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IT explained in 9 simple words

How should IT go about defining itself?

By Tom L. Barnett
July 12, 2010 11:22 AM ET

Computerworld - "I wish we had known that you IT guys needed to be involved in this. We would've brought you in sooner."

And so it was, another one-off initiative started by business that couldn't be finished until corporate IT was brought in to button the whole thing up and make it work.

With all the talk about 2010 being the year of IT transformation, there needs to be a candid discussion between both sides as to exactly what that means.

Let's face it, corporate IT is not exactly the first department that comes to mind when thinking of innovation, let alone transformation. Corporate IT departments in enterprises across the globe are suffering from a bit of an identity crisis, aggravated by the economic downturn. The lines continue to blur between where a business process ends and where information technology begins. To make matters worse, because IT is usually not a direct revenue generator, it's where all eyes turn every time cost control is mentioned.

So, with a growing and unprecedented number of initiatives on deck this year, how should IT go about defining itself to the business during this "transformational" year?

The Fable of a King

There's an old story about a king who wanted to understand all there was to know about economics. His economic advisers went off to write down everything they knew on the subject, returning with 87 volumes of 600 pages each.

"That's too much to comprehend," the king complained, and he asked them to make it more concise. Four more times they tried, and four more times they were asked for even more brevity. Eventually, the economic advisers began to die off.

Finally, the sole surviving adviser came back to the king and told him that he could explain the entire subject of economics in one sentence.

"There is no such thing as a free lunch."

There it was. All of the complexities and depth of a topic as rich as economics summed up in nine simple words.

Focusing the Picture

Research done by Harvard Business School not too long ago pointed out that the top enterprises in the world routinely get about a 40% return on their IT investment. Do you think these companies are having trouble understanding the alignment between IT and how it supports the front-line business? Do you think these corporations know how to be transformational?

So what do these enterprises see as the benefit of tight IT alignment? Several key points have come out of the study.

The first is the need to clarify the business strategy and the role that IT plays in achieving it. It is critical not only for the business to understand, at least at an elementary level, information technology, but for IT to understand how the business operates.

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