October 03, 2013

At most companies the IT brand is broken and it needs to be fixed before technologists can create value for the business. This is the message from Blackstone CTO William Murphy, the keynote speaker during his presentation "Is IT Irrelevant?" at the Interop Conference in New York.

In the worst case, the information technology organization is viewed as "defensive, late, uninformed, unhelpful, a necessary evil," and a group "that does their own thing," Murphy said. "The negative perception [of IT] by the business hurts us all. [Vendors tell] the business that the best thing about their product is that they will never have to involve IT."

Unfortunately, excluding IT from the beginning usually creates an inefficient and costly infrastructure that IT will have to support anyway, Murphy said. "This is not the business' fault. It is our fault. We need to change the brand so the business looks to us first for solutions, not last."

Murphy, who heads Blackstone's technology team, changed the name of his group to Blackstone Innovations & Infrastructure Technology to help send the message that his group isn't a standard IT shop. "Everyone agrees that our job is difficult, complex, quickly changes and is resouce intensive," Murphy added. "The users know that IT is central to creating business change, creating efficiencies, and creating the future of the company. We are in a great position, but the brand is broken."

[For more coverage of the Interop Conference and Expo, read: Innovation At Interop: Tackling Outdated Cultures.]

Becoming Business Leaders

In years past, CIOs and CTOs were primarily technologists who know how to manage risk and implement management processes for technology. Today, technology leaders still need to do those things, but they also need to be a "salesperson, relationship manager, financial analyst, mentor and recruiter, and culture creator," Murphy said. "The days when you could ignore ROI are gone. If you do that, you will be put in the back and all of the decisions will be made without you," adding that "When people say they need to check with the business, you should cringe. We are part of the business."

However, being able to calculate IT costs and an ROI is only part of the skills that a technology leader needs. They also need to know more about the intricacies of the business. "Be curious. You need to find out more about the business and you need to understand more about the business" than many of the users do themselves, he said.

It is important to know how the business operates because many times users don't know what they need. "Henry Ford said, '“If I'd asked my customers what they wanted, they'd have said a faster horse,'" Murphy notes. "Today, most IT shops are busy building faster horses. They are not building new tools to address user's problems. The users don't know what they want," adding that technologists need to provide value by helping users discover what technology can do for the business.

"Every trend in the world today … globalization, mobility, education, big data … every one is driven by technology," Murphy concluded. "The goal should be how to create a partnership so the future of the business can be executed. There is no better way to stay relevant than to do that."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology.