People talk a lot about the new skills for IT being “business” skills, coming from the business side. It bothers me that people talk about “the business” as if it’s some monolithic thing made up of every department that’s not IT. The implication is that all these not-IT departments share common
skills, attributes and concerns, and that there are no competing interests among them or any lack of understanding between them. It also seems to assume that they possess some intrinsic understanding of what’s right for the enterprise’s future and that IT doesn’t. Right.
Frankly, I don’t think “the business,” or any one part of it, is in unique possession of the skills necessary to construct the 21st-century organization. In fact, I’d hazard to say that IT may be better equipped to drive and execute this transformation than any other department in the modern corporation.
This is not because IT holds the keys to technology. Rather, it’s because the future of business (and government, health care, education…that is, our lives) is all about the connections modern information technology makes possible. Technology enables the connections inside and out, across and beyond each individual enterprise, that simply didn’t (and couldn’t) exist before IT. And in the process of enabling such connections, IT has learned more about how to fill the white space* that currently exists between our different departments and processes, our different disciplines and extended organizational ecosystems, than anyone on the planet.
This is not to say that “the business” doesn’t have critical skills to contribute to the effort. There are functions that have developed outstanding project management skills (manufacturing, for example) and the listening and facilitation skills (HR) so necessary for the business analyst and relationship manager functions deemed essential in this, our fifth annual “State of the CIO” survey (see “The New IT Department: The Top Three Positions You Need,” by Senior Editor Stephanie Overby, on Page 68).
And it’s not to say IT doesn’t need to better understand business disciplines like sales, marketing or finance, or the market forces and terms of competition of their particular industry; that’s important too.But the most elusive skill, named the third most in demand after project management and application development, is “business process management,” and BPM is all about filling the white space: building connections between disciplines. Clearly, CIOs today feel their responsibility extends beyond both the “I” and the “T.” I would argue that CIOs are not just building the 21st-century IT department; they are building the 21st-century organization overall.
So let’s stop talking about “business” skills as if the project management, analyst and process capabilities that IT has pioneered in many organizations have come from somewhere else. The IT department hasn’t been just about technology for a long time now. But as long as we continue to talk that way, we’ll perpetuate that myth.