14 January 2006

The Relationship Between IT and Business

As I read two recent posts on the subject topic (Business and I.T. Must Work Together to Manage New "Web 2.0" Tools by Dennis D. McDonald and Jeremiah Owyang and The Lawyer-IT Dialogue by Simon Fodden), I realized how much of a universal challenge the relationship is.

All too often, we have an unproductive corporate dialogue that looks like this:

This relationship eventually ends as follows:

Not very productive! It might be more appropriate to insert an intermediary function called "IM" between business users and the IT staff, giving us:

These "models" (thanks to Doug O'Brien, manager at Natural Resources Canada, for sharing his insights on topic in that simple and humoristic form) make several assumptions:
  • By "IM", we mean a corporate function that looks at Information Management holistically in which all IM facets are integrated (see Standardized IM Frameworks here), including, for example, records management, access to information & privacy, library services, research services, standards, education, training, so on and so forth;
  • By "IT", we mean a corporate function that represents the more traditional Information Technology activities, technical and "problem solving" in nature - networks, hardware and software fleet management, application development, etc.
Going back to the White Paper published by Dennis and Jeremiah, they approach the issue by asking "how should IT be involved?" The challenges they evoke (Chicken & Egg problem, Ownership Policy, Technology Trends, Employee Responsibility - on that topic see related legal issues, Crisis Management and Influence vs. Control) are all real challenges. I suggest that their paper points to a missing piece in the organizational picture: an intermediary function, or person or Department, providing the necessary interface between IT and the business. Such people know the language of the business and of IT. In a law firm, for example, this person might be a lawyer with a strong IT background, knowledge and interest. This allows business users to remain focused on their business and IT staff to remain committed and engaged in IT problem solving without the unfair added responsibility to tackle the whole IM Problem Space.

Simon Fodden raises a similar challenge in the context of a law firm here. I wholeheartedly agree with one of his remarks:
Ideally, there might be a CIO or CKO who has the status of a partner, whether or not she/he is in fact a lawyer-partner. This person would understand both worlds enough to know what questions to ask, what issues to pose, and what policies to impose or recommend. If this truly important mediation role is left to chance, such as when it's dependent on the fact that Mary or Ali, otherwise a librarian or an associate or an office manager, happens to have a background that facilitates things, the firm is vulnerable and may not be putting things on the best footing.
Considering knowledge-based organizations and their users thrive on information, it is well worth the investment to have a dedicated IM function and to position IT as an enabler of IM and, in turn, IM as an enabler of the business. The dialogue will improve and rationalization opportunities, matching business requirements, will be easier to identify.