Sunday, April 13, 2008

Business Managers and IT

In a recent article in Information Week, the issue of business managers bypassing IT managers to get things done is discussed. This is an interesting piece and something that I have also witnessed, and got me thinking. It seems to be a trend that is happening more often - but I question whether this is right, wrong or neither.

Part of the reason that we have arrived at this situation is that development teams/departments are seen to have consistently under-delivered on business expectations. This is sometimes true, and very often a perception.

However, there is the counter argument, that business heads have unrealistic expectations of what it takes to build software, which leads to even more negative perceptions.

My belief is that both of these arguments are true, but this situation is not going away any time soon. If IT departments cannot better meet the needs of the business, then look at the reasons why - I have seen strategy or architectural choices choke the ability of programmers to deliver anything. Of course the business manager doesn't care why so he's not going to wait for an explanation, he just wants his projects now!

Conversely, when business departments choose a poor IT partner to bypass internal groups, it can be a lottery - partner with the wrong guys and its going to be a nightmare. Integration may be impossible, maintenance very costly etc.

It's incumbent on managers on both sides to meet in the middle to get things done. Technology managers could be much more effective and take on more of a coaching and advisory role. Business managers need to be more open minded to work with people who understand how to make IT work - the trouble is, they may not have such a people in their organization - and business manager wouldn't know either way.

This is a tough one - opinions anyone?

1 comment:

Paul said...

Hi Andrew,

It is a tricky one. It reminds me of the PC revolution where departments realised that all they had to do was buy a departmental server, set up a workgroup and then install any software they liked by-passing the IT department.

The usual shout from IT professionals was "that's not maintainable", or "that cobbled together access database isn't in 5th normal form, you are on your own when it comes to support". To which the response from the business was: "Who Cares? It's here now and it works". The business won, and PCs stayed.

I have never had to support or maintain these cobbled together Visual Basic/Excel/Access applications so I haven't felt the pain. Having said this my sympathies are with the business. They don't care, they just want something that works, and they need it in a timely fashion.

Have you seen that slogan that says: "Good is the enemy of good enough"? I do think that the IT industry has a tendency to get carried away playing with their own navels, forgetting that they are their to serve someone else and that someone else is paying the bills.

The current attempt at getting some value for money is offshoring. This one strikes me as a real sign of desperation, but given our track record in the past can you blame the business for being willing to try anything?

Many of the most successful companies, have decided that the best IT is very little IT. The party can't go on for ever. If I was a business manager, the last thing I would want to do is throw my investment budget into a IT lead software project black hole :)

Who knows, one day they may finally revolt and bypass the IT department again and go straight to boutique software shops for their bespoke software. The same way they went to Microsoft for shrink wrapped solutions in the 80's and 90's.

There are a lot of small Agile Startups that are really delivering value on the web. The question is can they break through into the corporate space? Knowing corporate culture, I doubt it!

Put it this way, people who saw Microsoft as a friend may be beyond helping :)