An open letter to the business

My dear Colleague,

I heard on the grapevine the other day that you think your information technologists are getting a bit above their station. Apparently, they’ve made some suggestions which don’t have much to do with technology. I realise that’s outrageous, and I quite sympathise with your annoyance.

I mean, how dare they. They may actually have business and management degrees, but they work for information technology. The very idea that they’d know anything about the way business works is patently absurd. After all, you can only trust an information technologist to plug wires into a wall, I quite agree with you on that. You certainly don’t want them to take on anything more complicated, because lets face it, when you’ve given them complicated tasks in the past, all you got was fail, fail, fail.

That big system that didn’t deliver? You know that if you’d just had different technologists, everything would have been fine. Or maybe they were personally OK, but they chose the wrong technology. Whatever the reason, the IT folk are personally, absolutely to blame. I mean, you tried to tell them what you wanted, didn’t you? But they were all too bits-of-tin and spools-of-wire to understand.

The best thing to do is treat your IT colleagues like glorified order takers. Like, for example, you’re in some really expensive restaurant. You want them to show up, and ask you what you want, and go away and get it. You want them to do it often enough that you never want for anything, but not so often you get annoyed by all the attention. I mean, the best IT person is the one that just does what they’re told, right? Even better if they’re like that perfect waiter in the perfect restaurant that knows what you want without  even being told.

Oh, and I know you’ll agree with me that you can’t ever like the price you’re charged no matter what. Yes, its an expensive restaurant, and you can, like, buy the whole place if you want, but you have a duty to drive value. Because you just know, no matter what you say, that once your IT folk and their vendor friends get together, there’s going to be some kind of cash-spend party where they buy just anything with a few blinking lights that takes their fancy.

But anyway, lets get back to the point, which is ensuring that IT doesn’t get out of its box.

You know, there was a time when we didn’t even need the box. But now, all these upstarted IT people think they know the business as well as we do. They imagine that just because they’ve built a few systems that happen to work and which we now rely on completely, they understand what it was they were doing when they designed those systems.

So I understand how offensive it is when they come yammering away at how they can improve a particular business process, or implement a new customer channel or something.

And don’t even get me started on the subject of digital. Yes, I get the fact that the internet is, well, technology, but lets not forget that we know more about the business and the customer than anyone. That makes us uniquely qualified to be the font of all knowledge on how we will do digital, even though I know that some of those techies have actually run scale digital businesses of their own.

Anyway, any kind of business that techies could be involved in are not the same as the ones we’re involved in, right?

Anyway, I think I’m at the point where we almost don’t even need the techies. I know that you – like me – are on twitter constantly, have our own Facebook pages, and can even build workflows on Sharepoint. I know we used to ask the techies to do that stuff for us, but these days, I just get a few business grads in who’ve done a few technology subjects to do the work.

So much easier than asking those people with business degrees over in the IT group. Somehow, I just feel better knowing that they aren’t employed there.

Frankly, its obvious the time has come for us to stand up for ourselves. Just the other day I caught our CEO having a business meeting with the IT guy. You know that if we don’t take action soon, its going to be totally game over.

Anyway, dear colleague, I just wanted to write this to show my support for you. The way those people in Information Technology are going, they’ll think there’s no difference between them and us soon. Next, they’ll be wanting to our jobs directly. Or, even worse, build things we didn’t ask for and don’t control. We can’t have that, now, can we?

We face the sundering of the great wall we built between us and them during the nineties. I know you agree with me when I say I can’t imagine anything more awful than it come down whilst on our watch.

My best regards

Your fellow IT user from the business.

12 Responses to“An open letter to the business”

  1. January 26, 2010 at 9:58 am #

    James, the whole idea of defining roles and processes is to create a predictable system constructed out of a very chaotic and erratic human material. Having IT never delivering on time, and business never listening to IT and customers is a remarkable achievement in predictability. Imagine that IT delivers more than was planned or that business listens to customers saying they don't offer what they want, how could you follow any plan in this kind of situation?

  2. January 26, 2010 at 10:14 am #

    "Big IT will be over in the next decade or so, and all those professionals who manage the commodity inputs had better get themselves up the foodchain quick smart. Those that fail to recognise that they’re not that special any more will be out.
    And if you sell the commodity inputs, be prepared for your nice premiums to crash. Our needs aren’t so special that you can charge us over the odds. You too, will be out unless you can dream up something that makes you special again."
    James Gardner, October 2009

  3. January 26, 2010 at 10:22 am #

    I think you've missed my point. The point was that there *is* no reasonable divide any more between IT and the business. They are the same thing. Going up the foodchain, for IT people, means being part of the business. Going up the foodchain for business people means being able to do the IT.

