talking to the business and IT: conversations and monologues

By in management, products, strategy, Uncategorized on 30 September 2010

We hear a lot about the power-plays and battles between the business and the IT section. And when it happens, both sides suffer and the business doesn’t move forward.

My career has seen me sitting in both camps. And after all, I started out in technical support. Now as a strategy consultant, I talk to both sides, but guess which is the more difficult?

As a technical person from leaving college, you’d expect me to have a natural affinity with the technical guys. After all, we both love technology and know what it can do.

But something strange happens to technical teams when they get their feet under the table, particularly when part of an outsourced operation.

They stop listening. They’re keepers of the technology. They don’t just fix stuff that breaks, but any plans the business may have to change, too.

No, I have conversations with the business, but all too often, a monologue with the IT guys.

Resentment, mistrust and protectionism

IT guys are often misunderstood people. They don’t actually contribute to the bottom line. They don’t sell product, bring in revenue or add value. Just regarded as a business cost, Not as the business asset they are.

But treating them as just a necessary evil is wrong and ferments the distrust that forces everyone into an us and them, lose-lose situation.

This perception of non-appreciation can lead to an obstructive attitude to change for sure, but often protectionism and a general reluctance to take on the new is equally to blame. Why make the effort to learn stuff, when no one will appreciate it or pay us for it?

But there is also the tricky situation caused by professional jealousy. Here am I, an outsider, daring to waltz in to their business and then dictate which technology they need. And getting paid a lot more than them for doing it!

Its fair to say that in many cases, an external consultant will enjoy a far more meaningful, receptive and productive conversation with the business, than the stunted and negative monologue he has with the IT staff, particularly global outsourcers or the Public Sector. When both are involved, the consultant may as well not even waste his time.

Diplomacy – a skill every good consultant learns to live by

While so far I’ve painted a grim picture of the consultant’s role, I have enjoyed some truly great relationships with both business and IT section. But even then, you have to know when to push something across the table and when to keep it in your bag.

You need to build up a trust and to understand the challenges and special considerations. Its vital to understand the hierarchy, competencies and aspirations of the technical staff. Have they tried to change this already and failed, does it threaten their position?

If they have, they’ll never rally behind you while you present the same idea and conversely, may resent you suggesting something different.

The ideal world – or something close

The best situation for a consultant to walk into is one where the business recognises the need to change, has the budget in place and has an IT section recognised as a vital component in implementing the change and keen to see it happen.

When that’s the case, the business is ready to get the most value from a consultant’s time. Just make damn sure you know what you’re talking about!