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How business has failed IT like a bad parent

01 Mar 2011

Leadership coach Susan Cramm wrote a great Harvard Business Review blog called ‘IT and Business Leaders: Getting Along Is Not Enough’ (see I agreed with much of it but I feel the business side gets off lightly again.Business shouldn’t be expected to speak in and understand IT language, any more than people in business should be expected to understand manufacturing engineers, designers, marketeers or HR (nobody understands HR). If you try to be hip and knowledgeable about your kids’ culture, you’ll only appear faintly (or very) ridiculous.On the other hand IT people are part of the business. It is IT’s responsibility to understand the business, where it is headed, what it does, what it needs. Kids exist as a sub-culture within society – they need to know how it works.So I don’t think the getting-to-know-you obligations Susan describes are symmetric. IT needs to know business more than business needs to know IT. Where the business has fallen down is NOT in understanding IT. That’s a big ask.Organisations have fallen down in "parenting IT” in two areas:

  • Failure to govern IT It is like a wayward unsupervised teenager. Read ISO38500 (the IT Governance Standard) to understand what the board should be doing and read the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to understand why. IT needs a little discipline; it needs to be told what the boundaries are and what is expected. And it needs to be monitored for achievement and compliance.
  • Failure to take responsibility for activities that are not IT’s job Business analysis, requirements analysis, design, change, release, projects, transformation, training – why is this IT’s job? Just because a service has lots of IT in it doesn’t make it an IT thing. It’s the business’s responsibility and we’ve abdicated that to IT for 50 years. Dump too much responsibility on a kid, or ask them to do more than they are ready for, and you are setting them up to fail. It’s just not fair. The good kids will grow up fast and learn to cope, but they will be sub-optimal at it.
Organisations need to step up to their IT responsibilities: take an interest, get control, set bounds, be involved. Stop blaming all the dysfunction on IT, and most of all stop yelling – you only alienate. If you lay the entire burden on IT, one day it will stop calling home