Power to the Users

Power to the Users

As technology becomes increasingly entwined with business processes, accountability for and ownership of systems decisions must inevitably shift

After a working lunch at a workshop, a senior IT manager at a global telecommunications company approached me with a problem. Over the course of several mergers, acquisitions and reorgs, his firm now had three work-order processing systems. His boss had told him to get it down to one over the next six months. He wanted advice.

So I asked, which system did the users seem to like best and why? He said he didn't know. I suggested he organize a meeting between the three user groups to thrash out which one made the most sense for the most people. Make them pick. He hadn't thought of that. Unfortunately, his firm's IT culture had IT, not users, "owning" systems consolidation after reorgs. Baby-sitting interdepartmental user meetings was frowned on, he asserted.

Too many CIOs set their people up for failure by allowing their IT leaders to draw utterly false and dangerously misleading distinctions between their role as technologists and their responsibilities as business partners

I couldn't help myself: I told him he was setting himself up to fail. If he unilaterally imposed a system, he would tick off the two groups whose systems lost out. Even if he were able to sell his choice internally, he'd have to understand the ins, outs and usage of each system. What's more, while he might know the IT budget for each system, he probably didn't know what the real business costs were for the business units. This was neither his decision nor IT's to make, I argued. The users knew more about what they needed than he did. They should own the choice. Substituting his technical assessment of systems for their business judgement about work-order processes guaranteed infighting.

As we talked, I was shocked to discover this wasn't some rinky-dink consolidation of a few backwater apps; these systems managed and tracked billions of dollars in equipment and servicing orders. While the need for enterprise standardization was completely understandable, the notion that IT should set those standards was not. I pleaded with him to go to his boss's boss — the CIO — and request that he call the users together. "Have the CIO position you as business partner," I begged. "If you're seen as the systems dictator, these users have a real incentive to help you fail. Please . . . CYA." He said he would.

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