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Is the gap between business and IT shrinking?

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A subject that comes up routinely on the Forum (but hasn't in some time), and is a subject I believe is critical to the future of both business and IT: Do you see the gap between business and IT shrinking?

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  • ABSOLUTELY no question. Agile is a driver. Business competitiveness and profitability is a driver.

  • No question about it! I once had a manager that printed out all emails and had the secretary put them in folders for him to respond! From there Business has been becoming more comfortable with IT and IT has come down from the Ivory Towers! A lot has to do with more and more pervasive use of technology, newer generations growing up with technology and Moore's law helping a lot! Tools have evolved and becoming more self-service - Lotus Notes, SharePoint Portal and a myriad other tools like Social Media that does not require IT's help in business communicating with each other and with the outside world! We are moving more and more towards building re-usable functional modules that can be put together by Business itself! New stuff like cloud technologies has even automated auto-scaling of servers when demand goes higher and scaling back when shopping season is over! No more business complaining about downed ecommerce sites and close performance monitoring! Brave new world!

  • It depends if you are talking about IT the thing or IT the department.

    Thing - Structural
    “The Business” could mean the “Structure of The Business” and “IT” could mean the “Structure of the IT” that supports it. This is a possibility but if that is the case, the idea that the business and IT is somehow separated by a gap and needs to be aligned is misconceived. In today’s organisations, IT is an integral part of the Business and therefore a more apt word to use would be integration. In the 21st Century “The Business” and “IT” are inextricably linked, like a seam of gold running through rock, and need to work in concert together like milk mixed with coffee rather than cream floated on top.

    Department - Organisational
    “IT” could mean the “IT Department” and “The Business” could mean “All other Departments in the organisation that are not the IT department”. This is a common definition many people in IT use.
    In this case people are referring to how the IT department supports the rest of the business. People are really talking about the relationship between the IT department and all the other departments in the organsiation. So let’s look at the “IT department”.
    The purpose of the IT department is to provide and support the IT that the business uses to achieve its business goals. Whilst supporting the systems and the infrastructure they operate within is important, its primary remit is one based on change –implementing, and retiring IT.
    For many organisations the IT department has become synonymous with the Change department. However, change consist of one or more of the following: -
    - People change
    - Process change
    - Technology change
    In today’s world and in most organisations, Technology change tends to be large, complex and frequent and so changing the other parts has tended to become subsumed into the remit of the IT department. In general, the IT department has been left to run change projects.
    It should be noted that while this is the norm, this is not always the case - for example when a massive change to the organisation is required such as for Mergers, Acquisitions or Divestments, etc.
    But, in essence, when we say Business / IT Alignment & Bridging the Gap we are in fact talking about bridging the gap and aligning Change Planning with Change Projects and Change Projects and Operations.
    If IT is looking at improving the processes around The Business, who is looking at improving the processes that IT (Transformation) uses? The people, processes and tools that are used for transformation? The answer tends to be, no one. The reason is three fold.
    1. Because the IT department is so consumed and driven by the business to support and transform the business that it has not time, bandwidth or resource left to support and improve itself aka the People Processes and Technology used to transform it. This tends to be because…
    2. “The Business” do not usually think about transformation as something in its own right. The Business can get very frustrated with Transformation (aka The IT department) and constantly see the problems of rising budgets, missed deadlines etc but it always seems to be at the bottom of the agenda to do something to improve it. The problem tends not to be in the system (of Transformation) but of the system (of Transformation) This subtle but massively important difference is easy to miss. This tends to be because…
    3. Changing the processes people and technology used for Transformation produces no immediate benefits because it merely improves the environment that Transformation operates within and it is not until changes in Operation happen (with those changes being made in the context of an improved transformation environment) that any benefits can be realised. This, and the resulting time gap between the costs of changing the environment and getting quantifiable benefit (usually measured in money) makes changing the Transformation People, Processes and Technology a truly bitter pill to swallow. The patient usually has to get critically ill before swallowing the pill. Prevention is better than cure.

    And so we can see that the issues of “Business/IT Alignment” or “Bridging the gap between IT and The Business” are really issues all about change. The steps, processes, tools and products that organisations use to effect Transformation from Strategy to Deployment. In essence, The Architecture of Transformation.

  • Yes, shrinking fast. Mainly because we have a whole generation of people coming into the workforce (GenX, GenY) that have been raised on technology, and understand its potential. In addition, they expect to see the same connectivity and ease of use with IT as they get from consumer IT venues. To them, IT isn't something that's tucked away in a mysterious server room somewhere.

  • The gap between business and technology is not shrinking.
    Business still does not wish to learn about technology, operate it or deal with the IT department. And IT still does not care much about the many types of business processes and methods. The career path for IT people is still in IT.

    Nevertheless, technology intricacies are increasingly hidden by smart interfaces that make possible its direct operation and management by business people, avoiding as such the IT department involvement. Take for instance the Cloud.

  • What is interesting is the diagram found here http://jatig.wordpress.com/2010/11/12/it-depts-fall-from-grace/

    It shows IT's fall from grace

  • I like Kevin's separation of "IT the thing" vs. "IT the department," and I'd have to say that the gap is certainly shrinking between business and the "thing," and not so much between business and the "department."

    I still spend a lot of time in boardrooms with a striped shirt and a whistle as I referee the interaction between the business executives on one side and the technology folks on the other. But that has more to do with what I like to call "politics, baggage, and religion" than with technology, which at this point usually already cuts both ways.

  • I suppose it depends on what you're comparing the current state to. If you're comparing it to the gap that existed between the business and the MIS departments of the 70s, then certainly. If on the other hand you're asking about a more recent phenomenon—say, within the past decade or so—then you'll have to squint a bit to spot the change.

