IT's Bad Reputation

By Eric Chabrow

When it comes to the efficient flow of business, many IT organizations are seen as part of the problem instead of part of the solution.

None other than Gary Hamel, arguably the world's preeminent authority of management strategy, cautions against turning to the IT department for help on some initiatives: "When you want to run a quick experiment, I tell people don't go through the IT division because they are just going to tell you "no," and it's going to take forever to get it done." It's hard to change that image when some IT managers come across like the stereotypical bureaucrats, shuffling paper behind the counter at the DMV rather than the enablers of innovation who they are.

We all know many IT professionals who spur innovation within their companies, but the inconvenient truth for some is that they must change their ways of managing if they want to be leaders in the rapidly changing enterprise of the 21st century. In the future talent, not title, matters.

In an interview with my colleague Allan Alter (See "Re-Imagining Management"), Hamel foresees critical business decisions being made by the "wisdom of the crowd" and not by a handful of executives. Decision-making will be rendered by the workers in the trenches, those with the information and know-how. In fact, it's happening now, and you needn't look any further than the ranks of the IT organization.

Since the beginning of the decade, the number of IT managers has soared by 85 percent, according to government figures. Don't think of managers as the traditional hierarchical boss; many of these new managers don't manage many people, if any at all, but direct processes and relationships inside and outside the company. In this Internet age, decisions must be made quickly for businesses to compete, and employees with the information are making those decisions.

Even non-managerial employees must know how to make business decisions. A study by the Society for Information Management shows the three skills sought by employers for midlevel IT positions—not all carrying managerial titles—involve managerial proficiencies: planning, budgeting and schedule; project leadership; and project risk management. Homa Bahrami, an organizational behaviorist at the University of California at Berkeley, sees the shift toward the empowered employee who makes key business decisions as "the true essence of the knowledge worker: somebody who does the thinking and the doing."

CIOs must create an environment where the empowered worker can thrive. They also must educate their corporate colleagues on how Web 2.0 technologies are disrupting the way companies operate. "The challenge for IT people," Hamel says, "is to think about how the new technology of the Web—how things like tagging, social networks. folksonomies, wikis—can be used to transform the work of management." Doing so will get rid of IT's roadblock rep for good.

This article was originally published on 09-13-2007