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The IT Brand Is Broken

In order to repair IT's reputation, technology leaders need to understand the business and become the first choice of users, not the last.

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[For more coverage of the Interop Conference and Expo, read: Innovation At Interop: Tackling Outdated Cultures.]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." Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology. View Full Bio

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Greg MacSweeney
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Greg MacSweeney,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/7/2013 | 10:37:00 AM
re: The IT Brand Is Broken
As you know, you see these topics resurface every few years or so. I don't think Blackstone is a thowback, but like almost every company, there are two competing forces: the new way of doing things vs the old way of doing things. Large companies (and large IT shops) resist change, no matter how public their leaders are about "innovation" or "customer service." It is a constant battle.
IvySchmerken
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IvySchmerken,
User Rank: Author
10/5/2013 | 1:14:43 AM
re: The IT Brand Is Broken
But IT needs to make sure that it delivers what the business needs. On Wall Street, trading desks pay for the technology and market data they use. These are called "charge backs." IT directs the projects from a development and infrastructure standpoint. But the business units have a big say in what's going on, and rightfully so since they're paying for it.
Nathan Golia
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Nathan Golia,
User Rank: Author
10/4/2013 | 8:01:30 PM
re: The IT Brand Is Broken
The CISO of Blackstone said at Interop that he has millions of dollars in unused software and functions that aren't turned on. Is that the case of a vendor doing an end-around on IT and IT not weighing in on what's really needed? IT needs to assert ownership of tech projects in order to protect its own reputation.
KBurger
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KBurger,
User Rank: Author
10/4/2013 | 7:41:26 PM
re: The IT Brand Is Broken
Why do I feel like I'm reading something from 15 or 20 years ago? I really feel like we are writing more about IT organizations that understand they must be business focused, and new structures that align business and IT much more closely. Furthermore, iterative development practices such as agile methodology have replaced at a growing number of FS organizations the old top-down/waterfall approach that so often produced unsatisfactory results. Also, business areas such as marketing, sales/distribution and customer service really are technology functions now. Is Blackstone a throwback or is there an industry-wide disconnect?
IvySchmerken
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IvySchmerken,
User Rank: Author
10/4/2013 | 3:48:00 PM
re: The IT Brand Is Broken
Splitting of these mini-groups to work within particular business units seems like a way to win back the confidence of the users. Capital markets firms typically embed IT staff (i.e., developers or business analysts), in the trading units to collaborate on special projects.
Greg MacSweeney
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Greg MacSweeney,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/4/2013 | 10:41:04 AM
re: The IT Brand Is Broken
At Interop, a number of attendees mentioned that the IT organization was their biggest obstacle when it came to innovation. And the shocking thing: these attendees were from the IT org!

They realized that the structure of their IT group made it almost impossible to do things that might help the business in a different way. There were too many political and turf wars that prevented them from deploying new and helpful technology.

As a result, many of the attendees set up "skunk works" groups that aligned with a particular business unit (that provided cover from the larger IT group), so they could work on some pretty cool technology.
IvySchmerken
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IvySchmerken,
User Rank: Author
10/3/2013 | 8:44:28 PM
re: The IT Brand Is Broken
I agree with the premise that the brand is broken. Many vendors emphasize that their product can be deployed without involving IT as if it were a huge positive. This is said in the spirit of faster time-to-market and avoiding long wait times for installation.
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