    Like Kevin, I'd suggest that IT is better integrated with the business than ever before. But, like Adrian, I'd also agree that IT remains quite distinct in terms of career path, performance metrics, and organizational structure.

    But perhaps that's not a terrible thing after all. The role of IT in traditional enterprises has never been greater, and neither has the number of ventures driven almost exclusively by that technology. As the rest of the country continues to wallow in unemployment, technology hiring remains, anecdotally at least, surprisingly strong.

    In the end, then, it may be that the right question is not "is the gap shrinking" but rather "is the gap fine just the way it is".

  • I think that gap between IT and business remains as big as ever but I also believe that the future will see it shrink even removed. Understanding how "we" got into such a mess and it is big mess with legacy, is important to seeing how it will change. Business applications have evolved in a "chaotic" manner but not untypical of a new industry. What is unusual at such an “early stage” is that the consolidation of vendors which militates against significant progress it is called the innovators dilemma. As a result the natural step change to simplicity leading to commoditization has stalled. Good for the vendors but no so for users! So we have a highly complex set of components that are required to bring business logic to solutions as well as all reliant on some form of programming. Yes there are individual pre built applications and tools that work well but they are compromise to how business users would really like to work and contribute to the efficiency of their organisation. IT has been overly focused on just managing the “mess” and business know that asking for what they want gets lost in time so they give up! IT has been very much an “inside out” approach with users on the outside. The focus on users has to be the key driver to remove this gap.

    I see there are three drivers now emerging which should give hope.

    1. CIOs are beginning to focus on delivering on business requirements and less on what vendors want to sell. They have yet to become a true business partner but with this re focus that will change. The “agile” methodology initiative certainly helps but only treats the symptoms of poor software it is not a cure! However this refocus will contribute to business becoming the decision makers on IT spend where the CIO’s knowledge in business language will accelerate this process.

    2. The step to simplification and commoditization is coming but not from the big vendors. It has been a long held desire and vision to remove the need for coding to build custom applications. There are innovative small tech companies that have tackled this challenge. The niche analysts are now talking about the need see example here http://infullbloom.us/?p=3222 . I am involved in one such company and after years of R&D we have found how but importantly it removes coding allowing direct input by users into the build of solutions working with business analyst in business language. See key points here http://bit.ly/KSkiR8 IT needs to change the emphasis to an “outside in” approach with that vital focus on users. Such a move will aid the cause described in 1.

    3. The biggest challenge lies with the large organisations including Government where legacy is such a mess resulting in fear of undertaking major change. However there are new initiatives recognising this big problem a recent commentary on legacy modernization suggests there is an answer http://soa.sys-con.com/node/2274703 Combined this with the emerging commoditization of business software as described in 2 will see the landscape change in favour of business users.

    The world has changed and operational process efficiency needs to be on agenda to see economic prosperity return for future generations. Cutting out waste such as shrinking the gap between Business and IT as described could make a significant contribution and the sooner it starts the better it will be for all involved.

  • From where I stand, the gap between business and IT has actually widened. The reason is that business and IT have evolved at a different pace over the past few decades. While IT has evolved significantly in all aspects - people, process, technology - business has, and continues to evolve faster. Much like Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, it is increasingly more challenging for IT to deliver to business what it wants, when it wants. By the time IT is ready to deliver functionality to the business, the business needs - "needs" and not just "requirements" - have already changed.

  • Kevin makes a great point.
    From the perspective of "IT the department", the gap is actually splintering: more and more technology investment is being made directly by individual business units with less oversight by the IT dept.
    At the same time from the perspective of "IT the thing", aspects of technology purchase and ownership are disseminating right down into the level of individuals (see BYOD); but at the same time other technology layers are becoming more remote from those people. So there's a real stratification going on.
    What does this mean for IT strategy? It means that anyone in charge of IT strategy has to approach it in a very nuanced way, thinking about setting different kinds of strategy for different layers/domains of technology while attempting to unite the whole by encouraging adherence to some core set of standards and a suitable distributed/federated governance model.
    Not easy.

  • Enjoy the discussion and many great comments above, I would say, technology trends such as BYOD/Consumerization of IT/social/cloud will surely shrink the gap; However, the mindset, now human is still the master of technology, need be further adjusted in order to adapt to the changes. the communication gap need be fill up further, though there're many excellent debates to spur such a transformation via cultivating "business-IT unification" culture.

    Last but not least, Process, switching from "T" focus into "I" driven, treat every IT project as business project, and always think IT strategy as integral part of business strategy, therefore, IT and business need co-develop strategy and optimize business process seamlessly. IT also need practice following three principles: http://futureofcio.blogspot.com/2012/05/three-principles-modern-it-need.html

    In summary, IT need improve maturity, also educate business regarding governance, risk management in order to truly bridge the gaps.

  • I see the a widenning Gap between IT and the Business in some enterprises and a narrowing gap in other enterprises.
    It is not a matter of more IT knowledgeable generations(Y-Gen and Z-Gen). These generations could think that the IT as it is could be obsolete because they understand more about IT.
    It is not a matter of consumization. When the home user can use advanced features and technologies he could ask why the enterprise can not use yet these technologies and features.
    Surely BYOD could be interpreted by the IT department as chaos and Security threat and as amust by users.
    Cloud Computing could be deployed by Business departments as a mean to bypass IT department and decide about IT Technology, without the CIO.

    It depends upon the Organizational Culture. IF Business People really understand the issues facing the IT department and the IT people are aware of the Business goals, Processes and needs the Gap could be narrowed.
    You can read many relevant posts in my blog titled SOA filling the Gaps (IT-Business gaps). For example:
    The Dark side of Agility http://avirosenthal.blogspot.com/2011/01/dark-side-of-agility.html

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