What IT can learn from marketing

Next-gen IT leaders must balance competing responsibilities: managing a shared service while acting as stewards of essential company resources

Despite viewing stewardship as a critical responsibility, the majority of today's IT organizations do not practice it. This fundamental oversight could prove a hindrance for IT going forward, as next-generation IT will be built on three pillars:

  1. Stewarding the company's information resources, as opposed to ownining them. Keep in mind that this will be a special kind of stewardship, as outlined below.
  2. Empowering end-users to be innovators by opening new technological doors for them, motivated by user choice.
  3. Supporting single-actor business practices as a strategic responsibility -- a significant shift from years of paying attention only to core processes.

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For forward-thinking organizations, this shift will be more than inevitable. It will be the mandate that defines how IT does its job.

The dirty little secret about IT stewardship

Last week's tirade referenced a recent Deloitte survey that concluded that CIOs should shed stewardship in favor of a bigger and better role at their organization. The underlying assumption here is that, according to Deloitte's respondents, CIOs have been acting as stewards all along.

The reality: While some renegades view their worlds that way, the general trend has been quite different.

According to Dictionary.com, a steward is "a person who manages another's property or financial affairs; one who administers anything as the agent of another or others."

Contrast it with the standard industry wisdom that's dominated thinking about IT's role in the enterprise. Call it the "standard model." It's built on three very different pillars than next-generation IT will be, as outlined above:

  1. CIOs should run IT like an independent business.
  2. IT's responsibility is to deliver working technology that meets requirements to its internal customers.
  3. IT measures its success by negotiating and then meeting or exceeding service-level agreements with those internal customers.

Do you see stewardship in there anywhere? It could be, I suppose, if the "contract" IT wrote with its business customer defined its responsibilities that way.

For the most part, though, that hasn't been how it's worked. In fact, even today the most popular IT organizational philosophy could likely be called the Hedgehog Principle.

No, not the Hedgehog Principle Jim Collins made famous in "Good to Great." That principle was based on ancient Greek poetry -- while the fox knows many things, the hedgehog knows one big thing.

The Hedgehog Principle I'm talking about is the strategy hedgehogs use to protect themselves from attackers: They curl up into a ball to protect their soft bellies, leaving predators nothing except an unfriendly collection of spines.

Today's IT: Prickly and defensive

This metaphor sounds like typical IT to me: prickly and defensive, more concerned with keeping bad things from happening than with encouraging good things to happen.

Certainly, "internal customer" has devolved to nothing more of a catchphrase, devoid of actual meaning. Because if it actually meant that the folks outside IT who use what IT produces are customers, do you think we would lock down desktops and discourage or prevent end-user programming?

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