IT Management : IT Is ‘The Company’

The artificial separation that has existed for years is no longer. The IT/business singularity is indeed upon us.

Romi Mahajan

One of the most infamous statements of political arrogance must be Louis XIV’s, “L’etat c’est moi (I am the state).” This has an interesting parallel in today’s business world.

No, this isn’t about celebrity CEOs or corporate founders flying around in their Gulfstream jets. It’s not about Wall Street big shots and their speculative arrogance. It’s about technologists. More specifically, it’s about the role of IT in today’s economy.

IT and business are no longer separate. The latter is predicated on the former. Business as we know it exists because of IT. IT professionals need to capitalize on this (although without the French king’s regal hubris).

Let’s do a quick thought experiment. Consider the ramifications of these three questions:

  1. What really happens when a company introduces a new product?
  2. When an executive makes a decision (new markets to enter, new equipment to purchase and so on), what information is that executive relying on to make that decision?
  3. How do employees cooperate with each other in order to make any company a coherent unit of production, innovation and success?

In each, you’ll find that the common element is IT. And the common actors are IT professionals. Let’s dig into this a bit deeper.

Product introduction. Consider the financial services industry, one of the largest vertical industries in the corporate world. In this industry, what does it mean to introduce a new product? Some industries make physical products (and increasingly rely on IT-driven machines to do so), but the financial services industry deals in “virtual” products. Its products are really bits and bytes that stand for some financial instrument with certain behaviors (such as expiry dates or interest rates). New products in this industry are purely, wholly and irrefutably IT constructs.

Executive decision-making. As companies consolidate, enter new markets, and balance products, services, resources and revenues, corporate executives are always on the spot to make quick and important decisions. These executives rely on “roll-ups” of data from a variety of sources. These roll-ups are driven by IT, processed by IT and rendered by IT. In the modern enterprise, even eminently countable numbers such as sales volume are driven by IT. Sales managers themselves don’t know the score until they log on and check systems driven by IT.

Employee cooperation and collaboration. The single greatest advance in corporate business practices over the last three decades is the IT-driven ability for employees to work with and for colleagues toward beneficial outcomes. In the era prior to IT, corporations large and small had difficulty aligning around common goals. Employees were separated by the chasms of distance and lack of procedural context. IT has enabled collaboration in ways we now consider our birthright, yet which simply didn’t exist a mere two decades ago.

Bravo IT? That seems to be the case. If all this is true, then why is IT still so often considered a second-class department, and IT professionals considered second-class citizens? It seems to have a lot to do with the fact that we’re not telling the “IT/business singularity” story often or thoroughly enough.

A Worthy Exercise

Most jobs don’t require people to actually build physical, corporeal products. Because of this, many people have simply forgotten how things actually work. We take much for granted. The IT department knows this all too well.

During a panel discussion I recently moderated at the Developer Connections conference, IT expert Mark Minasi quipped, “No one calls the IT department to say, ‘Thanks for keeping the network running.’” In other words, business users only contact IT when things go wrong. Most people take for granted the smooth running of systems upon which they rely to do their jobs.

A member of the audience came up to me after the panel to offer his agreement. “We’re invisible until there’s a problem,” he said. His solution was inventive. He wants to have IT located physically near its internal customers so people are forced to meet and get to know each other. That fits into the notion that IT professionals need to demonstrate the fact that IT powers business by telling their story more forcefully and eloquently. Here are some possible next steps:

  1. Empower yourself through knowledge. Leverage the concept of network intelligence to activate your peer group. Share your knowledge of IT experiences in other industries and domains. Through this learning process, you’ll see symmetry of patterns that indicate how vital IT is to all businesses, not just within your own company.
  2. Organize your counterparts to assemble a point of view on the importance of IT to the business. Use real examples. Outline what you do every day to enable the business to flow continuously and to arrest problems before they hamper the business process.
  3. Lobby your IT manager to broadcast this point of view to the company (or division, if you’re in a large enterprise). People gain a great deal of respect for IT when they’re told about the IT department’s daily contributions.
  4. Connect with your internal customers. Strike up conversations with internal customers from other departments. Make it clear that you’re both interested and interesting. You’re interested in becoming a better businessperson. You’re interesting because you’re just as innovative, resourceful and thoughtful as any marketer, salesperson, lawyer, accountant or manager.

A friend once told me that IT’s problem is the problem of the CEO. By CEO, however, he didn’t mean chief executive officer. He meant chief electricity officer. We take electricity and light for granted. Many take IT for granted as well. They’ll continue to do so until they’re made fully aware that IT is the business. The singularity is here.

Romi Mahajan

Romi Mahajan* is president of KKM Group. Prior to joining KKM, Mahajan was chief marketing officer of Ascentium Corp. A well-known speaker on the technology and media circuit, he serves on a variety of advisory boards and speaks at more than a dozen industry events per year.*