Should We Stop Calling it IT? The Case for Business Technology

Now that cloud computing and the consumerization of technology enable non-technical business process owners to address many of their own data needs—and digital technology is finding its way into a vast range of products (i.e., the Internet of Things) —is the term “IT” still useful and accurate?  Or is the abbreviation for “information technology” now too limiting, even counterproductive, in describing this function?

Should IT be renamed Business Technology?That’s the intriguing question raised by Robert Plant in a Harvard Business Review post. Plant writes that IT as a term “is no longer appropriate in a business context” and continues:

“The ‘IT’ label is part of the glass ceiling that has limited business technologists for decades. In too many companies, IT leaders, relegated to their cost centers, are subordinate to other C-level executives. ‘The folks in IT’ are seen as providers of services, such as fixing people’s computers. In other, more forward-looking companies, the situation is radically different. The Great Recession forced these firms’ leaders to recognize technology’s role in driving value.”

Changing Role, New Name?

Plant believes the embrace of cloud computing will free IT professionals from much of their traditional service role and provide them with more of an opportunity to provide strategic value to the business.

While most enterprises are and will continue using some mix of hybrid cloud infrastructure, future investments will increasingly favor cloud deployment. The “traditional” role of IT managing the data center and supporting users won’t disappear, but will become a smaller part of IT…or whatever IT should be named.

As the emphasis on the service role declines, Plant continues, “This new freedom will allow (technology executives) to focus more on their role as enterprise architects, creating alignment between the organization’s technological and business processes in accordance with the company’s business model. They will also be able to focus more on providing governance leadership, ensuring, as Gartner Research defines it, the effective and efficient use of information technology in enabling the organization to reach its goals.”

To better reflect this changing role, Plant recommends renaming IT to business technology (BT), and the position of CIO to CBTO—chief business technology officer. He notes that Forrester Research was an early mover in this area, naming Steve Peltzman their first CBTO in 2011.

Plant also notes that Peltzman is “critical of technology leaders who still refer to themselves in terms of ‘working with the business.’ ‘The problem with that is the minute you refer to them as ‘the business,’ you’re basically signaling that you’re not the business,’ he says” (a point echoed in one of our most popular white papers of all time).

How ERM Helps Shift to BT

While the CIO—or CBTO—will continue to face a range of challenges in transitioning to and supporting the digital enterprise, here are three practical ways to focus more on business priorities and less on infrastructure and support:

  • Business users are turning to shadow IT because IT (BT?) groups can’t provide everything those employees need, in a timely manner. But shadow IT introduces a variety of risks into the organization, from security gaps to wasteful spending to orphaned applications.Instead of fighting shadow IT, manage it by identifying and providing users with a set of tools and applications that empower users while maintaining security, compliance, and manageability.
  • Expose these options to users through a business or enterprise service catalog, using an enterprise request management (ERM) strategy.  The ERM approach combines a single intuitive portal with back-end workflow automation software to provide business users with one centralized interface for requesting any type of business product, service or resource needed to do their jobs.This can include cloud computing service options, consumer-type applications (e.g., secure enterprise chat and file-sharing), and low-code tools.
  • Empower business process owners to build their own “service items” for the business service catalog, with minimal technical assistance, using graphical workflow-mapping tools. For example, no one knows the “request PTO” process better than the process owner in HR, so give him or her the tools to map, test, optimize and deploy this business process to the ERM portal.

Plant concludes that “As the digital era advances, it is increasingly clear that we should no longer be talking about ‘IT’ as a corporate entity. We should be talking about BT—business technology. It’s a term that does a better job of capturing the increasingly symbiotic relationship between the firm and its technology.”

As expectations for functionality, flexibility, speed, and ease-of-use for enterprise apps continue to evolve, and digital technology continues to disrupt business models, demands on tech professionals will only become greater. Cloud computing and self-service can help reduce the resources needed to manage infrastructure and provide support services, enabling IT groups and their leaders to make the transition to BT—if that’s the label they choose.

Next Steps

 

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