Should IT execs lead the business? Or should business execs lead IT?

Every business is becoming a technology business, and IT leaders need to take charge. At the same time, business leaders are getting more involved in IT decisions.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer
Are information technology decisions being usurped by business-side managers? Or are IT managers increasingly being put in charge of business decisions?
Photo: USDA

Both scenarios seem to be playing out in today's organizations. Bernard Golden, a seasoned industry observer, points out that "more than ever, IT will become a C-level discussion," adding that "IT is the future of every company. Over the past year, we've seen programs typically handled by enterprise IT now become a C-level conversation."

This is part and parcel of the trend of every company becoming a software company. IT professionals have the expertise and understanding of IT economics which vaults them into key decision-making roles. Businesses are leaning on their tech-wise professionals for guidance through the ever-encroaching digital thicket.

Is this where IT managers and professionals want to go in their careers -- helping to run the business? It appears many want to go in this direction, but still keeping a foot in the IT world. A recent survey I helped draft and publish as part of my work as an independent researcher, finds 50 percent of IT professionals -- in this case, mainly database professionals -- seek to move into leadership roles. Most, 33 percent, want to advance into IT management roles. At least one in seven, 13 percent, want to move into corporate management, and another 4 percent would like to start their own businesses. (The survey was underwritten by Ntirety.)

About 28 percent report they work all or most of their time working closely with their organization's executive management.

At the same time, there is increasingly more business unit adoption of IT. It's already been widely reported that some marketing executives may have larger technology budgets than CIOs.

There is a strong case to be made for moving IT managers up through the corporate ranks. These are the people who can comprehend what solutions, platforms and tools should be purchased and applied to pressing business opportunities and problems. An individual who is familiar with the guts of application servers and Platform as a Service would also be aware of the limitations of such solutions, and would be in a position to provide the best guidance for an organization embracing digital.

Since so many in the business are also purchasing and deploying IT, there is also an argument to be made for well-rounded business-side managers to lead IT. CIO's Sharon Florentine explored this growing phenomenon, in which executives from other parts of the organization are leading IT efforts.

Business skills are essential to IT these days, since no organization can afford having IT departments throwing solutions over the wall and leaving the business to struggle to figure it all out. Instead, software and systems development should be agile, collaborative and business driven. Software is everyone's business.

So who should be running things? Perhaps we're seeing the start of a new breed of leader, the hybrid executive -- who knows the difference between an application server and an enterprise service bus, but who also can speak at length about the organization's most recent earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA).

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