Why IT And Biz Heads Always Think The Other Wants Them To Fail

Written by Todd L. Michaud
April 7th, 2010

Franchisee Columnist Todd Michaud has spent the last 16 years trying to fight IT issues, with the last six years focused on franchisee IT issues. He is currently responsible for IT at Focus Brands (Cinnabon, Carvel, Schlotzsky’s and Moe’s Southwestern Grill).

In setting after setting, IT execs and biz heads quickly run into conflict, with each side certain that the other side is secretly hoping they’ll fail. The root cause of this irrational conflict? The way retailers today set IT priorities.

Late one night I found myself, in a caffeine-induced haze, pondering this part of the “IT Condition” and I was struck with a powerful vision. I am on the bridge of a spaceship. OK, actually it turns out to be a Hollywood studio made of cardboard and Erector Set parts, but I digress. Lights are flashing, sirens are blaring and everyone is looking at me. The guy who is obviously in charge of the situation yells at me, “Todd, we need more power!” I yell back, strangely in a Scottish brogue, “Captain, I’m giving you all she’s got! She can’t take much more of this!”

Then, this “Captain” steps aside and another one takes his place. We repeat the same dialogue. Horrified, I notice that there is a line of hundreds of “Captains” waiting to take their turn. There are hundreds of people who have expectations of me, and I never seem to have enough resources to meet the critical business needs of the moment. I have come to personify Scotty on Star Trek.

I was on a conference call with a group of franchisees recently, providing a status update on several projects. When asked about the status of one particular project, I informed the group that it had not yet been started, primarily due to a lack of IT resources. This project is important, one that is expected to deliver significant savings to the franchisees’ community. I wasn’t surprised when they were unhappy with my answer.

I tried to explain that my project list has dozens of projects of various sizes, supporting four brands and a corporate office. As with many IT shops, close to 70 percent of my resources are allocated to “Keeping The Lights On” activities (supporting our existing systems and technologies). With only 30 percent of resources being applied to new projects, that leaves very few slots to fill.

Let’s face it, franchisees don’t really care if I need to upgrade our corporate E-mail server, roll out Office 2007 to the user community or roll out a new technology to one of the other brands in our portfolio. They want to know what I am doing for them. I don’t blame our franchisees. If I were in their shoes, I would feel the same way.

I have yet to meet an IT leader who doesn’t feel that they need more resources (people and money) to meet the demand. Why is that? How is it that this imbalance of supply and demand is so pervasive? And why doesn’t it eventually balance itself out?

I just read a great book by Susan Cramm, 8 Things We Hate About I.T., and it is the best I have seen on the topic of business-IT relationships. I highly recommend it for both IT leaders and business leaders. I have dog-eared almost every other page.

I want to share with you something from the book about how businesses manage the prioritization of IT-enabled projects as it relates to the needs of the enterprise: “With every company, there are IT leaders struggling to make business leaders love them while pushing the bitter pills of enterprise interests. An IT leader doesn’t want to make your job harder. He understands that pushing you through governance processes, such as demand management, means pushing you away. But he doesn’t have any other choice.”


One Comment | Read Why IT And Biz Heads Always Think The Other Wants Them To Fail

  1. Oh I See (CIO Inverted) Says:

    Reading through the text, there was a sense of deja vu, but to a large extent it belonged to the past.

    Variable capacity can be created with the help of outsourced resources if you have a contract that allows for that. Such resources may not come at deep discount but then if “Business” deems something critical and has come up at the last minute, then they should be willing to pay for it.

    This model works well if “Business” is willing to pay for jumping the line, else the other option for the CIO is to say “Beam me up Scotty” and find the next job.


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