The debate rages on: Should IT be involved in the business side of social media? or are they just support?

The conversation took a sudden turn in the comments of my recent post: ” The Challenges of Social Media in the Enterprise, why Business and IT need to align” I was attempting to highlights the danger of IT being separated from the business. (Please read this post to get context)

I really enjoy the conversation points, and they deserved to be highlighted then here, because this is a real world issue we are all dealing with. To be fair, there are voices from the web strategists on the business side, folks from IT, IT consultants, IT vendors, and there is even at least one CEO I know of that chimed in.

Here’s the highlights from the comments in the previous post:

IT should manage infrastructure only
Ian Laurie:

“Don’t you think IT has needed to align with business for a long, long time? I’ve seen search marketing campaigns, web site launches, PR initiatives and more derailed by stubborn or overworked IT folks.”

The truth is that, in most cases, IT should be managing infrastructure, not web sites. The smart marketer or strategist puts their site somewhere where they can control it, or gets a dedicated IT resource, or screams until the do.”

IT may not want to evolve
Jennifer agrees with Ian (and she’s posted about it on her blog):

“I want to believe that joining together is an option and I always offer them the opportunity to be involved, but at the end of day they either don’t want to be involved, refuse to open their minds to new thinking, or just don’t get it. The IT departments I’ve worked with just aren’t ready to take on websites because they’re still trying to get infrastructure right, so in that sense I have to agree with Ian”

IT is Business Support
In the comments, Jake McKee poses some very strong questions about roles:

“As mentioned above, IT (as a general “thing”) is primarily responsible for infrastructure. They’re the group that keeps the phones on, the internal mail servers functioning, and the firewall secure. They’re not, by default, business support. The same group of people dealing with firewalls shouldn’t be be designing Web sites and activities. The marketing people aren’t calculating production line times in their downtime; the in-house lawyers aren’t taking customers service calls between writing briefs. Why do we expect something different from IT?”

IT not resourced for this change; third parties may be needed
Dennis McDonald, an experienced IT consultant relates from his perspective:

“In many large companies it is precisely because corporate IT departments spend so much of their time and money maintaining infrastructure technologies that they are shortchanged when it comes to being funded with enough staff to support agile and business-oriented responses to rapidly changing business needs….

…It’s a vicious circle that in some companies has led to so much IT outsourcing that providing support for new technologies can’t happen without the involvement of outside contractors.”

From the IT perspective: “we think bigger, do you?”

Nik Butler shares from the perspective of the IT pros:

“First of all IT Departments, Heck IT any Support guys dont like clients carrying out random acts of software delivery and implementation because its the very same IT guys who are reached for when it stops working or wont share or wont export or wont do a whole host of things which werent considered when the “New and Shiny” product is implemented.”

IT: No lust here, business doesn’t see full costs

Wade Rocket acknowledges the desires of IT:

“Your typical IT guy does not “lust” to work on the sweet new Web site you’ve been inspired to create. He just wants to be sure that nothing awful is going to happen that will require him to sweat over the damn thing for hours (or days).”

One solution: develop a corporate plan, but who owns it?
Josh Maher gets strategic and suggests a sensible plan, but the ownership still isn’t clear:

“Any organization actually looking to deploy social media technology needs to have the IT department support them. Not doing so would be a waste of time, money, and resources. If you can’t get the support than you are selling the wrong people.

Step 1. develop social media concept
Step 2. implement pilot on your own time
Step 3. sell your management on the idea
Step 4. leverage you management buy-in to develop corporate strategy
Step 5. use corporate strategy to get funding and prioritization for IT
Step 6. bring project to IT for company wide implementation”

Len also draws upon his experience in his day job and how he works with his IT department, a must read coming from a technologist at a very large IT company.

In the end, what really matters? Is that business is moving forward.

Culture and relationships will vary in every company, on one hand if IT is too stubborn to provide or support social computing tools…the business will adopt them on their own, and there’s little IT alone can do about it. Banning the tools won’t work, especially if they involve customer communications.

On the other hand, if social media tools aren’t going away, IT has an opportunity to step forward and lead the tool selection and deployment for the business, these tools impact every business unit. My new CEO told me that IT should be renamed “Business Technology” and I think he’s right.

I hope I’ve represented the select quotes well, I spent at least 30 minutes reading and pulling this content together. For what it’s worth, I’ve worked in both IT and on the Business side of web projects.

So where does IT start and stop? Do they have a role here? What’s at stake for them not to step up to the adoption of social media by the business units?

  • As others have said, it’s about resourcing. IT is typically under(or not at all) resourced in Product Management. A web 1.0 site is a communications channel – fine, deploy and manage. A web 2.0 deployment is a product. Until IT is re-born and staffed for building/innovating user facing product experiences, this will continue to be a problem. I don’t think my view is either pro or con IT, it’s about the choices an organization makes to staff and resource the function. As a business leader on social media projects, I don’t care who builds (IT, Product org or vend) as long as they are resourced appropriately to deliver. I’d add that in large (maybe small too) IT environments, IT is extremely burdened with operational overhead, making IT inherently less nimble than traditional product development functions. Again, this isn’t about IT, this is a choice organizations have made.


  • >So where does IT start and stop?

