Who do your IT people work for?

I recently had the pleasure of spending an hour with Lee Bryant the co-founder of social software consulting company Headshift. The company has been going for five years and has notched …

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6th January 2008 at 10:27 am

I recently had the pleasure of spending an hour with Lee Bryant the co-founder of social software consulting company Headshift. The company has been going for five years and has notched up some significant successes in companies that are looking to improve some of their business processes. Users are usually those engaged in knowledge-intensive activities or those who need good peripheral awareness of what’s going on in their world. The company has had great success with law firms and consultancies, for example.

Headshift is usually approached by someone with ‘knowledge’, ‘library’ or ‘communications’ in their job title, rather than ‘IT’. When a user department approaches the company, they want to discuss the problem they’re trying to solve. Pilot solutions are implemented then tweaked rapidly and collaboratively.

When everyone’s happy, it’s time to go to the IT department. And this is where the fun begins. Some IT people are forward looking and open to new ways in which they can support the business. Others erect barriers, often based on their traditional approach to doing things. “We’re a Microsoft shop” or “Provide a detailed functional specification so that we can decide whether to procure or develop in house”.

You can understand where they’re coming from. They have stable (hopefully) systems in place that they don’t want to expose to risk. They understand the technology they use and would prefer more of the same. But most of them do not think in business terms. They frame solutions in the context of the supplier or suppliers they’re wedded to. And these suppliers, because they’re large, prefer to observe new opportunities rather than rush in. This can create a gap between what they offer and what their customers want.

No doubt major software vendors will get there in the end and, to their credit, vendors like IBM and Microsoft are now finding ways of working with third party suppliers of the missing bits of functionality.

The issue for companies, though, concerns where their IT folk’s first loyalty lies and what drives their decisions. Try asking them. If they talk in terms of vendors or software products before discussing the company’s mission or objectives, then I suggest it’s time for a heart to heart.

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David Tebbutt is an award-winning columnist and feature writer who specialises on the subject of using software and technology to increase business productivity. He's an analyst with Freeform Dynamics but, in previous lives, wrote for Director magazine, Real Business and was also editor of Personal Computer World. http://freeformdynamics.com

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