I.T.I.S. (It’s The Information, Stupid!)

IT departments talk about technology and not about information systems
IT departments talk about technology and not about information systems

Q: What’s wrong with IT departments today?

A: They don’t look or act like any other department in the rest of the company.

One glaring example of this rears its ugly head when business users ask for company information and the IT team responds with a discussion about the technology that either interconnects it or simply collects it. It turns out that there is a big difference between information (a.k.a. knowledge) and data. IT departments do a great job of collecting a lot of data; however, that’s not what anyone wants. What everyone wants is information – what you get when you process data. Somehow we need to come up with a way to get IT departments to shift their focus from gathering more data to providing more information services that will help the business do better.

Three professors, Arik Ragowsky, Paul Licker, and David Gefen have spent some time studying this issue and asking question such as what is the real job of a CIO? It turns out that a CIO should be spending his/her time managing the information that the company depends on in order to be successful in its business. What this means is that CIOs have to find a way to change their thinking and move away from worrying about how to deliver more data and start to think about how to provide more information services.

How did IT end up being a plumber and not an architect? Back in the old days (1960’s), all computers were mainframes and business folks had no idea how they did what they did. However, they appreciated what the Information Systems (IS) department produced and were more than willing to pay for them to keep doing it. When PCs arrived in the early 80’s, suddenly everyone knew more about how computers worked. IS was renamed to Information Technology (IT) and the IT folks started to focus more on the technology and less on the information that the technology was delivering. Vendors helped things along by starting to sell directly to end users. This is when things got all messed up!

Who’s to blame for the current situation? Well, we IT departments have more than our fair share to bear. All too often we interact with business customers using technology terms. When we do this we are seen as the “geeks” that we really are instead of business partners. What we should be doing is talking business with the business folks and reserving our technology discussions for when we are back within the IT department and talking with our teammates.

Final thought: hide the technology and the data from the business customers. Instead, talk with them about information systems and the types of information that they need in order to help the company be successful.