The man from IT, he likes to say... no!

Twice recently I have heard IT leaders warning their peers that they are in danger of being seen as the department that says “no”.

The latest occasion was at a CIO roundtable debate organised by 360°IT – the IT infrastructure Event and the Computer Weekly 500 Club. During a discussion on the challenges facing IT managers over the next 12 months, one of the delegates said, “IT is seen as saying no, not yes” – and there was much nodding of heads around the table. As similar sentiment was made at a previous CIO roundtable I chaired last month.

IT is stuck in the middle of a cultural dilemma.

On one hand, it faces a more tech-savvy set of business users than ever before, who are asking, hoping, even demanding to be given the latest technology to meet their needs. Yet corporate IT has to enforce the processes, standards and security to protect its vital information assets – a task often at odds with the free and easy internet culture those users want to see.

On the other hand, IT can often be seen as a panacea for the ills of business. “If we had a new system…” has become the solution for too many problems that lie in the working processes of a business not in the technology it uses. One of the delegates at the roundtable recalled being told that business users felt they needed a new project management system – despite having had three or four different project management systems over the previous few years.

IT – arguably the fastest changing, most exciting environment to work in – is increasingly seen as risk averse and slow to respond.

There is a fear of failure among IT departments that prevents risk taking. “There are no such things as failures – just expensive successes,” said another delegate, not entirely in jest. The business mantra these days is “fail fast” – don’t be afraid to take risks and try things, but be better at identifying early when things are going wrong, and be ready for a re-think. Does IT do that? Perhaps not as much as it should – it doesn’t want to be seen to fail, in any way. But given the number of projects deemed to have not met requirements, a fail fast policy seems entirely appropriate for new IT implementations.

Another of the IT leaders at the roundtable also pointed out that the culture of IT tends to be that a project is over when it goes live – when what is needed is to manage the project through to the realisation of benefits it was intended to deliver.

The IT-business divide is perhaps the oldest cliché in the book, but while it has historically referred to the gap in understanding of technology itself, perhaps that is changing to become a cultural gap in the way IT is perceived.

This is a challenge for every IT manager: how can you become the man or woman who says yes?