Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The IT department vs the rest of the business



I have argued before that there are no IT projects, only business projects involving more or less IT. Every IT initiative should be owned and driven by the business. My previous post on this subject generated some comments, one of them asking "Why do you assume that IT is not part of the business?". I had to clarify that the point I was trying to make was actually the opposite, that IT is a part of the business but that labeling initiatives owned by IT differently, as "IT projects", makes it appear as if it is not a part of the business:

"Labeling a project as an IT project or HR project will only create silo thinking and suboptimization. Instead, we should talk about business projects, regardless who is the sponsor, what unit the sponsor belongs to or who are involved in the project team."

I recently talked to a representative from “the business side” of an organization where they follow the device above; that all initiatives are business initiatives and that all initiatives have to have an owner on “the business side” to happen.

Unfortunately, the IT department has interpreted it as if there always need to be an owner outside of the IT department (on "the business side"). Consequently, if no-one at other business units such as R&D or HR take ownership of, say, upgrading the IT infrastructure, then nothing will happen. The IT Department is just passively hosting, maintaining and supporting it. They are reactive to business needs instead of being proactive and take no initiatives on their own. Consequently, they won’t upgrade, extend or scale the infrastructure unless someone in the other parts of the business takes ownership.

Why does this situation occur? Well, I believe that the IT department for some reason doesn’t think of themselves as a part of the business. They think of themselves as a totally separate entity, the same kind of thinking that might lead them to believe that their core business is IT even though the core business of the organization which they are part is not even close to IT. The core business of the IT Department is of course to provide IT capabilities that support the core business of the entire organization.

The reasoning that there are no IT initiatives, only business initiatives, is intended to illustrate a mindset where every part of the business see itself as a part of the business and where every initiative should bring some value to the business. The IT department is obviously a part of the business. If they start owning business initiatives, this might become clearer.