Business Technology vs. Information Technology

By Michael Fillios

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     Contestant: I’ll take technology roles for $200, please.

Host: The title given to someone who is responsible for creating business value that leverages technology.

Contestant: What is a business technologist?

Host: Correct!

Well, maybe you wouldn’t have placed a big wager on this Final Jeopardy question, but you might be surprised if you are part of the growing number of business technology professionals in the marketplace. As it turns out, the simple search of “business technology” on Google returns over 21 million results!

Over the years, I have seen a growing trend by companies, researchers, vendors, academics and the media in adopting a different message supporting the usage of the word “business” in front of the word technology, instead of “information”. But how many are simply trying to keep pace with the market and how many are truly adjusting their business models to address this growing trend? Lets take a closer look.

The definition of business technology or BT is evolving and although a standard definition does not exist, several organizations, including the BTM Institute, set forth the definition below:

“Business Technology is the application of IT to deliver a business capability or automate a business operation. Business technology can be thought of as the result of configuring, implementing, applying, and using IT to produce a business result. Business technology investments and business technology capabilities are investments related to the creation, use, and maintenance of business technology.

Since 1999, I have met with IT executives and managers from over 300 organizations around the world to better understand their challenges, motivations, frustrations and goals. In almost all interactions, these folks describe what they do in terms of enabling the business to achieve a particular objective such as process improvements, cost reductions, etc.

Unfortunately, this is often not the description given by their business counterparts. On the surface, this could be dismissed in a way that describes the tenuous relationship between sales and marketing or engineering and finance. On the other hand, if IT were delivering on the business value of technology to organizations, alignment with the business would no longer be on the Top 3 priorities list every year.

So, how do we change what’s wrong with this picture?

With the growing pervasiveness of technology over the past decade, there are few scenarios whereby technology is not being leveraged to enable the business. One very recent example of this convergence was a live Web broadcast hosted by Oprah Winfrey that attracted viewers from around the world. According to Harpo Productions, the webcast was one of the largest single online events in the history of the Internet. More than 500,000 people simultaneously logged on to watch Oprah Winfrey and Eckhart Tolle live, resulting in 242 Gbps of information moving through the Internet.

Although some users had experienced technical difficulties, Harpo further explained, “that interactive Internet broadcasting to a mass audience is still an emerging medium, and we're proud to have been pioneers in pushing the industry forward.” The webcast was also made available to download via iTunes.

Perhaps this conveys the fact that “business is technology and technology is business." Clearly this is much more than a semantic relationship. The challenge for organizations in the future will not be the based on the availability of technology, but rather on the management and utilization of the technology to drive business advantage.

As the lines between business and technology continue to converge, you have to think about the preparedness of the next generation business technology leaders and whether they are equipped to effectively manage the complexities of business technology. Traditional academic institutions have been slow in moving to fuse curriculums resulting in a short supply of well-rounded graduates from computer science programs. In some instances, privately held academic institutions such as the University of Phoenix, and the Thunderbird School of Global Management have been able to adjust their curriculums more easily to address this growing demand.

Many CIO’s when asked about their labor force, raise significant concerns about the shortage of skilled IT professionals such as software engineers, however, I believe the shortage has much more of an impact from a management perspective. Given the increase in technology spend which can be as high as 40 to 50 percent in some industry sectors, about one-third of CIO’s (and this number is increasing), continue to report to the CFO. This reporting relationship will further demand a certain level of financial savvy, which is typically not a strong attribute of today’s technology managers.

As we look towards the next five to ten years, more organizations will begin to feel the impact of business and technology convergence. We’ve already begun to see some CEOs viewing the business technology function as a legitimate partner in driving revenue, profit, and market share, but there is still a ways to go.

The next question may be, “How long it took for businesses to realize the full value of technology?”

I can’t wait for that answer.

Michael Fillios has been at the intersection of business and technology for 20 years. As an expert in business technology management, he has led executives around the world in advancing their maturity in managing business and technology together. He is the managing director of BTM Global 2000, a provider of solutions that help organizations improve the business value of technology.