Beware the vicious cycle of bad IT results

The feedback loop between business and IT is either vicious or virtuous depending on results and trust

When relations between business and IT break down, it's difficult to repair them. Worse, such disarray damages the relationship between business and IT even more.

That's because the relationship is a positive feedback loop, and positive feedback loops are pernicious little things. Without them, you can deal with challenges by addressing their root causes. With them, root causes cause themselves.

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The IT results loop

A more accurate description of the business/IT relationship would be to call it a results loop. The figure below shows how this loop works.

First, think of IT as a function -- a black box. As is the case with all black boxes, it has inputs and outputs.


To oversimplify, IT has essentially two inputs: competence and budget. Together, they determine what IT ends up delivering. If IT isn't competent, it won't deliver good results; if its budget is too small, it either won't deliver enough good results, or it will take on too much and won't deliver any good results.

To further oversimplify, the IT function consists of two subfunctions: governance and delivery.

Governance refers to the means through which businesses decide where their IT organizations should focus their time, attention, and budget. This process might be formal or informal, rule-based or intuitive, fair or unfair, well-done or incompetent. One way or another, though, decisions get made as to what gets done and what won't.

Once those decisions are made, IT does its best to deliver. Here is where processes and practices such as project management, application development, application integration, systems administration, and incident management come in. Through these processes and practices, IT delivers results of some kind.

The vicious cycle of poor IT results

If the results of this process are perceived as positive, the relationship between business and IT will improve, which will, in turn, actually increase IT's competence, because IT's business counterparts will be more inclined to accept IT's word for the importance of those seemingly unnecessary and bureaucratic steps we know are necessary but are very hard to explain.

Equally important, a positive business/IT relationship is likelier to lead to a budget increase, for two reasons: (1) everyone involved in decision making will be more likely to take the CIO's word that IT needs that much funding to get its job done; and (2) everyone involved in decision making will be more confident that the dollars allocated to IT is money well-spent.

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