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Business is accountable for changing the IT culture, too

Alice, from the comic strip “Dilbert,” asks IT nemesis Wally to make a change to a report. Wally’s response: “I need a business plan for your request.”

The exchange is telling of an IT culture stereotype — “Why can’t IT just give me what I need, now!“ But it’s also telling of what can go wrong with the concept of IT/business alignment. IT is expected to integrate itself into the corporate culture and follow the business rules. This alignment is supposed to alleviate, not add to, the hoops that each side has to jump through to meet the end goal.

But as mentioned above, it doesn’t always work out that way. The blame is on the business side as well (the need for a business plan comes from the business), yet the IT culture usually takes the hit.

What I mostly hear about is how the IT culture, not the business culture, needs to shift. A key criticism being that IT needs to treat the business’ customers as their customers, versus the business’ end users as their customer.

If the IT organization acts like any other department — marketing, sales or product development — the need for IT/business alignment goes out the window. IT is simply a business organization, rather than a technology organization, serving the needs of their business, and, ultimately, the customer.

I see the need for this kind of thinking, as Tim Crawford, CIO of IT services company All Covered, explained to me: Marketing doesn’t get in front of executives and start talking about their product; they talk about how it will help the business.

“[The marketing head] is talking about the message, and how the message is going to turn into greater sales and greater adoption of the products and services. [CIOs] need to have a conversation with the head of sales and marketing to say, ‘Look, I know marketing’s focus is getting the message out. I know sales is the one out there trying to pitch the message. Wouldn’t it be great if, as soon as you had a change in message, you could get that immediately into sales’ hands, and as sales is getting feedback on what’s resonating and not resonating on the message, that can get right back into marketing? Would that be useful?’

“There might be technology that’s enabling it, but nowhere in the conversation was technology mentioned.”

He is a strong proponent of the need for a shift in the IT culture on many fronts, but he is also realistic. The business needs to change the way it thinks about IT as well.

The CIO wants to learn more about the business — treat the business’ customer as its customer, but that means that the business side needs to be the one that brings that CIO into the customer fold.

“There’s a change in thinking that we have to do with the business we serve as well. [IT] has taken 30 years to build up this wall; now we have to spend some time and some of that equity breaking it down and changing the paradigm, not just in IT, but outside of IT as well,” he said.

So be prepared for a conversation that may go like this, explains Crawford:

CIO: “I want to understand what’s happening with our customers. Can you get me in front of the customers?”

Marketing or sales head: “Why? You don’t serve the customer. You serve internal organizations.”

Sounds a bit like a “Dilbert” cartoon.

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