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Can cloud bridge the gap between lines of business and IT?

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Co-authored by Chiara Maresia and Francesco Pedulla

Over the course of our lengthy careers in information technology (IT) and sales, it has taken many years for us to understand a simple but pervasive fact: in many companies, people from the lines of business (LOB) and people from the IT department don’t really understand each other. In some cases, they behave as if they belonged to different companies.

In fact, from many points of view, they are different companies: they have different cultures, different objectives, different skill sets and different values. We’ll spare you the long list of personal anecdotes supporting this fact; surely you have an even longer list in your mind.

It is surprising how long that dichotomy has been going on—probably since the beginning of IT for the enterprise, back in the 1960s. You can’t help but wonder why it happened and why it kept going on like that for decades. One of our posts in the future will try to answer those questions, but for now, let’s focus on the role of cloud in that game.

Cloud LOBWhatever the reason for the divide, now many businesspeople think they have a way to get rid of many of the things they don’t like in the service they get from the IT department, such as slowness and lack of understanding–many issues that were hard to understand. No doubt the cloud offers what looks like a quick fix to issues that historically have plagued the relationship between LOB and IT. Some call it a lack of responsiveness, but it probably goes deeper than that. We would call it lack of a service-oriented mindset.

But the LOB people cannot do without the skills of the IT department. Over the long term, data and application integration, performance and security cannot be addressed without the right skill set and deep experience. It’s possible that not all LOB managers are really aware of that, but they certainly perceive the risks—and possibly someone told them one of the countless horror stories of do-it-yourself IT. On the other hand, some IT people, deeply aware of the hidden traps that the LOB will sooner or later face, play a wait-and-see game that doesn’t produce any useful result.

Cloud simplifies the user’s experience and relieves the IT department of many systems management tasks. By making IT more consumable, users are no longer exposed to low-level technical issues and IT specialists can re-focus on higher-level questions. The largest impact is on the job of IT people, who now can and must shift their attention to topics they have been neglecting for years.

We believe this is an opportunity for a new and better way to work together. It is a huge chance for IT staff to become more relevant for the enterprise—not because the enterprise cannot make the machines work without them, but because the enterprise needs them to be more effective and competitive.

This has been a dream for years, since the days before cloud. The dream didn’t become a reality then, though, for many reasons. But the most important roadblock was the large cultural gap between people from the LOB and the IT departments, reinforced by a lack of trust and multiple misunderstandings at management level, and supported by the serious difficulties in understanding each other’s work.

In the era of cloud computing, we have hope for two different levels of collaboration that can close the gap. The first level can be attained through a service-oriented mindset. IT people at all levels should stop seeing their job as a set of technical activities required to “make the machines work.” Rather, they should see their job as a service to their colleagues in the LOB. After all, that’s exactly what LOB people like about the cloud.

The second level can be attained through collaboration. There is a dire need for people who can speak both languages, bridge the cultural gap and help LOB people to more effectively utilize their data and applications. Up until now, this task has been like taking two master’s degrees at a university, one in information technology and one in business (whatever your company’s business is). This is definitely challenging for anybody.

This is where cloud provides an opportunity. Cloud can free the IT person from many technical activities and allow for more time and resources to better understand the business side, and it can make IT simpler for the businessperson to understand. The gap between the two worlds can close; it’s up to those of us in IT to use this opportunity to become more relevant, up to the point of becoming indispensable. If we don’t, we lose; but together, the enterprise is one.

Will this dream of collaboration finally come to fruition? What are you thoughts? Leave a comment below, or reach us on Twitter @frankpedulla and @chiaramare.

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