As we enter the 21st century, there are powerful trends on the business and IT fronts. The business side is increasingly demanding that processes be tailored to meet customer needs. IT is no longer a mystery, but an integral part of business.
In some cases, as companies focus on optimizing business and IT, IT is leading the way, be it through business transformation or business process optimization. Often, parts of the IT organization are embedded in the business units. The role and structure of IT are changing to accommodate that transformation.
The evolution of embedded IT is characterized by three phases. Initially, IT is seen as a watertight compartment within the business unit. In this phase, business units decide what support they want from IT, and IT then automates and supports the business processes. This arrangement is a carry-over from the days when IT was merely a corporate specialist function.
The intermediate phase involves a puncturing of that watertight compartment. Business operations and IT now join hands to work out how best processes are designed and operated. IT's role, in addition to serving as an efficiency enhancer, is to drive innovations in operations. This phase is characterized by the presence of both business and IT team members in managing process and innovation projects in the business unit.
In the final phase, partitions between IT and business operations are removed, and the two become more synchronized. Under this arrangement, business objectives are identified, and the business and IT sides work together on a single project to achieve it. The merging of business operations and IT creates a cadre of managers who are responsible for both business operations and IT. Team members' skills are a blend of business operations analysis, IT architecture analysis and IT project management.
Preparing Three-in-One Managers
Business units will need to nurture such three-in-one managers, since no schools provide them ready-made. Part of the nurturing process is to communicate to all employees that business operations analysis, IT architecture and IT project expertise are treated equally, all of them being integral to business unit performance. The best way to communicate this attitude is through performance recognition awards and promotions that make it clear that this perception of equality comes from the business unit head or above.
It is also essential to have role models and champions who can mentor junior employees. Part of their task is to identify employees who, for example, are comfortable as business operations analysts but feel that architecture is way too technical or who are comfortable as architects but feel that project management means attending more meetings. Role models and champions should help such employees overcome inhibitions and concerns. When that can't be done, no stigma should attach to the employees who aren't comfortable being force-fit into a multifaceted role and instead are given opportunities in the central IT organization.
The day is not too far off when business units will be headed by people who are comfortable with business process management, financial ratios, service-oriented architecture and systems development life cycles.
N Dayasindhu is a senior researcher with the Software Technology Labs at Infosys Technologies, focusing on IT governance and management. The views expressed here are his own, not his employer's. He can be contacted at email@example.com.