Isn’t it time for the Business Guys to get IT?

For years technology strategists like myself have been working with business folks and C-Suite executives complaining that “you IT guys are too techie” or “you guys just get don’t understand the business”. Many CIOs and architects have been relegated to obscurity because of this perception. In the days when computers were new and technology was not integral to the business, it was ok that the “business guys” were frustrated with the “geeks” if they talked tech but those days are long gone. Tech ignorance among the business suite should not be tolerated because there is almost no area of our economy where technology and its applications like IT are the domain of a single department. This is especially true in healthcare.

Firms lose out when technology staff members are not integral parts of strategy and decision making processes. Given the central role of technology in many organizations, IT folks have some of the most knowledge about the way your business actually works (as opposed to the way it’s perceived to work). Given that many business processes are already automated and many or going to be, it’s only natural that technologists will understand the business because without understanding it they couldn’t have automated it. Of course, I’m not naive enough to believe that all technology professionals are equally adept business folks but it’s time to not treat them as separate groups.

What about the business side? There is equal frustration, well deserved in many cases, that many executives “don’t get technology” and ignore the time-tested and prudent advice of IT folks. We need more execs who value business technology (BT) knowledge, get trained, or at least understand that it’s important. When hiring senior executives, it’s just as important to ensure that they know technology as it is for them to understand the basics of finance and marketing.

Business Technology and IT knowledge is crucial in a competitive environment and senior executives should foster that by including questions about tech in their interviewing and hiring process.

If you’re a CIO or an architect or other senior technology leader you should start holding “brown bag” seminars at lunch once a month or other regular intervals to help train executives on technology topics important to your business. A simple topic like “Web 2.0” or social computing could be very useful.

The geeks have the responsibility to make sure the business side is armed with BT knowledge but the business side has to do its part by understanding it’s really their own responsibility to realize their knowledge gap and seek help.

HR folks should create a technology staffing plan that would include the task of helping create interview questions and recruitment strategies to ensure you’re getting tech-savvy business folks.

What do you guys think? Am I living in a fantasy world or is the biz and tech gap really something that can be bridged?

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9 thoughts on “Isn’t it time for the Business Guys to get IT?

  1. I’ve been working in the IT industry for 20 years and the most common and frustrating issue I face is that lack of collaboration, trust, and even respect, between management and the technology staff. And, as you say, it absolutely degrades the effectiveness of the IT function because of the exclusion of IT staff from the strategy and decision making processes. Educational sessions (what we call “Lunch and Learns” in my company) are useful for knowledge transfer but I think we need to look at a more formalized mechanism of education that holds management “accountable” for understanding their organization’s technology space and improving collaboration with their IT function. To help bridge the gap, perhaps a more focused role (or role responsibilty) is required to explicitly deal with improving management’s understanding of their organization’s technology and IT staff roles.

  2. I am somewhere in the middle on this issue. On the one hand, I do agree with you that “business” types traditionally do not get IT at all, nor do they understand the efficiencies that IT can bring. On the flip side, I have seen too many examples of IT not bringing the kind of efficiencies that are expected. In many cases, it is due to poor execution or badly managed expectations, but, it does tend to leave a black mark.

    If an organization makes an investment in IT, I believe it is imperative that everyone across the organization understands the implications and advantages. Brown bags are always a good way to do that.

  3. Kind of naive thinking.
    The reason senior execs say your ideas stink isn’t because your ideas stink.
    They say it to keep power for themselves.
    They want to keep your confidence low, so they bash your ideas.
    Your entire premise assumes that if you come to them with good ideas, they will recognize it and reward you.

    Truth is, you’re not rewarded for good ideas.
    You’re rewarded for taking what’s theirs.

  4. I hear what you are saying, but this begs the question: For those of us gunning for the c-suite, not yet “too old to learn new tricks” or otherwise daunted by the task of learning IT, what should be our required reading? What are the essential tools I should have under my belt to engage HIT in strategy and planning…given the constraint that I, myself, do not plan to be an IT expert? I am currently in business school and would appreciate your thoughts.

  5. “Business” folks often consider themselves the strategic thinkers a.k.a the “outside-the-box” thinkers – well some of them are so far “outside-the-box”, they lose sight of what’s inside making the “box” operate. In order for one to understand how IT impacts their enterprise, they need to know how operations are currently conducted. The C-Suite tends to stay at 10,000 ft and often expects IT folks to take their strategic decisions and run with it. Well, this is recipe for failure, with key ingredients being lack of thorough analysis, including input from the “geeks”.

    This may be a moot point in the long run – the new generation of C-Suite and “business” savvy individuals are expected to embrace IT and understand the importance. In healthcare, the generation gap is as much to blame for lack of IT intervention as any other issue at hand. So how do we bridge the gap in the short term – keep hiring Management and Process Engineers!

  6. An Englishman in Ireland

    Reply

    Yes, just like one would expect senior exec to have some undertanding of how transport works, or the latest trends in pharms (at least at “Scientific American level”). But is seems there is still work to do in the other direction. I was recently listening to a podcast (from itconversations.com) with a bunch of CIOs of SERIOUS orgs (IT budgets > $1B), and part of their message is that there is still a need for IT to come out of the ivory tower and address actual business needs. As an IT pro of 25 years, I thought that message was delivered & digested many years ago, but it seems not.

  7. I tend to agree that there is a lot of work that IT side needs to do to get itself out of “the ivory tower” as you said. But, I think that most IT folks probably have started to realize that if they’re not business-centric in their thinking they won’t last long in senior positions.

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