Gartner Blog Network

Business and IT file for divorce citing irreconcilable differences

by Mark P. McDonald  |  March 10, 2010  |  5 Comments

The headline highlights an old and ongoing argument within IT that assumes that the business is perpetually disappointed by IT and that IT is consistently undervalued in the enterprise.

While the argument is an old one, the basic assumption for more than 30 years as the business and IT needed each other and therefore they would find a way to make it work.

At the WTN Fusion conference in Madison Wisconsin I challenged that assumption and tried to point out that today more than ever the business could in fact divorce IT, throw it out of the enterprise, and live fairly well as a single company constantly seeking technology based services.

It is important to put this argument in context.  First, I fully recognize that divorce is a significant, painful and regrettable situation.  This discussion does not make light of the pain, complexity and life altering change that comes about in the dissolution of a marriage or another committed relationship.

So lets define what we mean by the business divorcing itself from IT.

A business divorces itself from the IT organization when they provision technology and solutions through delivery models not built around your core IT organization. The IT function is not eliminated in a divorce, but their role is dramatically reduced much like the spouse who gets visitation rights.

Business executives consider a divorce when they find that there are irreconcilable differences based on the gap between expectations and reality are so great that the enterprise no longer needs to have the function as part of its operation.

Historically, executives did not have divorce as an option as the captive IT organization was the only source of technology.  This led enterprises to invest in ‘turning around IT’ in order to make up for past under investment or neglect.  Please note that the link requires a registration.

Divorce is a recent option for business as for years they were dependent on their captive IT organization to provide enterprise technology.  Sure there were other sources of IT services – service bureaus, etc.  but they were not a viable alternative for the range of technology services a modern organization had to build.

Business has more choice in provisioning technology than they have every had before either via the cloud, software as a service, public Internet and an expanding market of consumer applications.  While you can criticize the viability of these choices today, there can be no doubt that technology providers are investing in creating more choices for businesses gaining access for technology

Why does this matter to CIOs?

Well first the business is open to considering other options beyond the captive IT organization.  There is an appetite for an alternative delivery models, particularly when you consider the speed and energy executives took up the IT doesn’t matter arguments a few years ago.

Second many organizations are already separating themselves from IT.  Look at the use of services provisioned via the web, consumer technologies and end user developed applications.

Third you may already be signaling to the business that IT is losing interest in them when they outsource critical functions like application development and business facing activities to others.

So how do you avoid divorce?

Simple, if the irreconcilable differences based on gaps between business expectations and what IT delivers.  Recognize that IT processes and practices have to change as the business leaders expectations change from managing cost to creating results.

This starts with changing IT management practices from managing activities and proving that you are not wasting the company’s resources to managing for results and driving performance at speed and scale.

Here are some posts about that topic:

May you live long, prosper and happily ever after.

Additional Resources

Category: 2010  cio  leadership  personal-observation  strategy  

Tags: business-management  business-strategy  cio-leadership  it-and-business  strategy  

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and Fellow Emeritus in Gartner for General Managers Program.

Thoughts on Business and IT file for divorce citing irreconcilable differences

  1. Gil Freund says:

    Isn’t this a rerun of “Does IT Matter?”

    IT is still there, same as marketing, legal and finance, sales, HR and operations. Some functions can be outsourced, some cannot. The one function you cannot outsource is the responsibility.

    In a recent trade conference I heard a sales representative tell a CIO “outsource it, and then managing it is not your problem”.

    When your employees cannot send an e-mail, it does not matter if this the the mail server inside your organization, or a hosted server. The CIO still has the responsibility to select, implement, support and defend the technology used, and replace it when a better one shows up.

  2. Mark McDonald says:


    Thanks for your comment and yes at the surface it can seem that way. But, the point I was trying to make is that its not a question of wether IT matters or not – it clearly does. However the way an enterprise gets its IT is changing and in that context what we know as IT in terms of the traditional IT group, its processes, its management practices are increasingly losing to alternative delivery models. When traditional IT falls behind in meeting business expectations relative to other delivery models, then the divorce can happen.

    The sales rep who told the CIO that message is business challenged and does not understand how companies work. That is unfortunate as the outsource and forget about it is a vestige of that old way of thinking.

    Your observation is right, and the post was not to say that outsourcing is the way to go., but that business have more choice than ever before and that unless IT recognizes that choice they will find itself out in the cold with their clothes on the front lawn wondering ‘what happened?” That was what I was trying to get at.

  3. Balaji N. says:

    I dread such words as “irreconcilable differences”, “insoluble IT indents” etc. Ultimately, as you metioned under choice, it comes to who provides more value by way of Business results/outcome. However, it also implies that the Business side understands the IT processes and pitfalls to drive home the requirements. Or, for that matter, to what extent the IT Service Provider (Caotive or otherwise) understand the Business context.

  4. Mark McDonald says:


    Thanks for your comments.

    You are absolutely right in commenting that the business needs to understand the pitfalls associated with any technology provisioning choice they use.

    I believe and have observed that the thing the business needs to know about IT is their ability to meet their expectations — in other words what they are good at and what they are not good at. Rather than knowing IT processes.

    If IT were the only game in town they we could make an argument that we need better/deeper collaboration, understanding and sharing of processes. That still may be true.

    I think that the point you raise — that business understands IT processes and pitfalls — is particularly powerful for those situations and conditions where the business chooses to use IT and that understanding becomes a compelling reason for that choice because they can get more done with the captive IT organization because they know how they work and they demonstrate the ability to work in our shared business context. Those are powerful incentives to choose the in house IT.

    But to say that the business must do these things for every aspect of IT services does not fully reflect the greater degrees of choice available to the business. Requiring the business to know internal IT processes places a requirement on the business that goes above and beyond choosing to provision the technology solution elsewhere.

    Here is an example, you do not need to know the processes associated with the manufacturer and provisioning of your cell phone service — you just choose a cell phone service. Yes you need to know the pitfalls, but now all of the processes.

    Requiring the business to fully understand how IT works may place an additional transaction cost on choosing IT that puts it at a competitive disadvantage in the face of business choice.

    Savvy CIOs can turn that disadvantage into a powerful advantage by concentrating business choice of their solutions in the areas where deep business context, collaboration and content are critical to achieving business transformation.

  5. […] Business and IT file for divorce citing irreconcilable differences by Mark McDonald on the Gartner Blog Network […]

Comments are closed

Comments or opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors only, and do not necessarily represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management. Readers may copy and redistribute blog postings on other blogs, or otherwise for private, non-commercial or journalistic purposes, with attribution to Gartner. This content may not be used for any other purposes in any other formats or media. The content on this blog is provided on an "as-is" basis. Gartner shall not be liable for any damages whatsoever arising out of the content or use of this blog.