The secret to IT business success: Stop focusing on the tech

Too many IT organizations buy a thoroughbred when the business needs plow horses

I spent part of today like I do many other days: I sat in a meeting where people discussed technology and how to deploy it. It was a conversation that, while not above my head, had me swimming in daydream land. It wasn't the first time this discussion had been had, and it wouldn't be the last.

It only got worse later in the day when I attended a Twitter chat about cloud and mobile -- it was the same stuff that I had listened to earlier in the day. They were talking about things like what mobile cloud service should people in the enterprise use, whether mobile cloud services save enterprises money, and more like that. It isn't hard to see why IT is failing these days: We get stuck in the technological conversation and forget what we're actually trying to do.

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Think about it for a second. How do most IT departments act? They've spent years as the gatekeepers of everything that involves computing in one way or another. It used to be what type of desktop you got, then it became whether you could get a laptop -- and unless you were some high muckity-muck, you got the standard laptop with barely enough memory and certainly not the best processor or hard drive.

Then there's the infrastructure. It used to be easy for IT departments: They could choose your servers and storage, and you had to know the right person to bribe to get it just a little bit faster for your project.

Now those same tendencies are coming into play with cloud, mobile, and big data -- and, really, just about any technology. IT is trying to keep hold of the reins. Except these days, anyone can whip out the corporate AmEx and order as many virtual machines as they want from Amazon.com or Rackspace and be off and running before IT has any idea.

The real question: How do you turn this ship around? How do you get IT to go from being reactive to proactive? Its job is no longer to be the gatekeeper of technology but to herald technological innovation and use it to enable the business. The key word is "enable" -- we don't want to slow down the business but instead enable it to get where it wants to go as quickly as possible while still being secure and smart about it.

That is a tall order. But it is the job.

The easy part -- well, it's not easy but it requires only a change in attitude -- to succeeding in that job is to partner with the business and understand where it wants to go. It's hard to help anyone get anywhere these days unless you understand his or her strategy. You certainly can't align your technology strategy to meet the business's need if you have no idea what that need is.

Once you understand the business's strategy and where it wants to go, the hard work has to start. But most people try to take the easy way out. They start looking at technology because it can help people get somewhere, but no one bothers to make sure it's the right destination.

The business couldn't care less what technology you're using. Yes, businesspeople have spent the last few years learning about technology, and they're happy to argue tech with you -- but the truth is that they don't care. They spent the time learning tech because IT couldn't be bothered but they had stuff they wanted to get done. Is it any wonder they still talk about the best way to lay out a database, provision memory to a virtual machine, or ask for a specific networking technology in a project?

The same applies your customers and employees. They couldn't care whether their data is cloud-enabled or whether you control things from on premises or off. They're just looking to be enabled so that they can get their work done or buy your product; they aren't looking behind the curtain.

The big secret to enabling enterprises or customers is quite simple: Stop worrying about whether you can enable mobile with a cloud (you can) or whether you can use a Hadoop cluster to parse big data (you can do that, too).

Instead, start looking to build a stable of capabilities and, from there, architectures. You may have three, four, or five types of cloud. They may be IaaS, SaaS, or PaaS; they could be public, private, or hybrid. The real question is what are the capabilities you can provide with these tools. It's how you put them together to enable your users to get their work done and the business to get where it's going. You're going to add security pieces to the stable and undoubtedly will use APIs. It's how you assemble the technology horses that will determine if you are successful and how quickly you can get it done.

IT is successful when it concentrates on building the stable of horses it needs. Too often today, IT buys the hyped thoroughbred that can win the Triple Crown when the business really needed a few workhorses to plow the fields.

This article, "The secret to IT business success: Stop focusing on the tech," originally appeared at A Screw's Loose and is republished at InfoWorld.com with permission (© Brian Katz). Read more of Brian Katz's The Squeaky Wheel blog at InfoWorld.com or at A Screw's Loose. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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