Tuesday, March 15, 2011

There is no HR/Business divide, which is why its IT's fault

The IT/Business divide is something that exists in most businesses I've worked with. I think it comes from a few different drivers, one of which being that IT is often the smartest set of folks in the room academically if not socially. But one piece I can't agree with is that the fault for the divide lies on both sides.

Lets flip away from IT for a moment and concentrate on other "support" parts of the organisation. HR and Finance. These aren't the front-line of the business but they are critical support functions. Now I've regularly heard people in the business moan about Finance being too conservative or too controlling but I've never heard people talk about a Finance/Business divide or that the CFO is disconnected from the business. The perspective might be that Finance has a different view on the current opportunities or issues but not that the business and Finance are disconnected. HR even more so, the HR Director who is disconnected from their business is a fired HR director.

In IT however I've regularly seen CIOs who are disconnected from the business and seen architecture communities who have said classic phrases like "it doesn't matter what the business wants, if we say its not going in, its not going in". IT continues to talk technology rather than business and optimise things (programming languages) that add zero business benefits. IT regularly bleats "The business must realise how important this is" rather than actually working out what is important to the business.

The business/IT divide is the fault of IT because IT doesn't make the effort to communicate the value in the language of the business its like the worst kind of tourist who thinks that shouting louder is better than learning the local language.

Its time for IT to stop looking inwards on optimising wheels and start focusing on how to communicate about IT with the business in their own language.

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Devdas said...

(a) Every business decision is an IT decision.

Most business people fail to realise this. IT deals with business choices which are not made by the people who need to run those systems, and deal with the inevitable failures.

(b) IT doesn't normally deal with successes, only failures.

If the IT department succeeds in it's mission, then the department is invisible. If the department fails, the failure is very visible.

HR and finance don't easily fail in the same way.
HR failures are easily worked around, and we don't blame the department for not doing it's job.
Finance has a bunch of audits to pass, and businesses are driven by moving money, so finance is a core part of the business and well understood by the business side.

Of course, when HR or finance fail hard, that usually causes a company to shut down.

(c) IT is regarded as a cost center, rather than as an infrastructure investment.

IT as business infrastructure is not a common thought in a lot of businesses. Infrastructure investments have far longer term payouts, and a completely different investment/returns timeline.

Due to this, IT is given the short end of the stick in capex budgets, and that results in driving opex upwards. This is a bad thing in a cost center, so you end up with IT needing to fight for every bit of financial support while putting out fires.

IT is NOT like HR or finance due to the infrastructural nature of the department. While the common view of IT as a support department may be justified in certain circumstances, missing out on the infrastructural view is a fatal error.

Steve Jones said...

a) every business decision is a financial decision
b) Finance doesn't deal with successes only failures
c) finance is regarded as a cost center not an infrastructure investment

Seriously every point you've raised can be raised against finance, but wouldn't be because finance have explained their value to the business so

a) finance provides the numbers and methods to quantify and measure value
b) finance provides the structures to quantify failure and enable the business to get out early
c) finance provides the regulatory control that keeps the CFO and CEO out of jail

IT however, as you've said, blames the business
a) "most business people fail to realise this"

Which means IT has failed to explain it, not that the business has failed to be psychic

b) "finance is a core part of the business and well understood by the business side"
And why is that? Because over the last 50+ years they've tried, and succeeded, in aligning their KPIs to the business to the level where people don't see the join. Finance courses are heavily business centric, IT courses are not.

c) "IT get the short end of the stick on CapEx budgets"

How come the guy buying airplanes for the airline can make a $1bn cap ex spend? Because he has justified it in business terms for the airline. IT gets the "short end of the stick" because it fails to explain the value and rarely actually manages to deliver the value it previously promised.

What you've said is pretty much why I say it IT's fault. We look for blame and excuses rather than actually trying to fix the problem by first recognising that its our problem to fix.