IT Leaders, It's Time to Give It Up

If you want to know what keeps IT leaders up at night, check out this oh-so-depressing article. Entitled "Why The New Normal Could Kill IT," is a well-written summary of the challenges and risks that IT faces as it tries to navigate the new economic order with complex and difficult-to-change technology, poor technology adoption, and the reality that consumer technology is outpacing enterprise technology.

The core thesis of the article is that IT's survival depends on its ability to help the rest of the business apply new, disruptive technologies cheaper and faster than ever before. These mandates aren't new, but time is running out: "There's a hoard of tech trouble at the gates, and users today have as much patience as those stranded in long lines at the DMV."

Business users want, and need, more direct control over the technology that fuels their business. Ensuring that business users exercise increased control in a responsible manner requires that they become smarter about how to invest, manage, and deliver IT-enabled change and innovation.

My last few blogs have discussed why IT-smarts are necessary to leverage the cool technologies that are transforming the competitive landscape and how companies operate. We have also reviewed what happens when business leaders aren't IT smart and the benefits that are derived when they are.

In general, IT leaders agree that uplifting the IT-smarts of the other parts of the business is a noble goal. But many don't think it's a realistic goal. They tick off the reasons it's not realistic:

  • They are not interested: Business leaders don't "realize that they are in need of such knowledge" and "not interested in learning about IT."
  • They are not motivated: Getting business leaders smarter about IT requires a change in the way "the performance of a business leader is rated or evaluated."
  • It's too hard: "Getting business leaders smarter about IT is a tall order."

Fortunately, there are plenty of IT leaders who are making it happen. Listen to what some CIOs have to say:

"My staff was convinced that they'd write bad queries that would lead to bad decision making...and bring down our environment. But...a funny thing starts to happen when you sit side by side with a person for a few weeks. You build a relationship. You build trust. You celebrate when they master a concept. Then the light goes off in IT, and they realize they might actually be able to do this, and this work that they hate (ad hoc queries, customer reports, etc.) might actually diminish."

"I took the Web content management and development from marketing when it was clear we didn't have the right tools and process. And once it was fixed, I gave it back. After a year, there wasn't a lot of new thinking — they used what we gave them but didn't come up with anything new. Rather than take it back, now we coach them on how to exploit and extend the tool. This way, my organization isn't on the hook for servicing their needs and is freed up to focus on other opportunities."

Creating IT-smart business leaders is a win-win for two reasons:

  • IT leaders who help their business partners get smarter about IT find that they gain control by giving it up. There is more power in positioning oneself as a coach and advocate versus standing in the way of progress by controlling access to technology.
  • Business leaders are freed from standing in line waiting for their share of the scarce and overtaxed IT resources in order to get their day-to-day needs met.

Extending IT's reach and impact by enabling the IT capabilities of others is the only real world solution to get past resource constraints and expand the capacity for innovation. And while I have yet to find a company that is uplifting IT-smarts on a broad-scale basis, it's easy to find IT and business leaders who are figuring out how, on a small scale, to break through the "business asks and IT delivers" mode of operation.

IT leaders, I want to hear from you. How are you helping your business counterparts gain more control over the IT assets that fuel their business? And business leaders, please chime in. What do you want to learn and how are you and your teams getting smarter about IT?

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