel development, and others) tend to think that IT is:
Disconnected from customers and partners and therefore working in a vacuum
Enamored with power such that they put their own needs ahead of the business
A “culture apart,” irredeemably separated from the rhythms of business
IT teams tend to think of their business peers as:
Uneducated as to the importance of IT governance and “rules”
Arrogant and unappreciative of the work IT does
A “culture apart,” irredeemably separated from the nuances and risks of technology
Interestingly, many of these perceptions have remained static for the past two decades despite the fact that the nature of organizations and business has radically changed, with increasing technology-centricity and dependence. In addition, such ideas continue to root themselves even in progressive, well-capitalized organizations in which IT is largely a “silent” enabler.
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This creates a tricky situation. One can imagine that in organizations in which IT is demanding or draconian, that resentment builds, but even in the opposite cases, old perceptions live on.
I’ve sought to understand this issue for the past two decades. Why are two sets of people in the organization so set in their perceptions of the other when in fact their symbiosis creates dependency and should thereby drive amity? Why are IT people typecast as “the team of no!” and business people thought to be shallow when it comes to technology? How can a modern organization survive with this schism since technology subsumes everything in its wake and not only powers but defines the modern enterprise?
As I researched the matter, worked in a field that bridged marketing and sales teams and the IT community, and met thousands of IT practitioners at events and other conclaves, I have come to believe that there are three core factors that lead to this “false separation:”
Culture and language
Poor cross-over investment
With regard to culture and language, this entire essay is both an example and as such is a “setup” Referring to “IT” and “The Business” reinforces the difference, gives body to an ethereal concept of difference. In our language, we must force unity and stop constant references to the differences and points of dissension. We need to focus on and think of the myriad ways in which the goals of IT practitioners and salespeople, marketers, operations pros, and finance experts are aligned not of the ways in which they are divergent.
Timelines are indeed different, but by design. Business teams live in the here and now, especially given Wall Street reporting structures and the short-term deal-making that is required as a result. On the other hand, IT teams have to build an edifice that is secure and sustainable, and they have to ensure that to the extent possible, there are no fissures or gaps that can be exploited. By definition, the prevailing imperatives call for different timelines. However, when viewed through this lens -- and not one of antagonism -- we realize that both are needed, just as one pens a great novel word-by-word but the final product takes years to complete.
Cross-over investment is an area that easily can be remedied with awareness and action. We need a larger flow of people from IT to business teams, and vice-versa. We need to ensure that we conduct “Did you know?” sessions that show how much each team does to make it possible for the other to exist and prosper. This is no different than a cultural exchange program wherein people from each role learn about the other and can invest time in forging deep relationships.
Stretching the analogy of “The Singularity,” we can say that business has crossed the event-horizon and is inextricably bound to technology. Technology infuses and suffuses. IT teams build, manage, and contextualize these technologies such that other teams can harness them for growth and success.
As such, “Business” and “Technology” are inseparable and will perhaps one day be indistinguishable.
Romi Mahajan is a Marketer, Author, and Investor and serves as CMRO of Quantarium. He spent a decade at Microsoft where he focused on building the relationship with the company and the IT Community. Romi has advised over 30 technology companies, written 500 ... View Full Bio
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