What you need to know about the business IT divide

Almost everybody will agree that there is a divide between business and IT role players. After showing how this divide is the root cause for most of the vexing IT-related problems business and IT leaders experience on an almost daily basis, however, it is very interesting to observe with how much passion people on both sides of the divide try to argue why their particular approach is correct and why the other party needs to do more to bridge the divide.

Although at times amusing, watching this argument repeat itself over and over again is somewhat tiring and definitely counterproductive to finding good win-win solutions. To really start extracting (much) more business value from IT it is time to accept that we are finding ourselves in a typical conflict scenario with legitimate needs on both sides of the argument. What this means is that we need to take a step back and try to get an objective view of why we really feel so conflicted about the situation and then, instead of finding compromise solutions that have the tendency to bite us over time, understand and eliminate the real drivers of the conflict and ultimately find a win-win for all parties. True business IT nirvana!

The first step in doing so is to truly understand what drives and sustains both sides of the conflict. For this I propose to use the Conflict Cloud tool Theory of Constraints practitioners have designed specifically for this purpose (the image shows the essence of our particular Cloud).

Since the heavy lifting needed to build such a Conflict Cloud has already been completed we can instead spend some time on the surprising insights we can get from using the tool . A Cloud is read from the bottom up and starts with the goal of the system, which in this case is stated as “IT contributes to business success”. To be valid, this goal mandates a number of important business needs, two of which are relevant to our analysis. On the one hand we need a “reliable and cost-effective IT platform” to run our businesses on while on the other hand we also require “IT to add value” above and beyond just providing the basic platform.

At this point I need to emphasize that both these needs are legitimate for almost every small and medium business out there. Let’s continue our exploration by now focusing on the left hand side of the Cloud. We continue reading: In order to have “a reliable and cost-effective IT platform”, we need to “manage IT as a cost center” because “all IT decisions are made based on trust”. If you are just casually reading this post you probably missed the essence of the previous statement. It is profound and, when we realised this during our initial analysis, it caused quite a few “aha” moments.

Here is why. Over the last 10 years the entire IT industry for small and medium businesses has relied on the “Trusted Advisor” status of IT staff to help businesses make important IT decisions. Nothing wrong with that. But let’s evaluate what this means from a business point of view. Here is a question for all of us: What happens if somebody tells us to trust them? Aren’t we going to still search for an independent mechanism which will allow us to exercise some form of control and objectivity over a decision instead of just blindly relying on trust? Of course we would, otherwise we would not be good business people, and since the only proven mechanism available to businesses (despite all its short-comings) is the cost of a decision, this is exactly the reason why businesses all over the world started treating IT as a cost center! Wow… what a truly extraordinary insight!

Now, focusing on the right hand side of the Cloud, we continue reading: In order for “IT to add value”, we need to “manage IT as a value driver”. For most people the logic of this statement is sound as one cannot really deliver value if the only focus is on the cost of a decision.

Lets review where we are at. We have identified two legitimate business needs that require us to manage IT in two different ways. But hey, you may ask, how can this be possible? And yes, you are right, this is exactly where the problem lies.

“The business IT divide is caused by two legitimate needs of the business that require us to simultaneously manage IT in two totally incompatible ways.”

The effect of these two different modes of operation is that we are forced into a harmful oscillation between whatever management mode makes sense at the moment. In doing so, we do not realise that we are losing the objective overall picture and with that the ability to make consistent decisions. With this new information on why we have the business IT divide, does it really come as a surprise when many of our well-intentioned IT decisions backfire over time?

My next article will do a deep dive on why we really struggle so much to reconcile these two different modes of IT management. After that I will finally start to introduce a repeatable process that can help most small and medium business to systematically bridge the business IT divide. If this topic interests you, you may want to click the  follow button below.