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The onus is on IT to improve perceptions around IT culture

Improving IT culture starts by communicating often with different departments and marketing their services to their end users.

Every company relies on an IT department to conduct business today, but somewhere along the line, IT teams became known as the group that always says "no" to new innovations and new applications. Many enterprise employees perceive IT culture as resistant to change and innovation and the onus is on IT teams to change that, said Romi Mahajan, president of private marketing and strategy advisory firm, KKM Group during his IT culture panel at Interop 2014 in Las Vegas.

"The culture surrounding how IT and the rest of the business relates to one another is becoming increasingly divided," said panel member Vivek Bhaskaran, founder and executive chairman of web-based research technology company, Ideascale & Survey Analytics. "We still have way too many companies that view IT as a set of administrative tasks that they are spending way too much of their budgets on."

IT is running the only shop in the world where customers come asking for some of this and that, but by the way, don't have any money.

Jack Bishof,
director of strategic services for EMEA, Apptio

"IT is running the only shop in the world where customers come asking for some of this and that, but by the way, don't have any money," said Jack Bishof, director of strategic services for Europe, the Middle East and Africa for technology business management firm Apptio.

The disconnect between these perceptions and what departments think IT is in the business of, can stand in the way of innovation, Bishof said. "When I sit in the room with IT teams and other departments within the same company, they have conversations that they've never had before and I'm always mystified why they haven't -- IT assumes that businesses know things they don't and vice versa," he said.

IT culture: Disconnect between IT and the rest of the enterprise

"IT has the reputation of being either the creator or the destroyer -- it's a perception issue," Bhaskaran said. Within a typical enterprise, IT organizations are often running up against budget and resource restrictions and have to be more selective about which projects are feasible, he said. They often have to say no.

"The act of listening has not been very established [within IT teams] and that's an important part of any human interaction," Bhaskaran said. "If [employees] always get just a 'no' from IT, they are going to stop asking -- they might feel like IT doesn't care."

IT teams have to better market themselves and their services, but before that can happen, IT professionals need to understand why these incorrect perceptions have been perpetuated in the first place, KKM's Mahajan said. One reason that IT teams are considered "destroyers" more often than not, is the fact that the "reasons for no" are not often provided to business units or individual employees filing helpdesk tickets or requests.

"IT says 'yes' about 1,000 times a day, but that 'yes' is silent -- it's the reason we are using email and can log in to work from home. It's the 'no' that is always the loudest," he said.

Improving front office and IT culture

While IT shouldn't be the only team working on closing the gap and overcoming communication issues with the other departments within their organizations, IT has to lead the change, Mahajan said.

IT organizations, just like any other department, are responsible for marketing themselves better. "We need to step up [and] we need to talk about our innovative ideas for transforming the businesses we are in," said Dharmesh Godha, chief technology officer of technology services and marketing for Advaiya.

IT professionals too often "hide behind their computers," instead of going out in the business to see what is needed. While promoting themselves and their services may sound like a tough challenge for a stereotypically "introverted" department, IT professionals can start by reaching out to their colleagues informally to better understand what each department is responsible for and how IT can help get them there, Mahajan said.

"Start that buyer-seller dialogue -- you might think you have it, but you probably aren't having it as often as you should be," Apptio's Bishof said. This dialogue can start between IT and a trusted business unit that could serve as an advocate, allowing IT to have more insight into what users and CIOs think they should place more of an emphasis on, he said.

Taking a weekend to run a hackathon, in which the IT team can come up with new business ideas can also improve IT's focus and even interest from other lines of business, Advaiya's Godha said.

"Start generating interest outside of IT," he said. "We need to slowly change [IT] culture and we can't expect miracles overnight, but don't lose steam, either."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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You've hit on some of the key messages of frameworks like ITIL. IT has to partner with and support the business...

One of the underpinnings of IT "marketing" itself to the business is a catalog of services that it thinks the business wants or needs, which is the province of ITIL Service Strategy processes. I've been in far too many environments where that doesn't exist at all, and it leads to a lot of miscommunication and mis-perception on both sides. At the same time, that catalog/portfolio and strategy have to react to changing customer needs/desires, or IT will become the "no" people again.

At the same time, having IT all speak the same language the same way to the business is critically important. Internal silos within IT that speak different languages and have different (sometimes competing) goals need to act together to provide services. A business-facing IT silo that makes promises without bringing the infrastructure silo into the conversation can fail in unpredictable ways, and vice versa.

The whole company (and beyond in a business 2.0 sense) has to act as a system with all groups supporting and communicating with each other. Anything else is suboptimized (to use a Deming-ism) and probably doomed to failure.