Standing at the Crossroads

This is not to say they are deadweights on the organization. Far from it. Someone still needs to lead the technology transformation that is under way. And they are the people to do it. They are just going to need more help in understanding the imperatives that drive what the business wants so they can implement the right technologies to make it happen. And, caveat emptor, those technologies will have to support what the business wants in the future, as well—a future rife, as we’ve seen all to clearly this past decade, with unanticipated change.

But there is hope for beleaguered CIOs as it now appears the business gets this also. In this most recent economic downturn, IT budgets have not been slashed as they were in 2002/’03/’04. What’s been reduced this year is just the budget increases. What this says is the business now knows the importance of IT and has elevated it beyond a maintenance organization. But only just.

What the business needs to learn next is the poor step-child structure that IT operated under until now, i.e., being a glorified order-taker, has led to the current situation. And until IT can do the housekeeping required to shed itself of all of the old hardware and software that doesn’t make any economic sense to keep around anymore and restructure its infrastructure to allow faster, more cost-effective and agile delivery of new services, providing the business with what it really wants, is going to take some time.

Turning the Corner

Of course, there is the communication issue that must be bridged, as well. Techies running IT mean business folks and IT are still struggling to understand each other. In a recent conversation with the former head of Requirements for Zurich Financial Services, I learned that many of the developers working on in-house projects had no idea what the most basic business terminology meant. To gauge this, he would go around and ask what “insured” meant and almost no one knew even though the projects they were working on were for the insurance side of Zurich’s business.

It’s not that IT doesn’t want to provide what the business needs, it’s just that the business can’t wait for IT to catch up so it is always demanding more. But markets move too fast and the competition is always looking for an opening so there is no lag time, no time for IT to catch it’s collective breath and change. IT today is so busy with so many new and fundamental changes—technological, operational, staffing, governance, leadership, etc.—that the business doesn’t understand, nor care to, that conflict is almost unavoidable. This leads to friction because without IT there is no business. Today, more than ever, business has to depend on something it doesn’t understand, can’t control and needs to work. That is scary.