Why don’t IT people understand our business?

Executives seem to agree that IT people – technicians and their leaders – do not understand the business very well.  This causes all sorts of trouble when making financial decisions on major IT projects.  Why don’t IT people “get” the business?

1.    They’re too busy studying technology.

We all know that information technology is complex.  It’s not surprising to learn that IT people have to put in a lot of time just keeping up with the changing technologies.

But CFOs and Controllers also have to spend a lot of time keeping up with regulatory and financial standards.  That doesn’t excuse them from acquiring a good working knowledge of the industry and the specifics of the enterprise’s products and markets.  So we shouldn’t let the IT folks off the hook just because they’re “too busy.”

2.    They’re not trained in business

IT people typically come from engineering and technology training backgrounds.  These give them good grounding in quantitative methods, but don’t give them a feel for business tradeoffs.  Case studies in business are not part of a technologist’s training.  And those who have ventured into business for themselves usually have to hire someone else to manage the business aspects of their enterprise.

Maybe there’s something you can do about this.

3.    No one on the business side has invited IT to learn about the business

OK, so the IT people aren’t business-savvy when they come to work here.  Why don’t we invite them to learn about the business?  After all, we expect HR and other departments to have a basic grasp of what we do and for whom.  Why not IT?

Do you have a short self-study course on the nature of the enterprise’s business?  Or at least a summary from the 10K that is provided to every new employee?  This would be a start.  Even better would be a concerted effort to explain not only the basics of the business to IT people, but to outline the key performance indicators and other metrics that drive the business.

4.    No one rewards IT people for being business-savvy

Reward systems in IT typically are based on operational metrics rather than business-specific measures.  If you reward IT people only for achieving 99.9% uptime, then you should not expect them to focus on anything else.

Everyone in the enterprise needs to have a basic grasp of why we’re in business and what we provide, and to whom.  But IT people implement many of the systems that make business processes run, so they should have in-depth understanding of what’s important in the business and the meaning of the executives’ measures.

Bringing IT people out from behind the wall of technology and exposing them to business concepts and measures can only benefit everyone in the company.  And it will make your future conversations with IT a lot easier.

How well do IT people understand business in your enterprise?  Add your comments below.

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About John Levy

John Levy, Ph.D. is an expert in computers, software and storage who is available for consulting in patent litigation.

For more information, email him at johnlevyexpert.com, or call 415 269-4096.
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  1. John
    I really like your book, Get Out of the Way. Very straight forward and common sensical. This applies to so many different kinds of companies. As I was reading it, I could visualize you turning this into a workbook, like my plan workshop’s workbook, that leads owners and execs through this process, so they could work out what they need to do in their own companies, and then coalesce an action plan to do it.

  2. Thanks, Mike. Someone else told me this week that the book seems to apply to all sorts of enterprises, not just high-tech. It’s really about being straightforward with the people working with you — and supporting their growth.

    I recommend to my readers that they click through on your link above and sign up for a copy of your business tips.

  3. Thanks, John
    Looking forward to incorporating your almost revolutionary suggestion – interweaving IT personnel into the business’ fabric – as part of aligning business goals through communications. I forsee leadership raising both the commonly accepted assumptions you outlined and it sparking their “now why didn’t I think of that?” comments.
    One question I would raise, as would they, would be approach to IT personnel who are outsourced through a vendor. Another reason, in my experience, as they aren’t employees, the common practice was “hands off IT.”

  4. Thanks for the comments, Ann.
    Unless the outsourced IT people are contracted to work at a high level of management and/or strategy, I agree that they would be “hands off” IT people. And yet … there is some value in having at least a business strategy & intentions document that is accessible to everyone working in and for the enterprise.