No modern business can function at its best if it does not understand, adopt and grasp IT to its bosom, and there are very few business processes that can be invented or executed efficiently without the exploitation of IT. That means IT must be represented in the boardroom.
The problem is that far too many IT departments are led by IT directors or managers who are primarily technology-focused when they need to be business-focused technologists. These technicians are holding back the businesses in which they work to the detriment of the business, their colleagues and themselves.
Any business that cannot get itself into a position where a technologist is on the board at the same level as the sales, finance and operations executives is disadvantaged.
Regrettably there seem to be far too few technologists with the business and entrepreneurial skills needed to justify such parity.
Visit every department
The advice often given to IT directors by management experts is also misleading. The experts who talk of communication problems, suitable language and a strategic role are all missing the point.
The role of IT is to make the business work better, faster, more cheaply and more reliably. If it doesn't achieve these objectives, it is worthless.
The best advice for IT directors should be along the lines of, "Visit every department, understand what they do and why. Ask yourself how, with your superior appreciation of technology, you could help them to improve their business performance. Discuss this with the department heads or directors, and then get on and do it."
Anything less will disadvantage the business. The head of IT, whether manager or director, has one primary role - to help the business make more profit.
The technical challenges of keeping things running, disaster recovery and so on, are just that: technical challenges that must be overcome.
However, meeting such challenges successfully does not generate the business that makes profit and pays people's salaries, and that has to be the focus of the top management tier in any business.
IT is not simply a "functional department". Data processing was a functional department, but most of us have moved a long way on from those days.
IT is now part of the key infrastructure of any substantial business, and it merits the same importance as finance and human resources, for example. It needs board-level representation if a business is to deliver its best performance.
But sadly, unlike senior finance and HR professionals, too few IT professionals seem able to make the grade on the business stage.
Ultimately, any business management team that cannot grasp and exploit IT to the limit is failing the business, its customers, its employees and its shareholders.
Steve Burrows is IT director at commercial laundry and hygiene specialist Vanilla Group
Have your say
Do you agree with Steve Burrows' view about the role of IT within the business? If you have an opinion about this or any article in Computer Weekly, e-mail [email protected]
Vote for your IT greats
Who have been the most influential people in IT in the past 40 years? The greatest organisations? The best hardware and software technologies? As part of Computer Weekly’s 40th anniversary celebrations, we are asking our readers who and what has really made a difference?
Vote now at: www.computerweekly.com/ITgreats