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IT and the business still lost in translation

IT and the business still lost in translation

Business doesn’t understand IT and indeed many people in IT don’t really get business either, says David Gee

For as long as I can remember, people have saying that IT needs to speak the same language as other areas of the business.

As CIOs, we have preached and cajoled our teams to get closer to other divisions and understand what our organisations really want. I’ve lead workshops aimed at getting business and IT executives to work more effectively together.

I’ve also heard myself say, “we’re not just IT, we are part of the business.” As technology people, it doesn’t matter how many times we take on more responsibilities outside of IT, there will always be that throw away comment: “Oh that person runs IT.”

Outsourcing giant CSC coined the term “double deep” to describe IT professionals who also understand business.

But finding these staff is not easy. In fact, you may find an IT person that really understands business processes but when you scratch the surface you then find that this person is not that ‘technical’.

Some years ago when I was a CIO for Eli Lilly in Asia, we were setting up a biotech research group in Singapore. That group was staffed predominantly by scientists who knew how to code.

These were a rare breed of scientists who understood chemistry and were highly skilled in seeking out bio markers, which show correlations between diseases and ethnicity traits or blood types.

IT staff were supporting the efforts of these “double deep” scientists. By osmosis, the tech workers were starting to speak the same language as the scientists to understand what they were trying to achieve.

I recently met Alan Grogan, the chief analytics officer at Royal Bank of Scotland. Grogan speaks the language of IT and the business.

He’s both an IT guy and a business person who is driven to analyse information to find useable insights. He surrounds himself with staff who can code.

Grogan declared proudly that his team was a profit centre. He was equally proud of the team’s patents and the millions of dollars his organisation had made from the creation of new customer insights using data.

IT is now the business

In Silicon Valley, this is true. IT is now the business. The new players there are disrupting industries with their initiatives and are not satisfied to just change the technology layer.

Organisations in the financial services sector are focusing on profitable lines of business and isolated from regulatory pressures, they are able to pick off new areas to innovate.

It is clear that the business doesn’t understand IT and indeed many people in IT don’t really get business either. But the hard truth is the business doesn’t know what it wants. It has been suspected that the business never really knows what it wants.

As a result, there have been several failed projects in Australia and overseas where the business requirements have not been clear or articulated. And there will be most certainly be more finger-pointing in the future from technology teams and other areas of businesses when things don’t go so well.

It’s becoming clear that as technology becomes more pervasive, business units need to work together. This is very true for IT and marketing departments.

So what do we do? Basketball players employ a tactic called “double teaming” where two players where they will combine to pressure an opponent. That opponent may be their best player or perhaps the worst.

Either way the objective is to double team and gain the upper hand. Maybe IT and other parts of organisations should be using the same strategy to produce a better outcome for all.

David Gee is the former CIO of CUA where he recently completed a core banking transformation. He has more than 18 years' experience as a CIO, and was also previously director at KPMG Consulting. Connect with David on LinkedIn.

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Tags Alan GroganCUARoyal Bank of ScotlandcscoutsourcingDavid GeeEli Lilly

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