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Fixing the divide between IT and business executives

This is the first in a series on bringing transparency into the IT/Business leader discussion.

IT executives and business leaders are forced into a corporate marriage—and it can sometimes feel like IT is from Venus and business is from Mars. This type of relationship can be painful for those involved and harmful for the company.

Four separate studies conducted by George Westerman, Research Scientist in MIT Sloan's Center for Digital Business, found that the solution to making IT and business understand each other and communicate better is transparency.

“Transparency turns bad into good, overcomes suspicion, and helps both parties move forward,” said Westerman in a recent webinar, IT is from Venus, Non-IT is From Mars: Bridging the IT and Business Leader Divide to Improve the Value of IT.”

A quick poll during the webinar demonstrated how pervasive the problem is. The 900 participants, approximately half of whom were in IT and half in business, were asked how they would characterize their IT/business relationship. The results:

  • 12.3 % characterized their relationship as “sweet, sweet love”

  • 70.6 % said, “OK, but I’m keeping my options open”

  • 17.1 % voted “train wreck”

Westerman recommends building transparency into four key value areas in order to solve this problem and move to “sweet, sweet love.” These are:

  • IT cost and performance

  • Risk management

  • Prioritization

  • Accountability

Westerman demonstrates the divide for each of these examples.

  • IT cost and performance: IT’s view is, “For the money you are investing, we are doing really well.” Business’s view is, “The IT department costs too much and we are not getting the service we are paying for.”

  • Risk management (in this context, risk is considered balancing short-term desires from business with long-term IT ownership): IT’s answer is, “No. Business wants it their way.”

  • Prioritization: IT gets a request for a project or new technology, but “three other executives also say their requests are of the highest priority.” Business, of course, “needs it right away.”

  • Accountability: IT enforces methodologies, which are “how we make sure everyone does the right thing.” Business wonders why they “must endure so much bureaucracy and jump through lots of hoops.”

Transparency in these discussions—for instance, getting input from all project stakeholders about how best to improve risk areas or measure accountability—bridges the divide and makes both groups happier, resulting in an IT/business partnership that delivers greater value to the organization.

In the next few posts, we’ll examine how to build transparency into each of the four key value areas.

George Westerman is Faculty Director for Essential IT for Non-IT Executives. He was the featured speaker for the webinar, “IT is from Venus, Non-IT is From Mars: Bridging the IT and Business Leader Divide to Improve the Value of IT.