Whenever I tell someone I work for an IT company, you see a little spark of fear pop into their eyes while they quickly check their watch. Probably because they know from experience (with other IT people not with me) that there is a big chance the conversation will become complex, lengthy and likely even incomprehensible. So lately I just tell them I work in marketing, which leads to longer and more engaged conversations. But it did make me wonder how IT got into this position, and more importantly, how we can get out of it.
Now, it was not always like this. On my first working day, fresh out of university, when joining the IT department of AKZO (now Akzo Nobel), there was coffee and cake. Not because I joined (it was the 70ties) but because a colleague was leaving for Spain. He was taking a small server with Akzo business applications and a book “How to learn Spanish in 30 days” with him. Four months later he was back and had implemented all of Akzo’s standard processes in the newly bought Spanish consumer products division. And he had lots of stories about the Spanish consumer market, the competition, the customers the food, the weather and about our new colleagues. He had spend most his time with users (sales people, logistics people, marketing etc.) and almost no time with other IT people (also because we did not have many in Spain) and as a result was consulted regularly by the European Management team on matters concerning Spain or other new markets. Back then we did not have Enterprise ERP, SOA’s or Enterprise Serviced Busses, we just had specific applications for purchasing, inventory, order entry, invoicing etc. (guess we would call these silo’s now) and a good understanding of how AKZO’s wanted to manufacture and market consumer products.
Somehow that got lost, now IT talks mainly about SAP, Oracle or Data warehousing and 90% of the time we talk with other IT people. Granted, IT is more important and there is a lot more IT around than in the past and because scale is larger and the level of (technical) integration is much higher, the complexity is often overwhelming, but there must be a way to get back to what really matters (business).
Luckily there are two recent developments that help achieve that. They are on the one hand Portfolio Management Techniques and on the other hand Lean IT. If you are new to Portfolio Management check out “Laws of IT” explores Service Portfolio Management, Lean IT builds on manufacturing best practices and has been discussed earlier in this blog, but make sure you do not miss this vintage paper The IT-dustrial revolution on Lean IT (literally Lean IT avant la lettre).