  4. January 26, 2010 at 11:19 am #

    I have to agree that in the world in which we now live, the idea that IT and the Business are two industries separated by a common language is outdated. I would say, however, that the deep seated prejudice that ALL people with a technical background are incapable of understanding, contributing to, or communicating with the business is both offensive and incorrect.
    Certainly there is a significant percentage of technical people who are specialists in their field, and have not acquired the necessary breadth of experience to interact with the business.
    Similarly, there is a significant percentage of business specialists who do not have sufficient interest or experience in technical matters to contribute to the technology debate. (And to be fair, there is an equal and opposite predjudice amongst many IT people that non-technical people do not "get it" and therefore should be ignored or overruled when they state what they want for the business).
    In my current role, however, I see a genuine meeting of minds between the mroe strategic thinkers both in the Business and in IT, and I strongly believe that this is where the relationship should be built.
    Prejudice is a dangerous and limiting thought pattern, and its removal from the workplace in all its forms (recognised or not) is essential if a business is to succeed against its competitors.
    I see the key lesson that will be learnt during this decade is that true business success will be achieved only by those organisations that learn to bring together the business people, the technical people, and the customers to form a genuinely agile and reactive organisation (and it is quite possible that we will stop referring to IT and the Business as separate entities in the same way as we will stop referring to the customers as external entities and recognise them as key contributors to our success.
    The Enterprising Architect

  5. January 26, 2010 at 12:46 pm #

    Sorry James – again our views diverge. A food chain implies a top and bottom. And who owns this company "food chain" anyway?
    I see the business people as the creators and owners of the "food chain" and that everyone one else hangs off it. Only people above the business owners are the customers they serve.
    The best way for the business to get higher is to engage better with the customers – for example using social networking and other such processes.
    IT is not a process, its just a tool (yes, its vital) to get things done.
    If as a result of a closer engagement with the customers, the business say to IT "we need to be able to do this", When could IT possibly say "you can't have it?"
    Given that, you have an implied order giver/order taker, master/servant relationship, even one that allows discussion (highly desirable) it still renders that relationship essentially hierarchical, surely?

  6. January 26, 2010 at 5:57 pm #

    Jon, outmoded or not, the fact remains that even the CTO function is slipping out of the boardroom and down the "food chain" in many industries. That is indisputable and well reported. Those who don't realise that only serve to illustrate my point.
    Your comments around contribution though to any change of business model are extremely valid and I certainly don't disagree at all. As long as IT's power of veto is kept off the table.
    However, we must recognise the roles of all. The business role is to decide the go-to-market strategy and their own preferred mode of working (who works where, with what information to hand and what form-factor of device in terms of size), the financial people say if its affordable and the IT function work out how much it would cost, how long it would take and how to do it. Along with throwing in to the mix anything to enable the strategy to happen better.
    But one side must be self determining – and that's the business. The other side are contributors. We have to accept that commercially one side brings in money and the other spends it. If IT find a way to do things cheaper, like the Cloud, that's a saving, not a cash generation. It really is as simple as that.
    Anything else is like the foot soldiers rather than the generals deciding if they'll go to battle or not. If they know best how to fight is not the point!

  7. stephen
    January 26, 2010 at 8:53 pm #

    I would like to take a different tack on this one.
    As a person, having worked at the Enterprise level in a number of very large and complex organisations, I have needed to use abstractions to help me understand it. One of my biggest flaws has been not trying to understand those abstractions at a deeper and more meaningful level.
    IT people are from Venus, the Business people are from Mars, and there is certainly a challenge there (in most organisations).
    Most frequently, the customer is from Planet Earth, and sometimes neither the Business or IT truly understand these people as we get so wrapped-up in our little worlds.
    So, perhaps we need to find a way to transport ourselves to these other planets to learn and observe.
    I do think though that real world front-line experience as a Customer can teach people more in 10 minutes then 10 years in IT or the Business.
    Perhaps a new innovation would be for IT and Business people to gain some real front-line Customer experience within the business they work in – this can be very creative and generate a myriad of new ideas.
    Perhaps use a dummy number?
    The ‘back to the shop floor’ series, the ‘Secret Millionaire’ and the subject of ‘action based’ learning springs to mind as a creative example.
    A few years ago, I visited an Unemployment Office (as a Customer) – again seeing some systems I had some involvement with in the past – A fantastic experience. I spent more time talking with the Girl about her system and how things could be better rather than my own.
    I am doing my tax return this week, a little way to go – Self Assessment, it was a project I worked on over 12 years back, and having used it as a customer I can see some opportunities for improvement, as many other people who have to use it can probably see also.
    I am trying to sell my house at the moment to support a move, the agents search engine is terrible, and I have told him this – months ago, and of course nothing has happened.
    Someone said to me this evening, ‘feedback’ is a gift and I think this is so very true.

  8. January 27, 2010 at 6:17 am #

    Interestingly, Stephen, I'm doing my "Back to the Floor" next week. As you're probably aware, its a programme that all leaders in the department are required to do once a year. We go out to the front line and have to do their jobs for a week. I'm going to a Job Centre in Glasgow. That is front line experience that will stand me well as we deal with the business, no doubt!

  9. Samantha
    January 27, 2010 at 8:59 am #

    Wow James, I do hope you post about your week doing the "Back to the Floor" experience.
    I look forward to reading about it 🙂

  10. January 28, 2010 at 5:03 am #

    I certainly will be writing about it! If only so Neil Robinson can see that I *do* talk to customers.

  11. January 30, 2010 at 4:12 pm #

    Ahh, but will you break the habit of a lifetime and (a)listen and (b)take on board what you hear?
    Only joking, James. Good luck with that and I hope it equips you to make better decisions. Bet you wish such a good idea was your own, though? 🙂


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