I've been called out a few times on this blog - and that's OK. If everything we discussed was perfectly agreeable to everyone who read it, there'd be few ideas or challenges in the text. By definition if we all agree with it, the text and message must not offend anyone or pierce any sacred cows. But where's the fun in that?
When writing a blog, we often set up examples to illustrate a point. Sometimes those examples are strawmen - easy to knock over. Sometimes those examples paint an entire company or business function with a broad brush - suggesting for example that every IT team gets in the way of what business folks want to do. Josh has suggested that I was unfair in my last post (Where to spend your time) in that I indicated that service functions like IT or HR often say no to requests from the business. I know that not all IT organizations are evil - heck most of them aren't even venal. They are underfunded and under-resourced, and work with business people who don't take the time and effort to learn the cost and effort involved in what they ask IT to do.
But here's the rub - most generalizations usually are based on some kernel of the truth. If you don't believe that, try out a test. Meet with IT in your organization and ask for a new system to solve some of the needs in your business. In many, but not all firms, the first answer will be "no". Why? Most IT organizations struggle to maintain the existing IT infrastructure, much less add the new reports and personal applications that many of us "need". There's just not enough bandwidth to get to a lot of "new" stuff. Second, more than likely what you will ask for is not in their budget. IT, like any service organization, is viewed as a cost center, so every penny is justified in the budget, and it is very hard to switch funds from one project to another. Third, IT, like any function, has some pride of ownership. They want to be part of the decision to select and implement a tool rather than just having it forced upon them. If you were in finance and the IT guys showed up and said it was time to move to activity based costing rather than FIFO, wouldn't you get a little annoyed?
What I'd like to see more consistently from IT (and this goes for every service organization) is a consultative approach. One that would work with the business function to understand not just what's needed from existing systems, but what new initiatives and strategies the business function is considering and how that might effect their needs and requirements for IT. IT should educate its partner organizations on why it is vital that new systems plug-n-play well with existing systems, and why IT needs more dollars or people to accomplish the tasks. IT should work more closely with the business functions to plan and forecast spending well into the future.
I'm not saying that every IT organization fails at these concepts, any more than I am saying that the business functions are in the right. What I can tell you from 20 years of working experience as an IT consultant, implementer of ERP and CRM systems and as an observer of the interactions between IT and the business functions is that too often IT (and HR) seem to be more of a roadblock to getting things done than an enabler.
OK - that's my response to Josh. One - I occassionally paint with a broad brush to illustrate a point. No disrepect meant to IT or to any other business function. Two - there are definite disconnects between what IT can provide to a business and what it is currently providing in most businesses. That is a failure on the part of the business folks as well as the IT folks. If you've read this blog, you'll know that I have advocated that every senior business head (CFO, VP HR, CMO, etc) should be assigned a position in IT for some period of their time with a company. Only then will the business functions begin to have a better understanding about the requirements and needs of the IT group. Three - if we can identify problems as they exist and recommend solutions, aren't we all the better off for it?