Organizational solitudes hinder integration efforts

As in grammar exceptions, so too in the IT world — “i” now comes after “e”.

Week after week, new reports emerge, outlining ways companies can integrate their tech infrastructures, their business processes and their corporate subdivisions into one happy e-business strategy. One of the latest, a Web-cast by Meta Group Inc. on enterprise architecture development, stressed communication and collaboration between two distinctly different camps: IT departments and business execs. The emphasis, according to Meta, should be on building the business plan, then getting the pocket protector-types to buy in to it. In fact, Meta says, IT should develop its own business-based raison d’être.

It sounds simple enough. What’s not clear, however, is just how IT staff will ultimately accept the wisdom of corporate planners. While some analysts might think the logic of a business plan is enough to win over all employees, I’ve seen enough tech reality to know that a) business plans aren’t necessarily clear nor accurate, and b) telling people what’s good for them without seriously considering their opinions can be extremely off-putting. Dismissing sound technical advice after you’ve decided on a business plan won’t win you integration converts. It may even hurt the process.

And who’s to say IT workers should be made to draft their own selling and marketing strategies? That sort of claim carries a whole whack of assumptions, chief among them the notion that technology staff are also secret MBAs, and that they have the time and inclination to put it all down in writing.

Clearly, then, the stage is set for major misunderstandings between IT staff and business managers.

Consider a recent public debate between one industry analyst and a group of hard-core IT aficionados. In June, IDC’s Dan Kusnetzky faced off with Slashdot users, describing the process of conducting IT research. Time and time again, readers flamed Kusnetzky about survey data, saying it was tainted or invalid since it served a business — not purely technological — interest.

Well, duh. Fulfilling a market need is what firms like IDC are all about. The applicability of research findings, as well as the interpretation of said data, may be limited, but so long as folks shell out the cash, the work obviously holds value. (Kusnetzky, to his credit, presented a similar perspective much more politely — and persuasively — as did many Slashdot users.)

It’d be easy to dismiss the naysayers as a bunch of rabid tech purists, hostile towards anyone not of their own. But we’re talking about a deeper issue here: culture. Over the years, IT departments have changed, seeing new faces with a range of backgrounds and experiences, but geek chic lives on. It may be a sort of high-tech machismo or a defense mechanism, but as demands mount and budgets shrink, tech staff can feel alienated from the rest of the business, and sometimes keep things that way. Management, for its part, doesn’t seem to understand why.

Now that stock options and foosball tables have evaporated, along with many of the dot-coms that inspired them, companies have to find other ways to make IT workers feel like part of the team. Communication and collaboration are great concepts, but without respect and inclusion, they’re just empty promises.

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