In technology circles, we hear the term “the business” a lot as a way to make the distinction between business and IT. This is peculiar. Sure, IT is often a cost center playing a supporting role for the frontline functions. But Finance is a cost center, too. Is Finance really “the business”? How about Human Resources? We don’t hear HR people talk about business versus HR, do we? It appears that to IT, anything outside of IT is “the business”!
The word “business” also became the modifier for any word that’s important: “business value”, assuming that there’s another kind of value; “business objectives”, assuming that there’s another kind of objectives worth pursuing.
Implied in the business-IT dichotomy is a muted accusation that technology people tend to pursue technology for its own sake. IT would go out and buy the latest toys to satisfy the inner geek, rather than basing investments on sound financial analysis, or “business value”.
This may have been true many years ago, but I don’t believe it to be true today. In the past, IT management was filled with ex-COBOL programmers. Today, they’re MBAs with past careers in management consulting. At the same time, “the business” is becoming very technically savvy. Linked-in and Facebook are highly complex applications. Business people write computer programs everyday — in Excel. The two worlds have become tightly knit together. But we’re stuck with the old divisions.
Key words are important in setting the tone for communication. When our language suggests IT is not a part of the business, it cements a damaging us-versus-them mentality. It leads to isolation. What we need today, more than ever, is close collaboration. Because technology is pervasive in every organization. Because technology can be a driver of business strategy, rather than exclusively playing a subservient role. IT should think of itself as a part of “the business”.
I have three suggestions:
- Avoid using “business” and “IT” in the same sentence. This is actually very hard. In this blog I violated this rule 7 times.
- Drop the meaningless “business” modifier from words like “benefit”, “value”, “objective”, etc.
- Start using the term “business process” to describe what goes on in IT. The business process of technology selection. The business process of systems operations. The business process of managing data.
These are small steps, but they may well set a different tone to improve communication and collaboration. And that is good for everyone.