What IT Roles and Skills Should Live in the Business? (CIO event recap)

I was asked recently to speak on a panel entitled “What IT Skills/Roles Should Reside in the Business” Premier CIO Forum in Boston. The event, held earlier this week, was a well-attended and engaging event supported by SIM (Society for Information Management). There was an impressive roster of IT executives from across New England.

New technology is now requiring IT and the Business and to be extraordinary dancing partners” said Sharon Kaiser, CIO for ABIOMED, Inc., as she opened our session as moderator. My fellow panelists were Matthew Ferm, Managing Partner of Harvard Partners, and Hunter Smith, former CIO of Acadian Asset Management. We analyzed the “Dance between IT and the Business”. Who should lead? What are the right steps to follow? What’s the expected pace? It was a lively discussion, with a very participative audience.  Here are the highlights:

  • Speed, flexibility and leadership are key for today’s IT. Shadow IT, where pockets of a Business or go off on their own to buy, say cloud services or a product, is usually acting responsively to when an IT department is being unresponsive. Shadow IT also happens when individual employees download an application right onto their machine. The trouble with Shadow IT is that it also often silos IT. Many times the business will come back with a need to integrate a hastily purchased product, or even to get it to run.  The lesson here is to have a deep partnership between IT and the rest of the business, continually optimized, is needed. If IT is truly enabling, it will not be viewed just as a gate-keeper, but as a partner.
  • For engaging well with others you need skills in IT and the Business that complement each other.  Thus Business Analysis (BA) as a position residing in a Business is very helpful. It ensures requirements are vetted, understood and relatively fixed, and there will be ownership for what IT will be asked to do. But, IT also needs BA skills on their side, even if it may not be a job title. Most importantly, IT must understand business processes deeply so that the value of a project is understood, and where needed, valid input can be given on process simplification where warranted. The BA role in the Business must understand technology and how IT works for this to be a true partnership.
  • Security, Disaster Recovery, responsibility for LAN/WAN/server environments and access should all reside with IT.  Some roles, such as project management (PM) can be in either IT or the Business, since good PM will be driven by data and not by persuasion or vested interest.  Some roles, such as QA/Testing need to go beyond IT testing a technology developed to meet a business need. It must say, “yes, hit the requirements” to the Business testing out the actual use cases with a process workflow, so that base assumptions and expected value are actually vetted out.

These discussions showed that regardless of company size, the audience had similar experiences: rapidly increasing need for a close, agile relationship between IT and the Business, a huge technology wave of possibilities, and opportunity for re-thinking roles and responsibilities. One must experiment and evolve, as well as establish a strong communications and shared-goal mentality with the Business. I ended by noting, “If you treat IT as a commodity that is what you will get. If you treat it as the leading edge of your Business, you will have a weapon like no other.” The audience very much agreed.

— Azmi Jafarey, Chief Information Officer, Ipswitch

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