businessman with shackles on white

One of the hot topics these days among CIOs, and those who advise them, is that the people who work in the IT organization really need to understand their business. I was at a breakout at a SIMposium conference last week where the speaker was talking about how to evolve to a “strategic IT organization”. The second step in his four steps towards this Holy Grail is: “Developing business knowledge in IT employees.”

I had to smile when a CIO friend of mine piped up and said something a little controversial. She said,¬†“I just started as the CIO at a new company and I have a different issue. My IT organization knows too much about our business.” She went on to explain how this is preventing them from progressing strategically. Her people make assumptions. Her business stakeholders no longer ask questions or take ownership. The natural checks and balances aren’t there. Everyone is lazy.

What she said really resonated with me, and I’ve seen several examples of what she described at clients lately.

I’m typically one to say that more business knowledge in IT employees is necessary, but it occurred to me at this event that there’s both a good and bad side to institutional knowledge.

Good:

  • Having enough context on the business and industry to really listen and understand a problem holistically
  • Looking at processes fresh with an understanding of the outcomes we are trying to achieve
  • Bringing great ideas of where¬†technology can help business competitively

Bad:

  • Not listening (or even talking about it) because you already know the answer
  • Continuing to modify a broken or convoluted process because it is the way it has always been done
  • No one really thinking about the problem or opportunity strategically

Remember, assumption is one of the biggest barriers to innovation…