Crossroads of Control vs. Power

“The technology for digital business is stateless and loosely-coupled, not stateful and closely-coupled like IT.”  This quote from Andy Mulholland, VP & Principal Analyst at Constellation Research, caught my attention because it captures a paradigm shift that most IT leaders struggle to embrace.

There is a sense of security in the technology control processes that IT created due to a lack of digital literacy within businesses in the past.  Today, however, digital literacy is universal within not only businesses, but society at large.  The challenge to IT leaders today?  Embrace the stateless and loosely-coupled nature of digital business by creating the required relationship networks.  The reward will be a new sense of power that not only improves their ability to deliver on their mission, but will result in better job satisfaction for their teams.

In my next post, I will discuss the next logical questions for an IT leader:

  • How do you embrace this “new world order” without having everyone in the business do their own thing, with little consideration for overall company mission & best practices?
  • And how do you prevent the business from getting abused and taken advantage of by the technology vendors that love nothing more than having business “go around IT” and work directly with them?

Business teams definitely know more about technology than they did 50 years ago, but do they know enough to make solid decisions about complex technology on their own?  Now, more than ever, is the time for IT leaders to show a healthy respect for business leaders’ interests while positioning themselves as trusted advisors and experts.

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Why CIOs Get (Deserve?) A Bad Rep

In the last few weeks, I’ve seen several articles about the challenges with and for CIOs: How CIOs are the obstacle to the missions of business executives; how CIOs and CMOs need to learn to work together; and even articles asking ‘Whose business is IT?’.  Examples include these posts by Michael Krigsman: “CIO and IT Leaders: YOU hold the burden of proof”, and “McKinsey research: IT needs a kick in the keister”.

Sadly, this is not a new discussion.  In 1996, when I came over to IT from an engineering department to implement SAP and lead the IT team, there was discussion about aligning IT with the business.  As someone who came from the business side of the organization, the conversation made no sense to me then, nor does it now.  Alignment implies separate but parallel paths.  What we need is synergy – “the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects”.

This lack of synergy is caused largely by two sets of behaviors.

The first is the CIO and the IT team being focused on technology as opposed to the business they’re in.  Even if a CIO embodies the principles of engagement and business-immersion, it can take years to turn the ship – it requires changing the culture of the IT team so that every technology staff member sees his or her work in the context of the business.  AND it means earning the trust of business leaders and establishing work patterns that foster collaboration and co-design.

The second set of behaviors is a vicious cycle caused by the CIO, the technology team, and the business not understanding each other.  While it’s generally accepted that IT professionals need to understand the business they’re serving and communicate in their peers’ language, I believe it’s a two-way street.

CIO’s are ultimately involved in all facets of the business.  Is it too much to ask that the other areas of the organization expend some time and effort  to understand technology? Or are business colleagues too fatigued from the nonsensical alignment conversation and have simply given up on the CIO?

What do you think?