by Thomas Wailgum

You Say IT, Forrester Says BT: What’s the Difference?

Sep 24, 2009
Business IT AlignmentCIOEnterprise Applications

What's in a name? A lot, says Forrester Research CEO George Colony, whose quest to transform Information Technology to Business Technology is taking longer than expected. But would a new name really help bridge the gap between the server guys and the suits?

For those who’ve been laboring in the corporate computer-related profession for the past half century or so, the naming of their department has always been equal parts science, reality and hype.

The evolution of the modern-day technology shop has been decades in the making, with notable branding transformations over the years: What started off as the back-room punch-card division morphed into data processing, and then to MIS, to just IS, and finally to IT, where it’s stayed for the better part of the last decade.

For the past four years, Forrester Research CEO George Colony and his band of analysts have been arguing that technology folks now need to make the final metamorphosis from technologist to businessperson, as well as demand a departmental moniker overhaul—to move from Information Technology to Business Technology.

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In a recent Q&A with Forrester VP and research director Connie Moore, Colony contends that “at its core, I define BT as measuring your usage of technology with business metrics instead of technology metrics.”

But why is this so critical right now? Colony asserts:

“Changing the term to BT is also a powerful way for the chief technologist—CIO or CTO—to signal to line-of-business managers and executives and also to the presidents, COO, CEO, and the board of directors that ‘We’re not in the technology business anymore; we’re in the real business—the company’s business.’ I believe by changing the name to BT, and changing its behavior to focus on the business of the business, the technology organization would transform its relationship with the business. I think it would begin to communicate in a different language (the language of business), the current lack of communication would dissipate, and we’d have a higher level of communication around the business problems and the business issues. Which, of course, the presidents and line execs think and care about every day, but all too often, the technologists don’t. Changing the name from IT to BT is a way to change the mindset in IT and change the relationship between technologies and businesspeople. Definitely.”

For many C-level execs and their lieutenants, however, the change isn’t going to be been as easy as putting a “New and Improved!” sticker on a cereal box. Not only CIOs but also CEOs, CFOs and other key stakeholders will have to change. Colony admits in the Forrester Q&A that the switch from IT to BT is occurring slower than he had anticipated.

However, the turtle’s pace of the IT-to-BT transformation hasn’t deterred Colony’s belief in the power and importance of a name change. “I also think that—in sort of a Noam Chomsky thought—if you change that one word from information technology to business technology, you begin to change the way IT people work and the way they think about their jobs.”

What do you think of Colony’s re-branding quest? Send me your thoughts.

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