Sport talk: turning the IT-business relationship around

If IT and management are to have a sporting chance of doing business together they must make like sports jocks and communicate - continually

Delivering value to business through ICT continues to be a contentious topic. Consultant Craig Pattison turns this around to pose a more challenging question: “What is your best defence against revenue, customer and reputation loss from IT failure?”

Not performing in this respect is “the number one fear of IT managers”, he says.

The answer, he told to a recent well-attended Computer Society meeting, lies in establishing a common vocabulary and agreed rules, so that business and IT personnel can have coherent conversations.

Communication between the two departments tends not to be very clear, with each side often left uninformed about the other’s needs and the constraints under which they operate.

The plea from IT to management, indeed to the business, can be simply phrased as “I need your help to help me help you,” Pattison says.

As Founding President of the itSMF (IT System Management Forum) New Zealand chapter, Pattison has a major role to play in the evolution of standards for IT-related service management

Internationally, itSMF is one of the chief moving forces behind the ITIL framework. The prospective IT service standard, ISO/IEC 20000, is the only ISO standard to be driven worldwide from New Zealand.

Pattison has an unconventional way of delivering his message, using plenty of audience participation. He got his NZCS audience to stand side-by-side in pairs and to energetically pump their clasped hands back and forth, resting alternately on each other’s hips. This represented the typical to-and-fro of communication between management and IT. Some members claimed to have managed 50 back-and-forth motions in the bare minute allowed.

Fast pumping, however, is not the point, says Pattison. When a pair can stand side-by-side, clasping hands, with both resting permanently on a hip of both parties, then we have a symbol of effective, continuous IT-business communication, he says.

Sporting metaphors can also be adopted to get IT and management speaking a common language, says Pattison.

In rugby union, players in different positions have their particular strengths but are allowed to play in all parts of the field. In netball, players are restricted to a particular section of the court, a rule that parallels the staff policies in certain organisations and may need to be broken down. Alternatively, a rugby-type organisation might need more rules.

Other such comparisons, according to Pattison, provide business lessons, such as the role of the umpire and the function of the scoreboard in cricket, and the principle of some players backing others up in areas where they are weak.

Pattison gave his audience a list of questions to ask business managers, such as: “What are you looking for from the IT group?” And, “Are you getting what you want?” And, “What would you like to see in another three, six and 12 months”?

Other questions might include: “Are we seen as a contribution to the bottom line or an expense item?” And, “Am I the final signatory on any IT change?” Plus, “As CIO, why don’t I report directly to the CEO and other CxOs?”

Answers to such questions should give IT managers a golden opportunity, he says.

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