Fixing the relationship between business and IT

The first step to a successful business/IT relationship is understanding what a business/IT relationship means

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Business/IT model No. 3: "Information utilities"

As the deficiencies of the supplier/customer model (that is, everything about it) became increasingly apparent, pundits searching for an impressive-sounding alternative came up with this little gem. IT, they explained, would be like a power company. Just as you plug various appliances into a wall socket, without having to worry about where the electricity comes from, so you'll plug your information appliance into the wall without having to worry about where the information comes from.

It sounded impressive and convincing for a while. Except for the part where what IT delivers isn't actually information -- it's applications that make use of information. And the part where unlike AC current, where every cycle is exactly like every other cycle no matter who uses it, the applications and information IT provide are highly differentiated. Oh, by the way, I don't want any other company getting the information coming out of my wall socket.

Eventually, the nearly complete incoherence of the information utility model was its undoing, although echoes remain in the form of the less convincing promotional material for cloud-based computing.

Business/IT model No. 4: Organ-based organizations

As long as we're basing our relationship models on analogies, we might as well base one on something that demonstrably works -- namely, how critters, including human beings, are put together.

Critters are composed of organs, which are composed of tissues, which are composed of individual cells. The brain isn't the stomach's customer, nor does that model the relationship between the spleen and the gall bladder. The parts of the whole aren't independent organisms (except for the Portuguese man-of-war), the whole is emphatically more than just the sum of its parts, and there's no internal value chain turning raw materials, such as food and oxygen, into finished products, including the deep thoughts you're reading here.

When organizing a business, defining any department as separate and independent is a wonderful way to ensure the business is incapable of acting with collective purpose. It not only ensures the business will devolve into independent organizational silos, it legitimizes this behavior.

We can't, of course, stick with the organs/organism vocabulary. If we did, everyone we need to persuade will flash back to their high school days when they gagged while dissecting a formalin-infused fetal pig, consequently rejecting our brilliant idea out of hand because of its unpleasant associations.

What we can do: Eschew the use of analogies entirely, and instead say what we mean.

It is: The proper relationship between IT and every other part of the business is that of peers that collaborate with each other so as to make the business as a whole successful.

Peer and collaborator -- it isn't fancy. It's more prosaic than impressive. I'd like to think that's part of its charm.

This story, "Fixing the relationship between business and IT," was originally published at Read more of Bob Lewis's Advice Line blog on For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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