IT, the Business and the Clash of Cultures

After more than 10 years of focusing on the organizational, structural and managerial issues inside technical groups, I've started shifting my attention to the boundaries of our groups, to the relationship between IT and the rest of the business.

And after months of research and talks with IT leaders, what has surprised me most is how little progress we seem to be making in improving our external relationships. While business groups need IT more than ever, the levels of mutual trust remain low and frustration remains high.

I think there are some important things we need to recognize to make more progress.

There is no such thing as "the business-IT relationship." We've developed shorthand phrases for discussing our relationships with the various consumers of technology we serve. Because our users are so diverse, we've needed a way to conceptualize us and them in a simple way. But this is a dysfunctional oversimplification. There is no one who self-identifies as "the business."

There are a variety of functional groups within our organizations that use our products and services, but they are quite different from one another. Finance groups are not like sales groups. Logistics groups are not like marketing. Manufacturing is nothing like human resources. Our relationships with all need to be tended differently.

The most difficult challenges in these relationships are cultural rather than technical or procedural. The methods we have been using to try to work more effectively with our consumers all have one thing in common: They focus on everything other than the relationship itself. Think about it. IT governance and portfolio management focus on using processes to improve the relationship. Project management focuses on tasks.

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