The Well-Placed Voice of IT at the Executive Table – the Power of WE

– By Dr. Linda Miller

Many organizations still see their IT function as non-strategic – lying somewhere on the continuum between order taker and scapegoat.   Business want to give IT some measurements and send them away to construct something that we will tweak here and there for a perfect fit… in denial about the magnitude of the complexity within the IT world and unable to grasp the meaning and value that IT brings to business and its potential as a strategic partner. 

Business and IT are working in the same boat, so why is it so hard for business and IT to capitalize on the power of WE.

As deep and complex as IT is, it offers an almost instant transformative power.  And we as IT practitioners perceive that our work appears to non-IT people as a huge piece of experimental artwork – avant-garde and wildly ungraspable.  This is actually a misconception, but conveying where the balance points of the IT creative process are, as compared to where the balance points of business command and control systems are, continues to be difficult after 50 years of trying.

We as business people are reluctant to give up control to what we instinctively perceive as a force so powerful it could consume all in its path – a justifiable fear, which would explain why real information about business strategy is often left out of conversations with IT.  Until we as business people are ready to have honest and equal fear-free dialogues with them, our IT leaders need to continue to find creative ways to work through the psychology of the situation in order to add their voice to the greater good and health of the business and its people.

As the industrial-age-minded, curmudgeons of “business” wave-away the millennium-entitled- acting-out of adolescent “IT” again and again, forward motion grinds to a halt.  And, having had the unbridled enthusiasm worn out of it in a manner not that far from the way a horse is broken, we as IT people have stopped coming up with brilliant ideas about how we can create something that will blow the socks off our business guardians with its potential – that approach has proven to be career limiting. 

We’ve not been particularly good at knowing how to direct IT potential under industrial-age business paradigms, and IT can overwhelm its audience when talking to business practitioners long-steeped in fixed and finite realms of numbers and calculations.  Most often IT still reports into the CFO as a measure of control that was put in place in the ‘80s and ‘90s to try to rationalize IT costs – but mostly to allow time for we as business people to perceive and carefully embrace and stabilize this explosive power called IT. Since the turn of the millennium, however, a balance of controlled experimentation vs. radical innovation has tipped and business risk has shifted from grappling with unfettered IT spend to dangerously low generation of business innovation.

Expressing this in terms “flow”, we as IT people cannot celebrate stasis and equilibrium with our business comrades because IT is essentially movement – that is, IT represents the movement of the business and amplifies it.  Like fashion, there is no beginning and no ultimate end-state of IT.  There is no destination point.  The point of IT is movement and flux.  So ultimately, how can a conversation between a group that values stasis and a group that is always in flux find success?  When flux is dominant stasis occurs accidentally, when stasis is dominant flux bounces around in a closed system with little productive output… sound familiar?

Metaphors aside, we as IT people have known for some time that the nature of IT is essentially different and opposing to the nature of traditional business.  Having exhausted all avenues of trying to fit in, we as IT people are left wanting for a place to put the overspill of the potential of IT. We have started to look into human connection, interaction, creation and thought for a place to lend the robustness of IT for business benefit.  But before business goes there, we as business people must break down and break through traditional confines that judge results more by ROI than by positioning for the future. Here is where IT shines its best light – and also where the impetus for business transformation is – shifting trajectory to where future success now lies.

So, the place of the voice of IT has become the sum of what it was in the ‘90s – offering solutions to stated business problems and designing couture systems and software to assist the bottom line – plus a “new-millennium” role as illuminating the path business takes to position and reposition itself at the right speed. We as IT people have the rapid-fire-change, transformation-through-uncertainty competency the rest of the organization is looking for.  Building the unified path is a new and daunting piece of work we must approach together.

As we as IT people sigh deeply about digging into the next round with business, weary from decades of repression, we also look to knowledge capital management and business intelligence as playgrounds to exercise within – a chance to take longer strides at least, as we run the perimeter of our cage.

As we as business people sigh deeply about surrendering more control and waiving a white flag to IT, we swallow a chunk of pride and lift our gaze to the human connection part of the business equation as a way to share the burden that comes with the demand for agility – it takes many minds to turn the school of fish in unison.

It’s becoming obvious that IT and business are finding common ground in collaboration enablement, and value network.  For this common ground to be a lasting connection point requires moving conversations about change and transformation away from being expressed in a language of sameness and a celebration of conformity achievement (risk), and toward expressing them in a language of dynamic multi-purposefulness and the intrinsic indeterminacy of the learning journey (reward). That is, sharing the common ground requires a reordering of thought from hierarchies, taxonomies, separateness and self-contained-ness toward group genius and innovation for the sake of innovation, in full knowing that what is created will inevitably benefit the business, it’s a matter of deciding where and how to apply it.

And that is a conversation we can all have.