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Where Do IT’s True Loyalties Lie?

by Dave Hannon

August 5, 2011

By Dave Hannon

@Daveatwispubs

 “Many IT staff see themselves as techies first and employees of the business in question a distant second.”

That line from a KPMG report about controlling IT costs stopped me dead in my tracks. And the next sentences put me back two steps:

“Cocooned in their technosphere, they take little notice of the business’s performance, its products and markets. They love technology for its own sake and genuinely don’t understand when externalities rudely intrude on their world.”

Pretty harsh. But is it at all accurate? Do IT professionals put their desires for new tools, solutions, and whiz-bang toys ahead of the business’ long-term goals?  Interesting question and apparently something being looked at in the enterprise. According to this recent Gartner survey, IT’s spending capabilities are being watched closley. Gartner points out that “CFOs alone have authorized 26% of all IT investments, while CIOs alone have authorized only 5% of IT investments.”

So this survey shows companies are putting processes in place to oversee spending by IT, suggesting others view IT as living in a bubble.  

But is this fact or fiction? And if it is fact, is a spending clamp-down the right strategy? Clamping down on spending policies likely won&rsq uo;t do much to help the IT organization come out from their alleged bubble. But focusing on building more collaborative business processes and projects where IT and business teams work together likely will.

In my work interviewing IT executives and users for insiderPROFILES, I’ve routinely come across shining examples of how IT organizations – from the CIO on down – work closely with business to help them achieve the broader goals. If these IT folks are in a bubble, it's a big bubble.

“As soon as we got the project approved and underway with a joint IT and business sponsorship, we started a communication campaign to educate business users about the ability they would soon have to control users’ access rights and get expedited access to their data,” said Eric Peoples, Director of Global SAP Controls, Compliance, and Tools at Levi Strauss in this article. In fact, the story’s mostly about how Levi’s IT organization did some research and found that by automating some of the onboarding designed specific workflows and rules they could pass the task of bringing new users onto SAP ERP safely to the business units.

In Speeding the Monthly Close Process, Allergan’s finance team describes how IT work has dramatically improved its primary function – closing the books each month. With IT facilitating more updated data, the finance pros no longer has to wait until the end of the closing cycle to review and validate the financial results. As the story points out:

And that’s a big relief for Marc Veale, Assistant Corporate Controller at Allergan. “I appreciate the fact that data is coming in all day, every day,” he says. “Now, people have more time to validate the data even before we start the consolidation phase.”

And I recall Novus CIO Dave Ploch telling me about how his IT organization – with minimal resources – developed a mobile app in-house that won the company a lot of marketing buzz. “We used the app at our booth and generated a real buzz at the show,” Ploch recalls. “When our executive VP of sales and marketing came back from the conference, he proudly showed the app on his iPad to everybody at the office.”

I could go on for pages with similar examples. In fact, I rarely come across examples of what the KPMG report suggests is happening in the IT organization. There is perhaps one example I can think of that may fall into the “buying technology for technology’s sake” but it came via a mandate from the C-suite, not the IT organization.

All this being said, I think there is something to learn here – there is a stereotype IT has to overcome. Whether it’s true or not, it exists. Just like stereotypes exist for other organizations – engineers are obsessive geeks, finance are bean-counters, editors are great spelers, you know the list.

You need to recognize that in some cases, business-side people have a certain view of IT. If you’re lucky, it’s not in your company, but if it is, it makes your job a little bit harder. So focus on the soft skills – not only understanding the business’ needs, but making sure the business knows you understand their needs. Communicate (in non-techie speak) with other organizations more than you think you might need to. And promote your own work internally.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

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