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How intra-IT relations drive departmental success

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Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been considering a topic which is close to our hearts, but which is not often discussed (not online, anyway) – that of the relationship between IT professionals in development and operations roles.

It’s a tricky one to research, not only because of the self-selecting nature of web-based surveys and polls (only those who have an interest will respond), but also because it is clearly an emotive topic, which may attract its fair share of cynics. Once bitten, twice as likely to respond to a survey, as it were.

All the same, we have been able to glean some interesting gen from the poll we put up earlier this week - not least because we included an innocuous question about how IT is viewed by business users, which we then used to cut the results. On the upside, responses to this question were liberally spread across the segments of ‘An important contributor of business value’ (40 per cent), ‘A positive enabler of operational efficiency’ (25 per cent), ‘A necessary but burdensome cost’ (25 per cent) and ‘A complete waste of money’ (five per cent). The sparsity of latter responses is a fair indication that we didn’t attract too many cynics to the party.

When we cut the question ‘What kind of relationship would you like with other roles within the IT department?’ against this question of how IT is viewed, we came up with the following figure. What’s interesting first is that there is little difference between what the different groups of respondents would like, in an ideal world. About a quarter would like to work very closely with their colleagues elsewhere in IT, and two-thirds would be happy with an ad-hoc relationship.

When we look at what people actually have in place, however, we see a different picture. Obviously it is unsurprising that reality falls short of aspirations. More interesting however, is how the results vary according to respondent profile.

Most significant perhaps, is how the actual experiences of respondents whose IT is perceived as a contributor of business value, compare to their ideals. Nearly 20 per cent claim a very close relationship with other bits of IT, and over 50 per cent further claim an ad-hoc relationship. Hurrah.

But hurroo for the combined sub-group which considers IT either as a necessary cost, or a waste of money. In this group, only six per cent noted a very close relationship with their counterparts, and 45 per cent an ad-hoc relationship.

What’s equally interesting is what makes up the remaining proportion. Curiously, in the first (‘business value’) group, 14 per cent claim a formal interface with other areas of IT, a figure which rises to 29 per cent in the ‘cost’ group. Could it be – and we seek your input here – that such interfaces are used as barriers to communication in less effective IT departments? We can only speculate on this point.

What we do know is whether such things make a positive contribution to the effectiveness of the IT department. The figure below gives a pretty clear picture – that relationships between different parts of the IT department are most effective in organizations that see their IT as a positive contributor of business value. Hmm, which needs to come first? We would suggest that better collaboration drives better service, rather than vice versa.

The conclusion, then, is pretty simple. IT departments, if you want to raise your status vis-à-vis the business, there are some concrete things you can do to get your own house in order, not least around improving communications internally. Do take a close look at your internal processes, in particular any formal interfaces between different parts of IT – and if in doubt, do consider taking them out. ®

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