    IT, is a label used in many ways, perhaps too many. IT as a function or a practice area, like accounting, involves processes and skills and domain knowledge. IT as a organizational unit is going to vary widely; IT an a hardware manufacturing company with 300 people will be different than IT at a law firm with 50 lawyers will be different than IT at a global financial institution with 130,000.

    A business unit doesn’t say “That’s an Accounting issue.” when someone starts talking about a contract or an invoice. And just as accounting evolved, and continues to evolve, so will IT. A generation from now, CIOs will likely not exist, just as VPs of Electricity went away as it because pervasive, ubiuitous, and a utility that could be easily managed as part of everyday business.

  • Some IT pros may disagree that CIOs may not exist, their argument suggests that IT becomes more of a business unit, not as raw support.

  • “Some IT pros may disagree…”

    Yes, but if you look at the IT trades, you’ll see that this notion of the CIO role going away (or, more likely, turning into something different) is an active discussion in those circles.

    One benefit of your new role is that you’re in a position to talk to people who are researching these trends from other functional perspectives. Somebody at Forrester must be thinking about social computing with an IT hat on, right?

  • Justin Kestelyn

    100% disagree. Companies that consider IT a “utility” are at a considerable disadvantage to those that consider it a critical business function.

    Unlike electricity, IT is the origin of business-critical information that can be used for competitive advantage. Wal-Mart, e.g., has perfected this approach into a science.

  • Nathan

    oh yes, Oliver Young (and others) is focusing on Enterprise 2.0, see his profile:

  • DJHowatt

    There seems to be violent consensus here. Don’t we all agree that IT is a group focused on the computer technology within a company? Whether IT chooses to help or hamper social media is more *how* they execute their charter. Whether there is a CIO, or another name for IT, or a utility/information orientation, there remains a group that manages the technology. Jeremiah’s original premise was around whether this group should *align* with the business — not “own” or “manage” or “obstruct”: “align”.

    Well, what other answer is there besides “Yes”? Businesses have a growing need to embrace social media, and that requires technology. IT manages that technology and so *should* align with that business need. Do they always support and enable social media? No. Sometimes because they have a decentralized charter that encourages business units to make technology selections. Sometimes because they view social media technology as not “mission critical”. Sometimes because they just think it’s silly. No matter. IT should align with business needs — every group within a business must align to business needs. Which reminds, me: I’d better get back to work.

  • Brilliant as always DJ, I always enjoy every morsel you write.

    You’re right, with a glowing answer “yes”, the challenge is the devil is in the details. Just because we should doesn’t mean we will.

    Now get back to work!

  • I think it is important to evolve our definition of web 2.0 beyond “a communications channel” for external marketing. It is a way for businesses to collaborate internally and externally. It goes beyond benefits to just marketing- but benefits the entire way a company drives collaboration, productivity and communication. IT continuously faces the challenge of balancing the maintanence of infrastructure with evaluating & identifying key emerging technologies that are critical to support the business. If IT fails to understand the connection between their work and the business- Houston we have a problem.

    We have to be realistic. IT may not always have solutions in place as quickly as marketeers would like. Budgets, testing, validation, security risk assessments need to occur. However, IT should enable an environment of innovation and customer orientation. IT needs to have a team that is looking at this type of technologies and get them out from under people’s desk (the rogue apps). At the same, a “Sharenet” concept should be set up that allows internal business stakeholders to identify new apps and receive a “blessing” to implement in a one-off fashion without the need for significant IT resources- for that moment. This can actually help companies try new things before committing to company wide or even a pilot investment. Lessons learned from going out of house can actually lead some IT shops to research, analyze and better recommend big investments with less risky ROI and security risks. Web 2.0 is also sparking real reasons for IT shops to consider upgrading hardware that have new built in management and other capabilities so companies are better suited to bring more Enterprise 2.0 tools in-house faster and support business better.

  • >>Companies that consider IT a “utility” are at a considerable disadvantage to those that consider it a critical business function.

    Only if considering something as a utility is considered in a negative context and outside the realm of innovation. As we’ve seen in the past year or so, the issue of power consumption in the data center, undeniably a question of utility of energy provision and consumption, is a fertile bed for innovation, competitive advantage, both in terms of cost management as well as in terms of reputational position.

    My point was, the boundary between IT and business is variable, movable, and permeable, and will continue to be. As others suggest, it’s less important to debate the specific nature of the boundary, though somewhat useful within a given organization, but more important to have useful, common attitudes and approaches to IT, and efficient mechanisms for utilizing it to support the business. Whether an social media is a function of IT, the business, or both, is less important than agreement on how to use a tool to meet business needs and opportunities while managing risk and cost. AS a result, like others, I’ll say Yes, and/or Duh, that IT and business need to be aligned. Those enterprises that don’t have this, in any of the various ways this could be manifested, will lose out to those that do.

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  • Marketing executives are still trying to justify Social Media benefits. Business unit leaders are viewing social media as unproductive hours spent by workforce. This is a new paradigm and will take time to digest by non-IT folks.

    IT needs to take on the responsibility to drive social media proliferation with the organization till business models mature to demonstrate tagible value/ROI and justify pervasive adoption.

  • IT should be involved in the business side due to social media trend nowadays.

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