Can we stop trying to run IT as a business?

I really dislike it when I hear someone in IT say that its time ‘run IT as a business’.

Why?

Because both terms normally convey a sense of importance upon the IT group that really isn’t there.

Think about it this way:  Have you ever heard anyone in finance say ‘we need to run finance as a business’ or ‘we need to run finance like a business’.  I’d bet you haven’t.

What about HR?  Ever heard anyone within your HR team say they need to ‘run HR like a business’?  No?  There are some proponents for running HR ‘as a business’…if you google that term you’ll find a few results for the term in books/ articles.  In reviewing those articles/books, the writers are really saying the same thing I am…take a business approach to HR (and in our case, IT).

So why do we IT folks think we need to ‘run as a business’?  Shouldn’t we just ‘run’ as part of the overall business?

What is really being said with ‘IT should run as a business’?

Normally when I hear this term from someone, they are trying to say something more along the lines of ‘IT should be more business-savvy’ or ‘we need to take a business approach to IT’.

What these people are really saying is that they understand that IT isn’t delivering the value that it should to the organization. They understand this and are they trying to find ways to change it.

But the key isn’t to run IT ‘as a business’.  You don’t have ‘customers’….you have business partners.  Treat people like customers and you’ll be treated as a vendor.

Look at it another way….do you (in IT) pay for the services the HR function provides you?  Do you pay for the functions that finance / accounting provide you?    Perhaps in a shared services environment you might pay for these services, but the shared services approach is one that is another bad idea in my opinion.  More on that level of hell in other posts perhaps.

What to do?

The first step is to go read Bob Lewis’ InfoWorld article titled Run IT as a business — why that’s a train wreck waiting to happen and then go read Chris Curran’s Run IT like a business, not as a business.

Interesting reading, right?

The takeaways from those articles?  Stop trying to be a business and start working a partner to the rest of the business.

Step away from running IT as a business.  Move toward a more integrative approach to working with your business partners within the organization.  Stop worrying about what you can out-charge and to whom and focus on delivering business value.

If you continue to run IT as a business and focus on costs and out-charging your ‘customers’, you’ll continue to be seen as a vendor.  Vendors aren’t part of the business…they are a necessary cost to doing business.  The instant a better (e.g., lower cost, bette quality, etc) vendor comes along, you are toast.

How do you do this? Stop being seen as a vendor.

Stop trying to get that $180 out-charge for moving a network drop from cube A to cube B and start wondering how you can help the people in those cubes do their job better.

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