What Business is IT In, Anyway?

Bernard Golden as stating “IT is in the business of infrastructure management”

I couldn’t disagree more strongly. As a service provider to corporations, IT should be in the business of helping employees accomplish their “jobs to be done”. Managing infrastructure may be a necessary activity towards that end, but it is not “the business which IT is in”.

To properly understand IT’s true purpose, we should start by questioning the very title “Information Technology”. We are long past the days where IT’s primary purpose was the delivery of “Management Information”. Now, companies can’t even really exist without digital technology. People can’t answer the phone, send messages to each other, produce documents, listen to the marketplace, or deliver products without using PC’s, laptops, mobile devices, email, VoIP, the web, and social media. IT is responsible for providing the “digital substrate” that underlies all corporate activity.

Netflix uses the term “Employee Technology” instead of “Information Technology”. This nomenclature is a step in the right direction. It still, though, implies separation between internally and externally facing technologies. What is the “job to be done” of every single Netflix employee? To maximize shareholder value by making it convenient and pleasurable for consumers to watch movies and TV shows. That mission applies whether one is developing the next Netflix client player for the Tivo platform, or preparing the quarterly SEC filing.

Furthermore, in a service economy, vendors and customers co-create value together. A complete product value stream incorporates, not just delivery, but also usage. IT must concern itself with customer jobs-to-be-done such as getting support, providing feedback, integrating services into larger processes, and so on. That’s not to mention the purpose that brought them to the vendor in the first place: in Netflix’ case, the desire to watch a movie. In order to make satisfying customer experiences possible, IT (along with the rest of the corporation) needs to address the entire spectrum of employee and user activities that contribute to the ongoing relationship between the customer and the service provider.

What about cloud computing and the Consumerization of IT? Do they render centralized corporate IT obsolete? Should the IT function wither and die altogether, or dissolve into business units? If it turns out to be feasible for non-technical people to manage cloud services unchaperoned, then IT can and should disappear. In that case, the digital enablement onus will fall on the cloud vendor. If not, then IT’s role will evolve into one of guidance and support. Instead of creating digital platforms, IT will help business units assemble and manage them. The need to understand co-creative value streams will remain. IT can play an important role by helping business units understand and implement that perspective.

In conclusion, I must confess that I’ve failed to come up with a better name than “Information Technology”. “Digital Enablement” is vague, and sounds a little stuffy. I welcome any better ideas. Whatever we call IT, though, and whoever provides it, I believe its true purpose is nothing less than creating and supporting end-to-end, top-to-bottom, digital platforms that enable corporations to co-create service value through ongoing, mutual relationships with their customers.

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