What’s the matter with IT?

Information Technology (IT) is a name that covers all the stuff (computers, networks, software) that makes businesses work.  As a key part of every business, IT has become a loved and hated department.  Loved because the capabilities of IT keep things humming in business.  Hated because there is something about IT that keeps it apart from the rest of the business.

Businesses keep IT separate for a number of good reasons.  IT needs technical specialists, and these specialists have to interact with each other.  IT has to maintain the systems and networks that keep things running, and these systems are often far from the home office.  Finally, managing IT people requires some kind of management specialists who know what makes technologists tick.

There are also some bad reasons for separating IT from the rest of the organization.  One is to keep business people at the operating level from having too much influence on what IT does.  After all, if you let a low level business manager ask for everything he or she wants from IT, IT might not have enough time to do the big projects planned by the top executives.  Another is the belief that IT doesn’t speak the language of business.

One of my client companies used to have the head of IT (the CIO) report to the head of Finance (the CFO).  This guaranteed that the CIO had a financial perspective on everything.  While that is the right perspective for a department that belongs under Operations (people who keep the buildings and the commuter buses running), it is not the best perspective for and IT department that is trying to contribute to the business bottom line by developing innovative software packages and better products.

This company had a large call center (people who answer the phone when you call for support) located 750 miles from the home office.  The whole IT operation, except for their offshore contractors, was located in the same building as the call center.  Upstairs from the call center were the software developers and managers who were implementing the latest web site upgrades and support software for their sales agents.

Software development is not Operations, it is Engineering.  If you treat software engineers the same way you treat call center operators, you discourage them, because they need a different working environment and a different set of criteria for their success.  Discouraged software engineers leave to find a better place to work.  The most experienced and most productive ones of them leave first.

IT needs to be integrated with the organization.  Not only does the management of IT have to be aware of and fully behind the strategic initiatives of the company, they should be actively proposing and executing projects that increase the competitiveness of the company.  The more that IT can sit side-by-side with their business-oriented peers in the company, the better the strategies and the results will be.

The Agile Management Bottom Line

Get IT out of its silo and into the main stream of your business.  If you don’t understand what IT does, start asking questions.  But don’t banish IT to the boondocks just because they’ve got a lot of funny-looking machinery in the closet.  You need them and they need you.  Start talking.

John Levy helps business managers who are frustrated because they are not getting what they need from their IT or Engineering organizations.  He helps them get predictable, consistent and innovative results from high-tech people in IT and product development.

John’s clients include companies in insurance and manufacturing, as well as software, computers and storage.

John’s book on management for technology executives, “Get Out of the Way,” was published in May, 2010.  His website is http://johnlevyconsulting.com and he can be reached at 415 663-1818 or info@johnlevyconsulting.com

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    About John Levy

    John Levy works with senior managers in mid-sized organizations who are responsible for development and delivery of major software or hardware/software products. He helps them gain confidence that their projects will succeed.

    Development projects can fail in many ways. You need a guide who speaks the language of business and is knowledgeable about technology. John aligns Development with the organization's strategy so it will contribute efficiently to the success of the enterprise.

    John has been consulting for over 20 years. His book on managing high-tech teams, Get Out of the Way, was published in 2010.

    For more information, email him at johnlevyconsulting.com, or call 415 663-1818.
    And check out John's profiles on LinkedIn and Twitter!