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#6 Executives can easily misapply IT – Twelve things every business leader should know about IT

by Mark P. McDonald  |  March 30, 2009  |  2 Comments

“If only the business understood IT, then the company would get move value out of IT.” This statement is a common belief among IT professionals. Understanding begins with the basics, framed in a language that is acceptable to the audience rather than the teacher.

Talking about IT using the language of organization, its role, what it does, position, etc provides a starting point for teaching the business about IT. Using this staring point here are a twelve things that every business leader needs to know about IT.

#1 – IT is horizontal

#2 – IT is a hybrid organization

#3 – IT is part of a capability

#4 – IT applies information to replace cash, capital and operations

#5 – IT is complex because the business is complex

#6 – Executives can easily misapply IT (this post)

#7 – Executives misunderstand IT in strategy (next post)

6. Executives can easily misapply IT

Executives misapply IT when they use technology to address problems not caused by technology.  It’s easy to see how this is possible as the IT industry grew up with a value proposition that promised technology’s ability to just about every problem in the enterprise.  This message driven IT investment and executive expectations for more than 30 years.

As information systems have spread across the enterprise, technology becomes a readily available option for improvement.  A CIO who is also responsible for HR and Operations explains it this way, “IT is the easiest thing to change for executives all you have to do is write a check! ”  You may have seen it in your own company, when a major operational issue takes on the name of the software package rather than the business process or operation being changed.

The potential for IT being misapplied is increasing as IT systems now cover the majority of business operations.  Service oriented approaches increase the flexibility of these systems and their ability to support incremental change rather than redevelopment.

Increasingly executives will face the need to change the business processes, organization structure or reorient jobs to achieve their goals rather than redeveloping systems.

How do you know?

Simply trace the performance issue back to its root cause.  When people say, our problem is poor systems, probe further and ask why the systems are poor.  Do they support poor processes?  Do they support complex products?  Are they complex because the organization structure is complex?

Answering these questions honestly will drive to the root cause of business performance will ensure that you do not misapply IT.

The response may include IT investment, but it must include addressing the other changes needed to raise performance of the business capability (see Item #3- IT is part of a capability)

Investing in IT to treat a symptom, rather than addressing the root cause of the problem only perpetuates the myth that IT does not deliver value, that you do not understand the business, and that IT has passed its prime.

Category: 12-things-business-should-know-about-it  cio  leadership  strategy  

Tags: 12-things  12-things-business-should-know-about-it  business-leadership  it-and-business  

Mark P. McDonald
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on #6 Executives can easily misapply IT – Twelve things every business leader should know about IT

  1. From what is mentioned here, IT is mainly used to improve the performance and increase profit. Isn’t that what majority of the organizations is chasing? That’s why they keep signing the check for these upgrades…

    When you mention misapply, do you mean implementing something that doesn’t go align with the performance and profit matrices or it just fail to provide any good to the organization?

  2. Mark McDonald says:

    Thanks for the comment.

    Its important to recognize that the issue of upgrades / maintenance is different form misapplying IT. Maintenance and upgrades have a lot to do with the ‘long tail’ based economic model associated with software development and the need to continually evolve software architectures to implement new requirements. The subject for anothe post.

    The issue of misapplying that I am trying to talk to here is that executives frequently look for a technical solution, in many cases technology exclusive solution, to issues that are not technical in nature. They are led to that course of action for several reasons outlined in the post from their own experience and what IT has told them.

    Welcome additional comments.


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