Surviving the Intersection of IT, the Economy and Business

The financial crisis has done a thorough job of weeding out companies that were extended beyond their means. Those who believed they were immune quickly learned that this economic tsunami was more than they could overcome. We who remain look in the mirror and wonder if we are next.

This economy makes times gone by seem absolutely serene. The collapse of the U.S. housing market has credit markets running like molasses and encumbered financial firms with almost $600 billion in losses. Observers forecast the worst holiday season since 2002. How should we in IT respond?

Now more than ever skillful management will determine whether your business lives to see another day. Terms such as innovation and agility and transformation, which require new skills, take on new meaning and urgency. Often labeled as buzzwords in the past, and therefore dismissed, they are now synonymous with survival. Rightly so. The correct response today’s events is not panic, retreat, or budgetary ax wielding. Instead we should be adopting the management tools necessary to lead a 21st Century organization because it is the only way to prepare for the times ahead be they good or bad.

When we try to articulate what is happening to us in this new century, we resort to a familiar set of words: globalization, outsourcing, offshoring, Information Age, innovation, Age of Connectivity, disaggregated corporation, death of command and control, real time corporation, knowledge economy, sustainability. As a first step in organizing our thinking about these forces, and designing a response, we can group these terms in two categories: information, knowledge and innovation might be considered the “What.” Connectivity, disaggregation and partnerships might be considered the “How.”

In other words, what companies need today to survive is information turned into knowledge that can then point them to innovation in products, processes or business models. You get there by connecting, disaggregating and reaching out in new ways. As a second step in our understanding, let’s add another word to the pile: people. If you as a leader focus on people, all of these other things―globalization, outsourcing, disaggregation, and the like―will fall into place.

Four groups of people matter: those who work within your organization, those on the outside with whom you set up formal partnerships, those on the outside with whom you form ad hoc learning relationships, and those you aim to please with a product or service. Innovation is born in the minds of people who draw insight from the raw materials of information and knowledge. The leader’s task is connecting and managing these people, on the inside and on the outside, so that innovation can surface and be put to use in the service of customers.

Whether you’re looking to innovate, become more agile and responsive, or simply keep your company above water, successfully achieving those goals depends on the convergence of your business and technology management, a distinctly new way for your people to work together.

Regrettably, this is not the situation in most enterprises. We simply haven’t adopted management disciplines that align the business and technology sides of our organizations. Part of the reason is that the computer age is still relatively young and changes constantly; forcing us to react to the rapid fire of developments instead of holistically managing them. Another reason is the business and technology sides of the organization haven’t fully understood or developed trust in one another.

At some point technology crossed the line between being just a tool to being a strategic element in the business. This means the business can no longer be managed without simultaneously managing the technology it depends on as an integrated whole. Sometimes a business idea dictates, and a technology solution is found. Sometimes a new technology dictates, and new business processes and even new business models are built around it.

In companies that do it well, their business and technology are said to be “converged”. Although not yet mainstream in practice, it is not hard to find such companies. Look at those that do well in the marketplace, who consistently beat their competitors, who weather economic storms, and you’re likely to find a sophisticated interaction of business and technology.

Faisal Hoque is the founder and CEO of of BTM Corporation. A former senior executive at GE and other multi-nationals, Faisal is an internationally known entrepreneur and thought leader. He has written five management books, established a non-profit institute, The BTM Institute, and become a leading authority on the issue of effective interaction between business and technology.