Business people often complain that the IT department is not keeping up with their needs. This usually isn't because of any actual deterioration in the level of service or capability delivered. More often than not it's down to increasing user expectations as a result of technology and service advancements in the consumer space. In relative terms, IT facilities at work can sometimes seem inflexible, limited and constraining.

Meanwhile, IT professionals grumble about users and business managers losing sight of what's important. Enabling a business through technology is not the same as using consumer tech to run your social life or access content for recreation and entertainment. Things like security, compliance and fitness for purpose cannot be dismissed in a business context. Nor can existing investments, upgrade/replacement costs, and the ongoing need to spend time and effort managing and supporting the technology in use.

Look out for the warning signs

If tensions are allowed to escalate, the result can be one or more of the following:

  • A rift opening between IT and users, undermining mutual respect and cooperation.
  • Business units cutting IT out of the loop and making their own technology arrangements.
  • Individual users making unilateral decisions on the technology and services they use.

If you are seeing any of these, or suspect that things might be heading in this direction, then it's time for IT and business managers to get together and start a proper dialogue about how best to deal with evolving requirements and expectations. When doing this, it's important to appreciate the need for give and take on both sides of the house.

Six of one, half a dozen of the other

The truth is that over-stretched IT teams can sometimes be a little too resistant to taking new ideas and ways of working on board. When users ask for more freedom and flexibility, for example, this is often seen as a formula for even more stress and overhead within IT. It's easy to forget that the primary objective of IT is to enable and support the business, and happy users are an important part of this.

Users, however, often lose sight of business objectives too. They want to use the latest gadgets and services even though they may not be fully fit for purpose. It's amazing how much effort users will make in order to use desirable tech in a corporate environment, and how tolerant they are willing to be of limitations, constraints and the need for clumsy workarounds. The irony is that if IT were to ask them to jump through the same hoops, they would complain bitterly.

But let's not run away with the notion that the problems are just down to parochial thinking.

Mind the gaps

Users trying to bypass IT policies and procedures with their own tech may be doing so because a legitimate business need is not being met. The fact that their chosen solution is not the most suitable for reasons of cost, risk or utility doesn't change the existence of the gap. Simply blocking what users are doing in the interests of maintaining control and efficiency from an IT perspective may therefore be counter to the interests of the business. The gap needs to be acknowledged and plugged in a different way.

But when IT staff are refusing to accommodate user requests, this may also be down to gaps of one kind or another. It may be that the operational team doesn't have the tools and processes in place to cope with what's being asked of them. For example, the prospect of trying to support BYOD in the absence of adequate mobile management and security infrastructure can be quite daunting when you know you will be held responsible when things inevitably go wrong.

Taking a balanced, business-centric view

Dealing with gaps that underpin the disharmony often involves investing time, resources and budget. This means introducing a third perspective beyond the interests of users and IT – that of the business.

Contrary to popular belief, user preferences and desires are not always in line with business interests. Neither is citing security and compliance as a blanket justification for draconian levels of IT control, especially if this inhibits the adoption of new and competitive working practices.

They key to success is finding the right comprises, and this can only be achieved by recognising and balancing the three sets of interests:

  • Hard core business needs (over-riding).
  • User preferences and desires
  • IT delivery and operational needs.

Some practical ideas for achieving this balance are outlined in our paper entitled 2IT-Business Alignment Revisited: Accommodating increased user influence" available from the Freeform Dynamics website here.

In the meantime, we urge CIOs not to attempt to go it alone. The challenges we have been discussing can only be tackled successfully if IT and business execs work together.

By Dale Vile, Freeform Dynamics