IT speaks business, but the opposite ain’t true

I was speaking with a colleague and good friend recently. We were considering a report on cloud computing published by a large consultancy firm, with support from a number of big technology firms (the names of which are of the household variety). As my friend and I were talking, we were considering irrational investment in cloud services (among other IT products and services) and why this sort of irrational spending occurred.

This took me back to university, where every IT unit pushed the concept of IT people speaking the language of business, rather than our “industry jargon”. This concept was hammered time and time again by countless lecturers and tutors. The discussion with my friend of course triggered us both to consider this little piece of industry “wisdom”. But that made me realise something. IT has learnt to speak the language of business, but business can’t (or refuses to) speak IT.

Over my brief experience as a consultant, I’ve seen many businesses heavily reliant on IT to “get things done”. The business expects IT to improve business outcomes and support complex business processes. This must be done on tiny and ever decreasing budgets, minimal staff and with limited input or support from the business. Business just expects IT to bend to the ever-changing whim of the organisation. Often, business will just make decisions for IT, without consultation or even the slightest understanding of the implications of their decisions. The assumption is IT will jump to meet these business decisions.

The cloud is a perfect example of this, with C-level business people making ill-advised purchase of cloud services, purely on a cost basis. It’s up to IT to make cloud magically work with current infrastructure and services, and make the cloud as secure as possible. The business just expects IT to get everything exactly perfect of a statement like “We are going to use cloud because it’s cheaper than that clunky server we run.” In all likelihood, “that clunky server” is probably running a high-security application the business needs to function and business units refuse to let go of. But, the business doesn’t want backchat from IT, and the expectation is IT will get things done because “they are a smart, nerdy bunch of people.”

IT knows this “strategic project” will go down the path of the business having unrealistic expectations and assumptions, leading to a less than optimal solution being implemented. Then business blames IT for getting it wrong, all because the business refused to listen to IT’s concerns from the beginning.

The ultimate lesson is that unless business quits refusing to listen and actively collaborate with IT, purely-business people will keep making poor decisions and investments on behalf of IT. My recommendation is the business actually start to understand why their IT is structured how it is, the constraints that IT faces within the business, and then actually talks and works collaboratively with IT. I know that leads to better business outcomes enabled and driven by IT.

Do you think business works well enough with IT? What gaps do you see between IT and business working properly together?

One thought on “IT speaks business, but the opposite ain’t true

  1. I have been doing some RA work that is very close to this. I agree that it should go both ways. Technology is an enabler, not a solution. Unfortunately it seems to be the business that don’t realise this, so I think that is why it was (and is) hammered home that “IT should speak business.” I’ll send you some of the stuff I have been reading. Good post!

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