The Business of Information Technology (Part 1)

Saturday, December 26, 2009 |

As a difficult 2009 comes to an end and a brighter 2010 dawns, organizations that have weathered the storms must now re-factor more objectives than just short-term survival into their plans. Prior to the tumultuous fall of 2008, one of the more common objectives for Information Technology departments was to "run IT as a business." Many interpretations of this objective exist, but by far the most common and familiar to anyone who spent any time in organizations whose business is non-technology oriented is the following statement:

"We're not in business of technology, we're in business to ... fill in primary business focus here ..."
This mantra has become a standard slogan for IT leaders to show they are in tune with the business imperatives. Business and IT alignment, however, has proven itself to be a challenge that's not easily solved with a slogan. And what if the slogan itself is wrong? After all, it's not common to hear heads of HR or Legal, or any other enabling business unit, to apply this slogan to their focus - as in, "don't worry about the legal ramifications, we're just trying to sell ..." or "don't worry about following standards in preparing our statements..." In every other profession, it is rarely presumed that professional standards can be relaxed if that professional is working for an organization that is not providing those professional services. Information Technology is not quite as mature as law or accounting, but if it's not a profession, then what is it?

As we compile capability maps for various business models and operating models, the cross section of capability maps for Information Technology has a very interesting story to tell. Effective alignment of Business and Technology objectives requires a certain formality of Business and Technology Architectures as organizational scale increases. That formality, in turn, provides a glimpse into basic building blocks of IT. Turns out that the business of IT is to advise their business partners on their technology options (both pro's and con's) and then deliver on the technology options their business partners in a way that does not preclude future business needs from being effectively satisfied. One might summarize the business of IT as a technology advice and delivery organization - directly opposite to the mantra quoted in the beginning of this post.

With several new disruptors to business as usual for technology already here (e.g. Cloud Computing and growth of alternate usage platforms) and on the horizon (e.g. nanotechnology, quantum computing,) business leaders can no longer afford their technology leaders to be anything but a trusted partner. Days of IT as order taker only have been waning since 1990's, but the pace of change and comparative competitive advantage that can be gained with appropriate adoption of new technology paradigms have made it completely obsolete. The question now is not what technology leaders need to do to show value. The real question is how can business leaders be proactive in assuring that their technology leadership is properly aligned and delivering the decision-grade information they need to make the optimal technology investments?

It starts with the first question to ask any prospective CIO or CTO: "What is the business of IT?"


Will Cloud Computing evolve the role of CIO?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009 |

Interesting idea surfaced yesterday during the OMG's Business Ecology Initiative (and reinforced by today's session on SOA, BPM and Cloud). As the industry is moving into an age of choice in computing platforms, the role of Information Technology as a business unit may be changing as well. Rather than building custom applications as a norm, the focus may become integration of SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS offerings in the cloud. This is not a traditional IT operating model - it more resembles a system integrator operating model. And hence the surfacing of the idea that every CIO should have a strategy to address the General Contractor of Cloud services.

This has tremendous implications (as Todd Biske already tweeted) on service-centricity of technology departments - success seems unlikely without these capabilities as part of IT Core. It also has an interesting corollary to integration (or LEANing) of business process of IT. A fully functional Office of CIO becomes a necessity, and not a nice to have.


November Poll Results

Tuesday, December 1, 2009 |

For the month of November, we asked our readers,

"What best describes perception of Enterprise Architecture in Your Organization?"

  • Direct Enabler of Profitability - 0 votes
  • Starting to Prove Their Mettle - 10%
  • Helpful in Spots - 20%
  • Annoying (but necessary) bottleneck - 40%
  • The Knights to Say "No!" - 20%
  • EA is Valuable? - 10%
Obviously, we have quite a bit of Enterprise Architects as readers! December poll will be based on direct quotes that we've heard from our practice clients during annual planning. Stay tuned!