Takin' Care of Business

You're probably as disinclined as I am to admit it, but chances are you remember the Bachman-Turner Overdrive song "Takin' Care of Business." In fact, you probably remember the song by BTO so well that you won't be able to get it out of your head when you're finished reading this column.

I know what you're think¿ing: "Thanks a bunch."

I couldn't resist mentioning it, though -- probably because I'm so entertained by the fact that business technology optimization, the IT discipline otherwise known as BTO, is all about aligning IT with the business. And the idea behind BTO is to ensure that IT is working on the right priorities and delivering maximum value to the company. In other words: takin' care of business.

At Computerworld's IT Executive Summit on Business Technology Optimization in Atlanta last week, the presenters focused largely on just how that caretaking can best be accomplished, and they did so compellingly. But it was Karen Painter, senior vice president of enterprise applications at Turner Broadcasting System, who really nailed it on the most fundamental level.

What's required, Painter said, is establishing a "culture of accountability" inside companies. And she spoke passionately about exactly what that means. "It's not just doing what we said we were going to do," she said. "It's doing the things that we should do." At Turner Broadcasting, if that means she has to take ownership of those things, she will, Painter said.

Core to that business approach is to "remove blame, justification and denial from your vocabulary," Painter said, adding that holding oneself accountable increases the likelihood that others will follow. She stressed the importance of organizational accountability as well. That's why she refuses to be "complicit" in any group's failure to hold itself accountable.

It fascinates me that a senior IT professional who has lived and breathed application development for 20 years would focus so sharply on the human element of the BTO discussion rather than on the technology. BTO products and services constitute a multibillion-dollar market, and BTO frameworks like ITIL are all the rage. What I took away from Painter's presentation was that none of it matters if there isn't a foundation of accountability to build upon.

I found it equally fascinating -- and especially admirable -- that another presenter at the summit, Mercury Interactive CIO Cecilia Claudio, echoed much of what Painter had to say. It was admirable when you consider that Mercury's lifeblood (and the reason it was recently acquired by Hewlett-Packard) is BTO software and services. Yet Claudio, too, spoke eloquently about the human element and about the importance of IT and the business being "jointly accountable." "Finger-pointing," she said, "cannot exist."

Indeed, if there's a recurring theme in the gatherings of IT professionals I've attended in the past year or so, it's that what makes or breaks their IT initiatives isn't nearly as much about technology as it is about people. That's not an epiphany -- clearly the human element has always been recognized as core to any IT endeavor. There just seems to be more of a recognition now than there's ever been in the past that the interaction of people is a lot more important than the interaction of systems.

As this recognition grows even more pervasive, the value that IT delivers will grow at a rate that exceeds anything we've experienced so far. BTO said it all in the song "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet."

That one will be in your head for a while, too. Don't mention it.

Don Tennant is editor in chief of Computerworld. Contact him at don_tennant@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon