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The IT Philosopher

The Vital Alliance: Business and IT.

Many IT professionals don’t understand business. They can regale you with high-level techie babble every which way ’til Tuesday, but they couldn’t begin to tell you how any of it actually provides value to a customer or helps them accomplish their mission. If pure techie die-hards are allowed to run amok, there’s a strong chance they’ll flood IT with unnecessary bells and whistles that, while looking great on paper and sounding impressive to other techies, are not cost-effective or useful to the business. “C’mon – the new cloud VM cluster is located on an artificial floating island in the Pacific powered by plutonium. Plutonium! Think of the possibilities!”

The converse is often true as well: many business professionals – salesmen, BI analysts, etc – don’t understand technology. They can identify ways in which to provide value and exploit opportunity, but they don’t have the faintest clue technologically-speaking on how to get there. This is epitomized by the businessfolk who do a great job of wooing clients and closing deals only to overpromise and underprovide on the actual IT service. “Yes, we promised you a 24/7 crack team of IT experts; but this one overworked IT intern who sleeps through half of your on-call notifications will have to do.”

This is an expression of the division of labor at work. Of course a lot of techies and businessfolk are only well-versed in their own lines of work – it’s what they do. Why wouldn’t they be more interested in expressing their own areas of expertise?

There are indeed whiz-kids out there who combine brilliant technological expertise with stunning business acumen: these are the Bill Gates’, Steve Jobs’, and Jeff Bezos’ of the world.  To those lucky few, all we can say is “bravo.”

Whiz kids are nice, but not required to run a successful managed IT services business. What’s required is a healthy, trusting, and beneficial alliance between the business-side and the IT-side. At the risk of sounding cliched, relationships really do matter – and where good relationships do not exist between IT and the business, trouble follows.

Bob Lewis, senior management and IT consultant to major IT firms worldwide, put it this way in a 2012 column “Fixing the Relationship Between Business and IT“:

What does “business/IT relationship” mean? The answer is compound and multidimensional. Getting it right includes laying out the right relationship model, establishing trust at all levels, reading the interpersonals right, and dealing with the delivery feedback loop, which can be either a vicious or virtuous cycle… The proper relationship between IT and every other part of the business is that of peers that collaborate with each other so as to make the business as a whole successful.

One team, one fight.” In the military, I heard this a million times – but only because it’s true. When business or IT are more interested in their own pride and success rather than the organization as a whole, that’s when you get overpromised and underdelivered service, or wasteful IT projects that sound cool, cost a fortune, and achieve little.

The customer does not care about the IT service provider’s internal politics and squabbles. They have business objectives, requirements by which to meet those objectives, and an acute awareness of whether or not those requirements are being met. Meanwhile, the IT service provider has needs of their own. Service delivery needs to fit into the budget; revenue goals need to be met. If business and IT are not united in developing mutually-beneficial client relationships while living up to promised IT service delivery, then the organization’s days are numbered.

Understanding value, as always, is the key – and the cause to unite the kingdoms of business and IT in a common goal. Where can we find value? How is it identified? How can we deliver it? How can we measure it, increase it, diversify it? We may all have different areas of expertise, but that exempts no one from understanding that most vital of business concepts: consumer value and they way in which it is perceived. I’ve discussed this before.

If you’re on the business side, take a moment on the next workday to talk a bit with your peers from IT. Learn a little about what’s going on with the day-to-day technical work being done for your clients, or ask them about the latest episode of “Battlestar Galactica.” (I realize I’m playing into a stereotype here, but I’m IT – so that makes it OK!) If you’re IT-side, say “Hi” to some of the salespeople and business-side analysts; get the good word on customer feedback and how the client relationship is working out for the business. We won’t be experts in each other’s fields, but we can make a great team.

One team, one fight!

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