Teaching Tech - Page 1

Jan 10, 2007

Allen Bernard

For a long time now, CIOs have been told they have to learn the business if they want to be successful both in their jobs and in applying the right technologies their companies need to succeed.

But what about the business folks? Isn't there some responsibility on their shoulders to learn as much as they can about IT: What it can do, what it can't, and what it is doing — at least from a business perspective?

Laurie Orlov, a former CIO and now a VP and research director at Forrester, thinks so.

"There's so much opportunity to use technology more intelligently than there was six or seven years ago, that now it truly is very sad that the business people don't understand it," said Orlov.

What Orlov is proposing (and Forrester is beginning to market through its consulting arm) is setting up formal gatherings of line-of-business executives, curriculum in hand, to teach them what IT is all about today. This isn't the same as training them how to use their new Blackberrys but a way to communicate, for example, what goes into supporting all those new whiz-bang wireless features.

What gets taught is very company specific, but basic curriculums could include things like IT terminology; managing expectations about project quality; IT's role in business processes (why service-orientated architecture (SOA) is so important these days, for example); IT projects in the pipeline; and key application backbone systems, to name few.

The purpose of these classes is two-fold: first, educate those that are responsible for the use of technology in their lines of business, and the second, if all goes well, is to bring IT and the business closer together enabling better IT/business alignment.

While a little education alone won't solve this ever-present problem, said Dan Gingras, a partner at Tatum, LLC., education and communication are positive steps in the right direction. IT/business alignment is really a governance issue: good governance, good IT/business alignment; bad or non-existent governance, poor IT/business alignment.

"I'm not arguing against it. I think it's a great idea," said Gingras. "But I don't think it solves the problem. It's valuable. To solve the problem you have to put in governance structures to ensure continual alignment and that's not an event, that's a process."

One of the big problems, however, will be getting business people through the door. Having business folks lining up to learn about IT is not an experience most CIOs can relate to. To ensure participation, the classes would have to made mandatory. But, once business folks come to understand just how pervasive technology is in their jobs, Orlov believes the sessions will be very productive.

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