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5 Ways Business Still Fails The IT Organization

If IT doesn't deliver everything a business wants, it's not all IT's fault, readers say.
I've received a lot of responses to my recent column, "6 Ways IT Still Fails The Business." Some of you didn't like it. "I believe you are wrong on every point you have made," offered one reader.

The most common response was along these lines: "Agree, but the problem is a two-way street." That is, business unit leaders share the blame when IT teams can't deliver everything a company wants. Based partly on your feedback, I offer some of the ways business leaders fail their IT organizations.

1. Treat IT As Irrelevant To Customers

IT's still a back-office function at too many companies. Those companies fail to see IT as critical to serving customers and to creating new, tech-enabled products. Mock the Internet-linked fridge all you want, but companies that aren't exploring ways to use the Internet of Things, mobile apps and cloud services with their offerings will miss out. Says reader Terry Bennett: "In far too many companies, IT is used as a cost-cutting engine, and IT's capability of generating revenue or of providing a competitive advantage are pushed to the back."

Our InformationWeek 500 research suggests attitudes are changing. Last year, 46% of IW 500 companies cited introducing new IT-led products and services among their top three innovation priorities, up from 37% in 2009.

[ Want more on CIO strategy? Read 6 Uncomfortable Questions IT Teams Should Ask. ]

2. Don't Even Try To Get Marketing Working With IT

Marketing must "stop throwing darts at the wall and have analytics-based marketing campaigns" and improve project discipline, writes one reader. He laments that "marketing will request 50 projects with a few weeks to months of lead time, and then when IT does not deliver, [IT] is not flexible enough or quick enough."

Prediction for 2013: more frustration.

Marketing, you see, doesn't think it has a technology problem, and if it does, it doesn't see the IT organization as the fix. In its excellent State of Marketing 2012 report, the CMO Council asked marketers about the organizational or operational changes they plan for this year. Just 10% cited "improve alignment and collaboration with IT." Yet 43% expect to add marketing or customer analytics, 20% will increase mobile applications and 25% will implement marketing automation systems.

Either marketing departments think they have a great relationship with IT to make all of that tech work, or they don't plan to work with IT.

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3. Have No Plan, Or Don't Share It With IT

At InformationWeek, we've bristled at the concept of business-IT "alignment" -- either business units and IT have the same business goals or they're sunk. Some of you feel the same way. "Maybe it is time (actually, has been for a long time) that 'IT' is no longer positioned as being separate from the 'business,'" a reader says. "What an organization needs is a clear priority on what it wants to accomplish, and to organize its resources to do it." Obsession with org charts works against teamwork, the reader says: "Cross-chart teaming of resources is needed to actually do something."

Resources are key. Business unit and IT leaders must allocate IT like capital or any other scarce resource. When we asked IW 500 companies about their biggest mistakes last year, one of the most common was an unrealistic IT pipeline, leading to missed deadlines, lost credibility and burned-out staff. If outsourcing or cloud apps are the answer to an IT shortage, IT leaders must be willing and active participants in making that call.

4. Treat Data Security As IT's Problem

The reader who said I got everything wrong was particularly steamed about security risks when I said IT is doing well in embracing cloud apps but poorly in enabling mobile devices: "IT's responsibility is not to give their users every single toy and fun new feature that is released. IT's responsibility is to maintain data security and integrity. Things like mobile devices, cloud services, remote access, BYOD all are security risks."

Some financial services companies do treat security and compliance as their own functions, ensuring security isn't just an after-the-fact problem dumped on IT. Regardless, IT can't use security as an excuse for dismissing productivity drivers, such as tablets, as mere toys.

5. Not Hiring, Or Keeping, Great IT People

One reader lamented that his organization can't keep talented young people because they get fed up with the bureaucracy and leave.

The best IT jobs will be those that let IT pros look outward and build technology that matters to customers. Leaders in IT or any part of the business should ask reader Terry Bennett's question: "Is it possible that the root cause is that too often we in IT have focused either on the technology itself or on internal operations, rather than on the overall business and the end customer?"