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Who needs IT?

January 28, 2010

Originally posted on 2/7/2008

A few months ago I was having a discussion with a colleague about the difficulties of running an effective IT organization. During the conversation, it struck both of us just how peculiar a statement like, “IT needs to be aligned with the business”, is. Replace “IT” with “marketing”, “sales”, “operations”, or “customer service”, and you begin to wonder if maybe the first step in “aligning IT with the business” is in not framing the problem in these terms.

Although we had difficulty at the time coming to any firm conclusions about what new terms we could use to frame the problem, since then I’ve given a lot of thought to this issue. The following are some propositions that I’ve adopted to help guide my thoughts on this subject.

#1: IT is fundamentally a part of the business, just as much as and just as naturally as marketing, sales, customer service, finance, HR, and so on, are.

#2: IT is fundamentally a collection of business activities that occur elsewhere in an organization, for example, product development, operations, customer service, and production/manufacturing.

One possibility that occurred to me on the basis of these first two propositions is that IT as a standalone department may not strictly speaking be necessary, i.e., the business actors and activities we currently segregate in an IT department could very well be relocated out to the functional areas in the larger organization they map to (web developers to product development, network and infrastructure to operations, and so on).

Which brings me to my third proposition…

#3: IT as a distinct entity within an organization is not a self-evident organizational principle, but only one possibility among many for structuring these business activities.

On the basis of this, I’ve been wondering whether one reason that organizations so frequently have trouble “aligning IT and the business” is that the folks in the IT department and the work that they do have been fenced off from the rest of the organization, which encourages the organization-within-an-organization that IT departments so often are.

Imagining a modern corporation without an IT department is difficult…I have trouble picturing what it would look like and how it would function exactly. But often the best candidates for creative re-imagining are what seem to be the most self-evident truths…

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 28, 2010 2:46 pm

    My friend Rick Tucker recommended this site. I will definitelty utilize your knowledge!

    Thansk for posting.

    Keith Lipke
    http://www.keithlipke.wordpress.com

  2. January 28, 2010 3:05 pm

    Thanks, Keith–I appreciate the support!

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