Merge the Tribes Before the Bloodshed
by Ade McCormack

     
   

In my little world there are two tribes. They speak different languages. They try not to encroach on each other's turf. One tribe tells the other what to do. The other tribe, unable to defend itself, reluctantly does what it is told. These tribes are more commonly known as users and technologists.

One of the recurring themes of my column is that the IT department should be given an equal footing on matters related to business strategy, given the IT-centricity of most strategic business decisions.

What if we had access to a time machine that could accelerate us into the future, where perhaps business strategy is the preserve of the IT department and the users acted in accordance?

First, in this high tech future, the technologists would likely spend much of their time making snide jokes about how the generally low ITQs (IT Quotients) of the users makes them socially awkward. The fact that they have to resort to verbal communication rather than more hi-tech mechanisms is so last century.

Users in turn would complain about the fact that they are rarely consulted on IT matters despite having real-world knowledge of how these IT systems actually impact the customer. In this high tech future, users are used sparingly and in front office activities only.

In this world, strategy and tactics are the same. The pace of change is dizzying. The web firmly puts the customers in the driving seat. Organizations that fail to respond immediately to the ever-changing needs of these fickle buyers will for a mercifully short period face a cash flow drought.

Marketing is totally customer-driven. No one will believe your marketing literature.

Prospective buyers will seek out customer reviews posted on consumer-controlled websites. Intelligent organizations will focus on spreading their marketing messages virally by using customers as carriers.

In an IT-centric world, the customer experience is critical. Given the pressures on margin most companies will use the web as their only channel to market. Thus IT will determine your brand.

Your ability to respond to the changes in the market place will be determined by your ability to sense changes in real time. Market-sensitive business intelligence tools linked into your critical internal systems will be de rigeur.

Let's take a look at the future boardroom. The absence of a CIO (stress testing his breast pocket with writing implements) is odd given the importance of IT to the organization. However, each director will have spent considerable periods of his or her career in leadership positions within the IT function.

They are thus all tech-savvy. The evolution of the CEO is perhaps the most surprising when compared to today's boardroom because they also happen to be the CIO. In an IT-led business, the business leader must of course be the IT leader.

It is not by chance that we have taken this journey in a time machine. HG Wells' book of the same name is actually a prognostication of what might become of the user and technologist communities.

Mr Wells referred to users as Eloi. They lived on the Earth's surface and enjoyed a generally peaceful existence. No doubt the automation of most of their tasks led to this pleasant state of affairs. The technologists - aka Morlocks - lived a subterranean existence. From time to time their pent-up resentment caused them to surface and disrupt the picnic (certainly for at least one or two Eloi).

The message from HG Wells is clear. If you do not treat the IT function as equals today, it is very likely that both tribes will drift further apart. And despite the users' dependence on technologists, the boardroom will increasingly treat the IT department as some form of sub species.

In keeping with the prophecy, the Morlocks will systematically devour each board member while their colleagues incuriously ignore the carnage. Before long, the boardroom will be under the control of the technologists, and the users will be the business sub species.

It is generally accepted in literary circles that HG Wells would have documented the latter end of this prophecy had he written a sequel.

Take heed. Don't wait for the blood soaked revolution. Get the IT department involved in business strategy today.

     
   
     
   

The Author

Ade McCormack Ade McCormack is the author of The IT Value Stack - A Boardroom Guide to IT Leadership (Wiley, 2008) and IT Demystified. He writes a regular column for the Financial Times advising business leaders on business-IT issues He is the founder of Auridian, a people-development business focused on helping organizations get best value from their IT investment. For more information or to contact Ade, see www.auridian.com and www.itvaluestack.com .
     
   
     
   
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Copyright 2008 by
Ade McCormack. All rights reserved.

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