Chase Zander were kind enough to invite me to their recent Change Director Forum, which took place on 11th November 2008 in London. As per their web-site: –
The event focused on IT-Enabled Change and sparked an interesting debate from the floor into the issues facing change programmes and projects which often rely heavily on the introduction of new information technology.
Some related items began to spark ideas in my mind: –
First, one of the speakers, Dr. Sharm Manwani from Henley Business School, referred to a survey of senior IT managers which asked them about areas in which they felt a lack of skill might be reducing their effectiveness. The area that came out as most important was “interpersonal skills”. Many people also said that they lacked in-depth knowledge of their organisation’s business, but this was not seen as a major problem by respondents.
Second, during what proved to be a lively debate, many attendees made reference to “IT” and “the business” in the way that one might juxtapose Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. This is a common refrain whenever IT managers are gathered together. Often a key issue is whether IT or the business (again that juxtaposition) should own projects, or strategy development, or technology budgets.
Third, Dr Manwani, in what was an illuminating talk, presented a chart which featured “in between” roles such as “business solutions manager” or “programme manager” which are intended to form a bridge between IT and the business. He also questioned whether there might be better ways to bring business and IT together.
To my way of thinking, if you need to form a bridge between IT and the business, then you are already facing a major problem. Even in today’s web-enabled, always-connected world, it appears to be acceptable for IT and business to be viewed as something separate: Business is from Mars and IT is from Venus. It is OK for business leaders to express a lack of knowledge about IT and for IT leaders to express a lack of knowledge about business; in some organisations it may even be a badge of honour for both “sides”. The word “sides” appears in inverted commas intentionally; this world view is a major part of the problem in my opinion.
Maybe I was just lucky enough to spend the formative years of my career in an organisation where IT was the business, but I would argue for a reassessment of the spurious dividing line between IT and business. I believe that IT is a business discipline and that the best IT managers are business managers. They are people who have a particular skill-set that they can bring to business challenges; in this respect they are no different to sales managers, or finance managers or any other manager with a specific hinterland of expertise and experience.
In many ways, it seems that IT managers are happy with the perception that that are somehow different. They may even revel in the mystique of the “dark arts” that they and their department practise. Perhaps being seen as different helps self-esteem. Less positively, in disavowing their full business role, perhaps many IT managers are content to retreat into their speciality. It is maybe comforting to have the middle-men, such as business solutions managers to act as insulation and to take the blame when things go wrong. How often have we all heard IT managers cite poorly defined or shifting business requirements for systems’ failures? How often is the lack of a clearly defined business strategy offered as an excuse for the lack of a clearly defined IT strategy?
I believe that these types of complaints are indicative of a pernicious problem in IT management. It is human to look for others to blame when things go badly, but if IT managers do not properly understand business issues, if they do not become part of the overall business management team and if they allow themselves and their departments to become semi-detached, then they really only have themselves to blame.
So, rather than ending on a negative note, let me repeat my call for IT managers to start to view themselves more as business managers. In embracing the ever increasing tempo of modern business and better understanding the dynamics that drive this, IT managers can both be more effective in their roles and also enjoy themselves much more at the same time. Surely those outcomes merit what is probably not an enormous investment of time and energy.