3 Oct 2012

CIT’s Problem 2: Business Distorted Picture of IT

Today, the business community plays a determinant role in the final outcome of the project. They formulate their needs, provide information, take decisions and determine priorities. They have also expectations and goals. They interact and collaborate with IT. Decisions, choices, attitude, approach and positioning are all in accordance with the image they have of IT.
The business community has a certain perception of IT. This picture they have in mind is based on their knowledge of IT. It is based on their experience with IT and on what they see of IT. This mental picture determines their belief system and will guide their decisions and give shape to the collaboration with IT. This doesn’t only concern the collaboration inside or outside the IT projects. It influences the positioning and collaboration at higher level as well.
The business community is working for years with computers. Most possess their own computer. They have also worked with plenty of end-user software. The business community knows that part of IT that is visible to consumers and end-users. This is only the surface of IT. This is what the market presents to them, the hardware, the content on the screen and the user experience. They got accustomed with only a certain facet of IT. Their experience is rather one-sided.
One of the roles of IT is to hide complexity from the end-users. The business community, or non-IT people, has much lesser the opportunity to dive below the visible surface and to learn IT from different perspectives.
Consequently, the business community has a distorted picture of IT. This picture leads to a reference framework of beliefs driving their thinking, their attitude, their expectations and their judgement. Since the picture is distorted and incomplete, the reference framework is biased picture.
What is this picture look like? The common main aspects are the following:
·         IT is about technologies
·         IT is toyish
·         In IT you can just try things out
·         IT is easy
·         IT offers high quality products
·         IT products can be acquired very easily and quickly. It takes no time to create IT products
·         IT is about plugging things together
·         Everything is possible in IT
First of all, IT is about technologies, or at least this is the essence. Does “IT” not stand for “Information Technologies”? And the IT department has competencies in these technologies and they manage them.
There are plenty of computer games on the market. Multimedia is another domain offering a lot of fun. But also modern software and websites are colourful and contain plenty of pictures, funny sounds and animations. From operating system to smart phone, they all look like toys. Who is scared of toys? They don't harm. They are fun. This idea sells. IT is like a toy.
The toyish appearance of IT products and their intuitive interfaces invites users to experiment. It makes the IT products more accessible. They stimulate people to try things. If it isn’t right, a user can easily correct or change it or even throw it away and restart. There is no need to think too much upfront. To support the trial-and-"correct" approach, the manufacturers implement different concepts like cut-&-paste, drag-n-drop, templates, do and undo, wizards and WYSIWYG. This reduces the risks for the user. The products are nearly fool proof. IT is about trying things out.
People become technology savvy. They can create quite a lot of interesting IT products through extremely flexible interfaces, wizards and the WYSIWYG-concept. What can we not do with only “one click”? The user interface perfectly hides the underlying size and complexity of the system. “Plug and play” is another concept that supports simplicity. Some people have some programming experience with writing macro’s in spread sheets or personal databases. Plenty of tools are available to develop personal websites. With little knowledge and even without experience one can already develop quickly a small software application. IT is really not that difficult.   
The computerised devices in the shops are getting always smarter and more powerful. End-user software, ranging from office software to games, has extremely powerful and flexible interfaces. All this technology and end-user software creates high expectations in terms of properties of the software.  People expect high quality IT products.
Technology comes to us very fast. IT offers plenty of technological innovations. Every day new computerised devices and new software applications appear on the market. People can simply buy it and use it. We don’t have the time to learn a product. A new version is already available in the shops or the competitor offers something better. Marketing pushes people to buy all kinds of new products and to replace old products by their latest version.  Plenty of services are developed and can be bought. Buy and you have it. It’s that simple. This is what marketing guys let us to believe. IT products can be acquired very easily.
We see more and more new technologies and products appearing on the market that works together. Just plug it in on with little configuration and they can work together. It’s just a matter of assembling components. There is even the story of two bankers planning to merge their banks who thought that, to have two computers of the two banks to work together it was just a matter of putting the two computers together and to connect them. IT is about plugging things together.
Everything is possible in IT. It is amazing how many times end-users think that computers can interpret situations, take decisions or read minds. This becomes apparent when business people tell you that “the computer knows that ...”. Often, they are not able to explain the exact process behind this knowing. Of course, there is “artificial intelligence” (AI) and tools to scan the electromagnetic waves of the brain. But when we consider the project and its budget and time schedule, it is clear that it is not realistic to make use of them.
There was a period that the motto “the sky is the limit” was associated with IT. This motto reflects a general idea of IT that creates high expectations. Is everything really possible in IT? Yes, but …
When we consider all these factors together, it is not surprising that the results achieved by the IT department may have been a great disillusion.
These beliefs may be present in different degrees in the picture business people have of corporate IT. And from the perspective of the end-user and consumer, this appealing picture might appear as being correct. But it remains a very superficial and one-sided picture when we consider corporate IT.
The business community may, to some degree, be aware that there is a part of IT that is rather unknown to them. They may consider this as a black box. Sometimes they may suppose that what happens inside the black box, inside the IT department, is very complex. And sometimes they may suppose that it’s all magic or that it isn’t that difficult at all and that everything is possible.
If these incorrect beliefs are used to influence or guiding IT, then we might be in serious trouble.

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