The relationship between IT teams and their business partners – from senior leaders to line employees – is rarely as good as any CIO wants it to be.
And the role of IT has undoubtedly changed over the past few years. Managers in the line and functions outside of IT – especially marketing – now make more technology decisions than ever before. This has put an end to an “us and them” relationship – if one ever existed – where a business partner has an idea and then passes it over the wall so IT can make the magic happen.
Now as employees are far more comfortable with finding and using their own technology, and with the rise of ever more specialist products and services, a line manager or functional employee will often have a better idea than IT about the most appropriate technology to help them in their role.
Four Things Not to Say
CEB interviews with employees in marketing, finance, and HR threw up a list of some of the worst things they hear from IT teams, and four in particular stood out. These are below, along with a short bit of advice on what to say instead.
“It’s not your responsibility to do that”: Business-led IT is still a thorny topic for IT professionals and all those that work with them. As the months and years tick by, it’s increasingly wrong to tell business partners that experimenting with technology isn’t their responsibility.
Especially as senior managers in the line and other corporate functions are now often told the exact opposite by their own bosses: that it is their responsibility to find and use technology that makes their teams more productive or solves customer problems. If the head of marketing has been told this by the CEO then no amount of resistance from IT will dissuade them from experimenting.
“No, there’s too much risk involved”: Almost every CIO in CEB’s client networks that we’ve spoken to about business-led IT tells a story from their own firm about an excellent business idea that was killed early because the first person in IT to encounter it responded “No. We can’t just do that. There are too many risks.”
Immediately after telling their story, CIOs consistently say “I want my teams to stop saying ‘No’, and start saying ‘Yes, but’, so that we can stop debating if the idea should have been developed and move right away to how it should be developed.” IT teams are now including business partners in discussions about the risk of different decisions in ways they have never done before.
“We have a prioritization process”: Prioritizing IT investments is fundamental to running a good IT function, and there’s only so much capacity within the IT department to work on the ideas that business partners bring forward. But, given business partners are now far more comfortable with technology than they were even five years (let alone 10), they are more willing to find and deploy new technology.
If business partners need something that IT doesn’t have the capacity to deliver, IT should quickly move to an advisory role and take an approach of, “We can’t do it for you, but we can help you do it yourself.”
“You should have come to us at the beginning”: While often true, the fact remains that business partners don’t always come to IT at the beginning of a technology project. They often want to get something up and running well enough so that they can see whether it’s likely to work or not. In these situations, IT needs to be able to say “We’re glad you brought this to us [regardless of how far along you are]… we can help you with the next step [whichever step that happens to be].”
Some IT teams have started to create different ways of taking on “business-led” technology projects, so that IT is able to work with business partners at any stage in the process of finding or deploying technology.
How to Say the Right Things: Challenge and Teach
Despite the list of things that they shouldn’t say to business partners, IT teams will not help their company if they just become a collection of yes-men and women. The best business relationship managers and business analysts are “challengers.” The challenger framework comes from CEB’s work with sales teams and how they can improve their interactions with customers, but a lot of it can be applied to dealing with internal customers too.
Challengers are able to teach business partners, get them to consider alternative viewpoints, and are willing to resist some requests – albeit politely and diplomatically – when needed. But challengers also try to understand what motivates their business partners and how that shapes business partner decisions.