IT Can’t Be Customer-Centric Unless It’s Integral to the Business

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With the dog days of August upon us, I find myself with a little extra time on my hands. Translation: everyone on my team is on vacation except me, so I’m taking the opportunity to relax and “only” work a normal 40 hour per week schedule. As a result, I’m having much more “soak time” than usual – time to let ideas marinate and absorb feedback. As a result, I’ve had time to soak on an idea which I introduced last month around IT transformation and IT organizations more “customer centric.” I’d like to expand on that a bit this month.

In the past, I would have argued that this meant getting closer to customers of the company, rather than internal customers of IT. However I’ve come to the realization that it is impossible for IT to get closer to customers unless they are perceived as being integral to the business just the way any other business unit is integral to the business.

Why is this a “new idea?” Well, because most IT organizations today are driving towards a set of best practices that will set them up to become even more entrenched as a support function. Current IT best practices (which so many IT organizations today consider aspirational and future-forward) suggest that IT organizations must partner with the business and run IT like a business. What I’m saying is that IT must not strive to merely “partner” with the business; it must leapfrog that idea and move directly toward becoming an integral part of the business. They must avoid the idea of running IT like a business (this sets up an artificial divide between the “business of IT” and the “business of the business”) and instead participate in running the business with IT. You don’t hear Finance or Manufacturing departments whining about running themselves like a business, do you?

Let me give you a few more examples of what I mean:

Current IT Best Practice: Partner with “the business
Future IT Best Practice: IT is an integral part of “the business”

The notion of “partnering with the business” gives the business a primacy that is inconsistent with IT truly having a seat at the business table. IT is just like any other business unit participating in operating a business.

Current IT Best Practice: Run IT like a business
Future IT Best Practice: Run the business with IT

IT organizations who are advised to set up a “business within a business” are receiving bad advice. This again tee’s up an artificial divide between IT and “the business.” Plus, when it comes down to getting close to the end customer, if IT is busy running it’s shop like a mini-business, and serving its customers, it’s lost focus on organically technology-enabling the business as a whole.

Current IT Best Practice: Optimize the IT technology portfolio
Future IT Best Practice: Optimize the technology-enabled business portfolio

IT Portfolio Management is a hot area these days. However I think most IT organizations have lost sight of why we have technology portfolios at all: to automate business processes. I think that the real future-forward best practice is to look at the IT portfolio through business process lens, and examine each process for its technology enablement. Applying a business process lens to applications and infrastructure lenses will give an organization a much more comprehensive perspective.

Current IT Best Practice: Implement processes for regular IT strategic planning
Future IT Best Practice: Bring IT as a competitive differential to regular strategic business planning

The chief strategy officer of any company should be IT’s best friend. Trying to implement IT strategic planning separate from strategic business planning is an exercise in futility. You’ll never truly align technology investments to business direction.

Current IT Best Practice: Address loss of control by self-sufficient lines of business
Future IT Best Practice: Address the business value of IT integral to lines of business

One of the trends in IT today is “reclaiming” rogue IT (or even sanctioned, local IT) and moving to “center-led,” shared-services organizations. However business units often react adversely, keenly feeling the loss of independence. However in the main, IT organizations must demonstrate the value they bring to the entire enterprise in a structured way.

Current IT Best Practice: All while remaining agile, managing costs and enhancing flexibility
Future IT Best Practice: All while remaining agile, managing costs and enhancing flexibility

Need I say more?

And aren’t these just simple, happy thoughts for a lazy, summer afternoon?

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