The argument to change the IT (Information Technologist) job title to BT (Business Technologist) has been gaining resonance with me lately, as I take a long-term look at the strategic value of our department to the business. Briefly, Forrester’s CEO George Colony has been promoting the idea as a “final metamorphosis”, to send a strong signal to the organisation that IT people aren’t just in the technology business, but the company’s business as well.
Behind the argument are more than cosmetics or rebranding. As Colony says it is changing behaviour to focus on the business of the business; by feeling the pain of the business the IT department would transform its relationship with it.
In practice what Colony is suggesting is more than a mind shift. It is changing the well-developed culture of both the IT and non-IT folk to progressively forge out a new pathway forward that would better serve the business.
Purely by chance we have such a “BT” operating in our team, though that person is probably tagged by the business as an IT person now. This person worked in another department but was being made redundant; she had been an integral part of our testing and development work, as a power user, on a new CRM system being readied for implementation.
Our BT was taken on board to continue work on the CRM post implementation, but the depth and breadth of experience and expertise she brings to our department is humbling at times. She sees and notices things everyday that, to be frank, would probably be dismissed or overlooked by regular IT folk.
She keeps us on our toes as we continue to refine aspects of the CRM, but she can only do that because she comes from a different arm of the business – where the everyday business processes, mindset and culture are different than the IT department. Noticeably for me, these people too are our customers, the frontline and recipients of systems we introduce to the organisation.
More than adding value, our BT person is a reality check for us, the systems developers, innovators and cheerleaders; but she is able to because she has felt the pain of the business.
And that for me is the nub of this argument: developing staff that are intimate with the business, but who also know the systems and applications inside out and can utilise that knowledge to benefit the organisation.
Through this change, we are also subliminally engaging in a realignment process. It bewilders me at times that the IT department is treated as “McDonald’s”; a place you can go for a quick fix that has a smorgasbord of temptations, when what is really needed is a home cooked meal full of the five-plus with mum, dad and the kids around the table.
I suspect that though people know the IT department is there, little do they know what we do except when their PC freezes. This is borne out in Forrester’s own research.
In its report, ‘Closing the CEO-CIO Gap’, while CEOs are generally happy with IT’s performance, the same report shows they also have low expectations of IT and tended to marginalise IT in the context of the business. According to the report:
It is clear that IT and business initiatives and strategies will increasingly have to intertwine and overlap – making the question of alignment irrelevant, forging a new business technology (BT) organisation, and making the boundaries between business and IT more permeable.
While I am not quite an advocate for everyone in the business trading places – because essentially this is about a marriage between “the business” and technology – there are clear advantages to operating in this way.
As a technology professional who spends time camped in both the department and business, when I take a step back and take an objective look at IT’s processes and day-to-day business, I see the true power in the collaboration of technology and business.
If Forrester’s is right, and I have no reason to dispute its projections, it is only a matter of time before we move in this direction. For us here in New Zealand, it is just a matter of catching up.
Most CIOs place IT-business alignment at the top of their wish list. They recognize the growing interdependency between business success and technology use. And they worry about the mismatch between what IT does and what business wants. But achieving a state of 100% alignment will no longer be possible — if it ever was — as firms evolve over the next five years toward business technology (BT), the pervasive technology use that drives business results. IT-business alignment will be replaced with BT Synchronization — a continuous balancing of an enterprise level of focus, a networked balance of supply, and a change agent role in the business strategy and processes of the enterprise.
‘Debunking Alignment Nirvana’ from a Forrester report
In moving in this direction, we need to take cognisance of the following:
- Internationally, more and more employees are going self-service and finding applications on the web and downloading to them their PCs because they believe it will better help them in their work.
- Employees are better informed about technology and are bypassing IT departments by using self-provisioned technologies and tools.
- Free/cloud-based apps are making more technologies freely available, again giving employees an avenue around the IT department.
- The younger members of our workforce have been spoon fed on technology since they could hold a key board. The Millennial Generation, or Generation Y, is behind the rise of instant communication technologies and new media like Facebook, Youtube, Myspace, and, to a certain degree, Twitter.
Finally, Forrester’s describes the transition from IT to BT as a slow but relentless revolution in which traditional technology management, historically delivered only by an IT organisation, is being displaced by pervasive technology use that is increasingly managed outside of IT’s direct control.
What it is saying is like it or not – in some cases you might not recognise the evolution has already begun - we need to radically rethink the way we do business or risk being left trampled in the aftermath.
Aubrey Christmas is the CIO of Employers and Manufacturers Association (Northern) New Zealand. Email him at email@example.com.
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