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What is the business of IT?

MylesS on ‎06-18-2013 10:55 AM

When I was in graduate school pursuing a business strategy degree, I took a class taught by Ian Mitroff, professor emeritus at the Marshall School of Business. During one class, Ian had the entire class take the Myers-BriggsType Indicator (MBTI) assessment and then grouped us by our results. He asked our groups to determine the world’s problems and to create a Tinker Toy object to represent it. I was in the systems thinker group. We were done in 30 minutes and built a very simple object. We synthesized the world’s problems as communication and built a simple radio tower to display communications. The rest of the class built wild objects and took almost two hours to complete their work.


We systems thinkers represent less than 10 percent of the world’s population. But my personal fear is that most IT departments are populated with a more dominant type—the analyst. You know these people. Analysts break everything into pieces and describe things by their components rather than the sum of their parts. This has created issues for IT customers who see IT as being highly technical, and perceive IT folks as speaking another language. Today, I personally aim to change this!


While in grad school, I read the works of another professor, Derek Abell, who wrote extensively on business definition. As with IT, he found that many businesses define themselves in terms the products and services they supply—often by the technologies used. Or they define themselves by their served market.


Just as Derek did for businesses, I want to suggest that this is too narrow and that Derek’s model applies to IT. We need to evaluate the business of IT by three dimensions. The first element is customers served. This would be things internal service provider versus external service provider. Many organizations are clearly both.



The second dimension is alternative technologies. I want to suggest that IT has many internal service provider-oriented technologies—I will not list them here. But today, there are new technology delivery options, including things such as cloud (infrastructure as a service), cloud (software as a service), mobility, and, increasingly, vendor management.

Now this brings us to the final and most important component of the model, customer function. I want to suggest that, at a business level, there are only three functions that IT organizations perform. And most importantly, whether you eliminate your datacenters or not, these three things will remain valid. Think of these as the three business capabilities of IT:


1)      IT automates business capabilities.

2)      IT manages existing automation of business capabilities.

3)      IT serves end-users.


That’s it. Simple! Easy to communicate!

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About the Author


Mr. Suer is a senior manager for IT Performance Management. Prior to this role, Mr. Suer headed IT Performance Management Analytics Product Management including IT Financial Management and Executive Scorecard.

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