By using website you agree to our use of cookies as described in our cookie policy. Learn More


Q&A: New Book Takes Fresh Look at Classic Business/IT Ownership Struggles (Part 1 of 2)

Jill Dyché 's newest book looks at how boundaries between business and IT are changing as IT undergoes its dramatic evolution.

In her new book, The New IT: How Technology Leaders are Enabling Business Strategy in the Digital Age, well-known BI and analytics expert Jill Dyché paints an entertaining picture of the evolution taking place in the classic business-IT relationship. Her interviews with business leaders -- some at large and highly visible companies -- deliver a useful, engaging map of the challenges facing organizations as IT evolves.

Dyché, who cofounded Baseline Consulting and is now VP of best practices for SAS, speaks and writes widely, including as a faculty member with TDWI. She has been thinking, writing, and speaking about business-IT alignment for over two decades in her career as a consultant and advisor to executives across many industries.

Dyché is the author of e-Data (Addison Wesley, 2000), The CRM Handbook (Addison Wesley, 2002), and, with co-author Evan Levy, Customer Data Integration (Wiley, 2007). Her work has been featured in Computerworld, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, and Newsweek media channels.

With the digital revolution well underway, questions about ownership boundaries between business and IT arise more than ever, according to Dyché. In Part 1of this interview, she addresses that issue, and talks about how some of the classic problems faced by IT leaders are changing.

In Part 2 (available next week), she will discuss what true change agents are doing to affect transformation, and the impact on corporate BI and data management efforts.

BI This Week: Your previous three books have focused more on BI, analytics, and data management. This topic -- how IT organizations are undergoing drastic transformation -- is much broader. How did you choose it?

Jill Dyché: It's interesting. I've been working with companies on their BI and data strategies, first at Baseline Consulting and now at SAS, unraveling what have been some knotty issues around driving value through BI and data. Invariably during presentations and client workshops, people asked the same question: "Who should own that?"

It's uncanny. It doesn't matter whether we were talking about big data, advanced analytics, dashboards, or social media. Everybody wants to understand the span of control, and their organization's role.

Questions about ownership boundaries between business and IT are a constant, irrespective of the effort on the table. Now, with the digital revolution underway, these questions are coming up more than ever before.

You've taught a full-day TDWI workshop entitled BI from Both Sides: Aligning Business and IT for 15 years. In the book, you discuss how your experiences with evolving workshop attendance in particular inspired the book. In what way?

In the early days, BI from Both Sides was attended by DBAs, SQL programmers, dashboard designers, and a smattering of project managers. Slowly, business people started showing up. I'd even get people who worked for the same company but in different departments attend the workshop together. They represented business and IT departments, and were looking to collaborate effectively. In the past several years I've even had CMOs and CFOs show up!

What determines whether business and IT departments can collaborate effectively?

One thing I've learned working with clients across industries and market segments is that people's chances for successful, cross-functional collaboration are directly proportional to the clarity of their leadership. I started to understand that—absent clear organizational design and crisp metrics—these collaborations were fraught.

That also started me thinking about the role that corporate strategy plays. We find that the extent to which IT teams can link their delivery back to corporate goals and objectives is the extent to which they gain visibility and executive buy-in, and not to put too fine a point on it, secure funding!

One of the leaders I profile in the book is Michael Smith, the CIO of Mylan, a life sciences company. Smith joined Mylan from Nike, where he was a top IT executive. He talks about communicating how the IT organization can align with the company's strategic goals, describing how he created an IT vision in his first 30 days: "We essentially created a one-page 'house' structure. This resonated amazingly well with executives. I could tie all of our work back to my strategy house. We rolled it out more broadly in a video to the entire company. Often IT strategy stays within a small group at a company, but not here."

At Baseline, we offered this service. We called it "Strategy on a Page." It was a simple way to deconstruct corporate strategy down to its essential BI and analysis components. It worked wonders for teams struggling to get management support. I included some awesome examples of Strategy on a Page in the book.

Are most of the problems between business and IT due to a lack of effective leadership, then?

Partly. You know the saying that "the fish rots from the head," right? Well, sometimes teams are only as effective as their understanding of the end-game, and communicating the desired outcome is one of a leader's core responsibilities.

For instance, a VP of marketing can't communicate her success metrics for digital content if she doesn't have a vision for how that content will be used, and how it will increase sales and enhance her company's brand. Likewise, a CIO can't improve IT's reputation if the entire organization allows lines of business to simply place orders for new applications and smart phones.

Is that one reason behind the rise of so-called "shadow IT," a phenomenon that you discuss extensively in your book?

Yes. Shadow IT is one of the outcomes of the IT-business divide, but it's also the causes of that divide. IT leaders are spending more time trying to defend themselves against business-owned IT initiatives than they are supporting those initiatives in the right way. They dig in their heels rather than trying to add value. This is ill-advised.

Is there a way to fix shadow IT? Can you get rid of it?

You might not want to. It's up to leaders in both business and IT to decide who they want to be. The book offers six "archetypes" for IT: Tactical, Order-Taking, Aligning, Data Provisioning, Brokering, and IT Everywhere. Each of these archetypes classifies a certain set of organizational behaviors and habits. Some are more centralized than others. Depending on which archetype your IT department falls into, shadow IT can either be anathema or inevitable.

Can an IT leader change the organization's IT type or are they stuck with it?

You don't have to be stuck. The book offers readers a series of self-assessments to determine where they are now and where they would like to end up. A lot of it is establishing a vision for the future that the company culture can support -- and then putting the steps in place to get there.

That's the hard part. It's one thing to know where you are and where you want to be, but it's another thing to be able to lay out the road map between those two points -- and to launch a deliberate effort to bridge the "as-is" with the "to-be." Many leaders are stuck simply because they don't know how to go about affecting change. That's why I included profiles of various leaders in "The New IT." Readers can see what change actually looks like, and the work involved in IT transformation.

One thing I particularly enjoyed about the book was the many real-world stories of change told by the executives you spoke with. How did you choose them, and what did they have in common?

It was interesting. I was determined to get a cross-section of C-level executives in the book, and to highlight ways they'd transformed IT. I interviewed leaders from across industries, companies as diverse as Medtronic, Comerica Bank, Brooks Brothers, Toyota, and Swedish Health. And it wasn't just CIOs—it was CFOs and CTOs and chief digital officers. Anyone with a stake in how technology could drive disruptive change was fair game.

At first I thought I could come up with common traits that all these leaders shared, but the more I talked to them -- and I interviewed more people than I ultimately included in the book -- the more I realized that the question wasn't "What type of leader are you?" but rather, "What type of organization are you leading, and what should it look like moving forward?"

TDWI Membership

Get immediate access to training discounts, video library, research, and more.

Find the right level of Membership for you.