The tensions between business leaders and their IT counterparts remains an evergreen topic. Susan Cramm, a former CIO herself, weighs in on the topic in a way that’s revealing and productive in two ways. First, she looks from the outside in, asking what the business can and ought to do in order to get more value from the IT organization. Second, she focuses on the operational levels of the business instead of on the C-suite.
Cramm organizes her book around 8 tensions between line business leaders and It leaders that constitute the things "we hate about IT:"
|Line leaders hate when IT…||IT leaders hate when the business…|
|Service or control||is overly bureaucratic and control oriented||makes half-baked requests and is clueless about impact|
|Results or respect||consists of condescending techies who don’t listen||treats IT professionals like untrustworthy servant-genies|
|Tactics or strategy||is reactive rather than proactive||develops plans without including IT|
|Expense or investment||proposes "deluxe" when "good enough" will do||focuses on costs not value|
|Quickness or quality||doesn’t deliver on time||changes its mind all the time|
|Customization or standardization||doesn’t understand the true needs of the business||want it all – right now – regardless of ROI|
|Innovation or bureaucracy||doesn’t support innovation||isn’t IT smart and doesn’t use or understand IT systems|
|Greatness or goodness||inhibits business change||is never satisfied with IT|
(reproduced from Table I-1)
Straightforward and consistent with the kind of tension that invariably forms between the line and any centralized support function. Successful organizations don’t settle for picking one side or the other in these tensions, nor do they simply oscillate between the two poles. Instead, they make use of the tensions to create a more productive synthesis between the poles.
Cramm makes it very clear that her focus is on the business side of the equation:
business leaders may feel that IT leaders are being let off the hook, making the whole IT-business relationship the business leaders’ problem to solve. If you are to serve as a catalyst for positive change, this is the only productive point of view. The only person you can change is yourself, and, in the process of changing yourself, your counterparts in IT will be forced to change.
Starting from this core premise, Cramm examines each of these tensions with an eye toward providing line business leaders with a better perspective on what goes on in IT, why the tensions are the way they are, and recommendations on how to reconcile the tensions productively.
Although full of useful advice and perspective, I don’t think that it ultimately succeeds. There’s an unexamined assumption that IT functions the way that it does for good reasons and, therefore, line business leaders need to accept that reality and move on. That might indeed be accurate in the short run, but it will seriously hamper organizations that want to forge significantly better alliances between IT and the business. This book does a good job with one side of the story. What we need next is a companion effort to understand the other side.