By Ara C. Trembly Ask just about anyone about the decades-long misalignment between business and IT in most companies, and you’ll get a list of complaints, horror stories and unimplemented solutions. Everyone agrees that something should be done about it, but the key question is: Who should do it? I bring this up because I have just returned from the IDMAconference, where I spoke on a panel that took up the very question of how to solve the business/IT version of the Hatfields vs. the McCoys. What are we to do about business executives who view IT folks as “propeller-head geeks,” and IT workers who see business folks as “ill-informed Luddites”? Some panelists and audience members called for management to do a little social engineering in order to make everyone play nicely. Your trusty blogger, meanwhile, was the lone voice crying in the wilderness in favor of solutions that focus on individual accountability and action. It reminds one of the current political debates in our country over big government vs. small government, but I digress ... My position was, and still is, that the business/IT rift is a relational problem, not a managerial problem. And for that reason, managerial manipulations—even those aimed at forging better relationships—generally fall flat. I spoke about management efforts to bring the groups together in a quasi-social setting—say around sandwiches and drinks. Such events, I pointed out to many nodding heads in the audience, often end up looking like the sixth grade dance—the boys huddled on one side of the room, and the girls on the other side, with very little dancing. That, however, is to be expected. Business executives hold the power to make decisions, but they are for the most part mystified at the magical incantations and actions that produce IT results. As humans, we tend to fear what we don’t understand, so the business folks are slightly intimidated and jealous of the IT practitioners. IT people, on the other hand, are jealous of the sheer power wielded over them by business people who just don’t get IT. Any way you look at it, this is not a recipe for success. My suggestion is that everyone—both business and IT folks—needs to do something to cultivate cross-border relationships on a personal level. If you’re a businessperson, get one of your IT people to come to your house for dinner. While there, maybe he can take a look at your balky home computer system at the same time, and offer some expert advice. If you’re an IT guy with a yen to start your own side business, try cozying up to a business executive who knows a thing or two about running a business. Either way, it could be the start of a great relationship. In the end, if you cultivate personal relationships based on mutual need and respect, you will have broken down the barriers that lead to in-house problems. It’s a lot easier to tackle a joint IT/business project with your fishing buddy than it is to try to leverage a forced relationship with a “stranger” in order to get the project done. The business/IT rift is not management’s responsibility, because the personal emotions that fuel that rift are not management’s responsibility. We are each called to be accountable for our actions, and that includes our actions in the workplace. Take a geek/suit to lunch today!

This article can also be found at InsuranceNetworking.com. 

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