It’s Time IT Is Part of the Business

For years, we’ve been talking about achieving business value from IT. Now it’s time for a change in language and attitude. Instead of referring to “IT and the business,” let’s talk about “IT and other parts of the business.” Why? It boils down to three reasons:

The digital economy is already here

We are in a digital economy and every business uses IT for many of its activities, from delivering great customer experience to implementing core business processes to collaborating globally. It’s even used for things like measuring the status of heavy equipment. It’s clear that IT is not only in the IT unit, but permeates the entire business. Indeed, a CISR survey found that in 2012 only 39% of the average company’s spending on digitization was in the IT budget. Moreover, eventually all of this digitization will be connected. Talking about IT and the business just makes no sense. Worse, it sets up an artificial separation.

Language is powerful and sets expectations

The term “the business” should refer to everyone in the company. After all, they’re creating value or else you’d get rid of them. We hear IT leaders say they want to be viewed, valued, and treated as full business partners. Why then would they define themselves differently with their language? What you say sends messages about you to your colleagues and has positive and negative impacts on your credibility and your career.

Use language to express what you think is the right positioning for you and your colleagues. Phrases that reference “the business” as an organization that doesn’t include IT are the prime culprits here. Examples include: “I need to check with the business.” “The business needs to figure out what it wants.” The implication is that the person making the statement isn’t part of “the business.”

A far more powerful position is to refer to IT and the rest of the business or to specific departments by name. For instance, you could say, “I need to check with product development on that,” or “I’m working with my colleagues in sales and channel management to develop the customer experience metrics.” Changing just a few words moves IT from an order-taker to a proactive business leader. The adjusted language builds credibility, sets expectation, and helps to create a self-fulfilling prophecy of a single-enterprise team that creates business value.

Create business value, not IT services

In the end, action speaks louder than words. Back up the language with actions a business colleague would expect, such as deeply understanding your company’s industry, being up-to-date and competent in your specialty (finance, IT, marketing, etc.), bringing creativity to the table, delivering what you promise, and sharing early signs of trouble. And, of course, expect similar teamwork, transparency, and clarity from people in the other parts of the business.

The job of creating business value is not finished after world-class IT services are delivered and consumed. It’s much more interesting than that. Did we commit as an enterprise to a good operating model? Did we enable our people and use our technology to deploy that operating model effectively? Did we hold each other accountable for dates and costs and did we deliver value that’s measurable in the marketplace? Do those things and there will be no problem convincing anyone about your value.

Admittedly, we’ve been guilty in the past of referring to IT and the business. But no more! Future profitability depends on effective digitization and that’s all about IT. It’s about IT and the other parts of the business working together to create value. So let’s take the pledge: Banish the phrase “IT and the business,” and instead say, “IT and the other parts of the business.” It’s a simple—but powerful—change.

Peter Weill is a senior research scientist and the chair of the MIT Center for Information Systems Research (CISR). David Wright is a consultant and former divisional CIO at Capital One.