To Get Business Value, IT Must Be Run Like A Business

Among the uninitiated there sometimes lurks the suspicion that the IT department in their organisation is not unlike a secret society. Within this dark and arcane world people with beards carry out weird and wonderful incantations and carry out a form of modern alchemy where the transformation is not from lead to gold but simply to get a knackered hard drive up and running or to magically get the office printer working.

These days the head alchemist, sorry CIO, has a more important metamorphosis to undertake – for a business to get value from its IT it must run IT like a business.

Tail Wagging Dog

To old school ITers this is, of course, sacrilege. The core of any business was not the marketing or sales departments, nor was it the manufacturing or retail aspects of the business but the IT team. IT is the throbbing heart of the business empire without which the body corporate would collapse, wither and die.

But we are in changing times and the IT department can no longer be the tail that wagged the dog, but must show its worth and demonstrate that it provides added value and a sound contribution to the long term success and sustainability of the organisation.

As a CIO your ability to manage this change is often governed by the structure of your business. If, for example, you have to report through the chief finance officer you may find your route to successful change management slower than if you reported directly to the CEO. Hell, everyone knows that bean counters don’t understand IT don’t they!

It’s a common and long standing argument that technology teams need to move away from being technology biased and start focusing on what drives business. But even when you present plans to do exactly what shareholders and CEOs are asking you to serve up, many assume that IT cannot or should not be involved in making business decisions.

Delivering Results

To some you are the equivalent of the grease monkeys that kept the engine going. This is, to put it bluntly, a bit of a bummer because IT people are not all geeky nerds – come on , admit it, some are – but individuals with high IQs and finely tuned analytical minds that are capable of problem solving at more than a printed circuit board level.

Delivering business oriented results has to go far further than saying that the IT department is a business centre and all other areas of the organisation are customers. That is too simplistic and it’s going to take more than asking your team to go out into departments and adopt as “bums on desks” approach to understanding what the wider organisation needs.

Even among CIOs there is some dissent. One individual on an online forum commented: “If technology support becomes a profit center to the organization (either internally or externally) there is a likelihood that the culture of the IT department would evolve into that of a profit-centered business. You may find there is a tension between the two businesses as they will, undoubtedly, derive separate strategic goals.”

Kevin Tea is a journalist and marketing communications professional who has worked for some of the leading blue chip companies in the UK and Europe. In the 1990s he became interested in how emerging Internet-based technologies could change the way that people worked and became an administrator on the Telework Europa Forum on CompuServe. With other colleagues he took part in a four year European Commission sponsored project to look at the way that the Internet could benefit remote communities. His blog is a resource for SMEs who want to use cloud computing and Web 2.0 technologies.