Mark McDonald

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Mark P. McDonald
GVP EXP
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

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IT enabling the business is one of the ways CIOs make it easier to separate business from IT

by Mark P. McDonald  |  January 12, 2010  |  6 Comments

Enablement is a word frequently used to describe IT’s role in the enterprise.  “IT enables the business through information and technology” or words to that effect have found its way into many organizations IT strategy.  There is nothing wrong with the term enablement, or what it connotes.  CIOs and IT executives are free to sue the term provided they understand that it makes it easier to separate IT from the rest of the business.

Enablement has been the mantra associated with IT for the last twenty years or so.  IT grew out of a need to handle implementing the online transaction processing applications that form the foundation of the enterprise’s IT infrastructure.  Building out these core systems involved investing ahead of the benefits curve.  Defining IT’s role as enabling makes sense when the value generated from the investments is the responsibility of someone else – in this case the business.

Enable means to provide with the means or opportunity, to make possible, practical or easy.  Enablement means creating an environment for success.  But as anyone who has grown a garden knows, just having the right environment does not guarantee all of your flowers will bloom.  However, creating the right environment for success is a step removed from achieving success.

Notice that enablement does not connote responsibility for results.  The gap between being ready for success and realizing that success separates IT from the business.   That is why “IT is an enabler” can cause the business to roll their eyes and be less than impressed.

Business executives know of other parts of the organization that enables business their strategy.  These groups make up the corporate functions such as corporate planning, finance and human resources.  When IT emphasizes its enablement role it puts itself on par with these other groups.

Classic IT concentrated on implementing technology that enabled the business.  That may have been fine ok when IT was building out core systems, many of them administrative and support systems.  It is not ok once IT moves beyond these core applications to directly driving business operations, service levels and profitability.

IT’s role in the enterprise should change the nature of IT in the enterprise changes.  Core transaction processing and administrative technologies are enablers but those are not the only technologies and therefore enabling cannot be the only role for IT.

Modern IT recognizes the need to contribute to raising enterprise performance through a combination of technology, information and business process teams.  They take responsibility along with the business for addressing performance issues and strategic opportunities.  This means that they answer the technology question by leveraging and redeploying technology rather than saying that the only way to create value is to create new enabling technologies.

Enablement creates separation between the business and IT organization by creating an artificial distinction between creating technology and realizing benefits from that technology.  IT professionals can relax in an enablement role as all they have to do is build the technology, do their job and hand it off to the rest of the company.  Limiting IT to an enabling role tells the rest of the enterprise that you are a support function rather than source of competitive advantage.

This post is part of a series on the ways in which IT separates itself from the rest of the enterprise.  The first/keystone post can be found at this link

6 Comments »

Category: Leadership Strategy     Tags: , , ,

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 A few ways CIOs and IT executives make it easier to separate business from IT   January 12, 2010 at 9:14 am

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  • 4 uberVU - social comments   January 15, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by markpmcdonald: IT enables the business and builds a wall between the two, some thoughts at http://bit.ly/4D1sMF

  • 5 Tim Balliet – Technology 2010   January 19, 2010 at 10:37 am

    [...] IT enabling the business – this was the mantra associated with IT for the last twenty years or so.   Enable means to provide with the means or opportunity, to make possible, practical, or easy.   Notice that enablement does not connote responsibility for results and that separates the business and IT. [...]

  • 6 Louis Savalli   March 29, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    There’s one quote I don’t understand. You said at the end \Limiting IT to an enabling role tells the rest of the enterprise that you are a support function rather than source of competitive advantage\.

    So are you arguing for or against the idea that IT should play an enabling role? By that quote, it sounds like you are arguing that it should play a competitive advantage role as well as an enabling role. If so, can you provide specific examples as to when IT fills an enabling role and when IT creates a competitive advantage?