On my arrival in Canada from England some 30 years ago, I quickly learned to replace British terms with their Canadian equivalents. So ‘boot’, which refers to the storage compartment typically found at the rear of a car, was replaced in my vocabulary by ‘trunk’; ‘lift’ became ‘elevator’; and, I learned that a hot beef sandwich was really Sunday dinner with a piece of bread tucked under it.
All of this was by way of self-defence. I wanted to be understood and accepted, not just by the people with a background similar to my own, but by my hosts, Canadians, the community I hoped to join.
Senior IT managers have been striving to be accepted as part of the business executive community for years. Some have been successful; many have not. The title CIO is no guarantee of that success, though it should certainly reflect it.
So what’s that got to do with language? Well, each community has its own way of using language, whether it’s in the schoolyard, on the football field, in the data centre or in the boardroom. Language is a dead giveaway to where your heart or your head is. And if you insist on using the language of the data centre, you won’t be accepted at the big table.
So why do so many people still talk about IT projects? Shouldn’t they be business projects? The difference between the two is also, in large part, why many in the IT community find it so difficult to define IT value.
Many CIOs communicate what’s going on in IT in terms of application development and maintenance costs, performance and up time. All of these are important, but it’s difficult for business people to perceive value in them. How different would be the perception if CIOs were to communicate in terms of what had been invested in increasing revenue from a line of business? Or how much has been spent to improve customer relationships or meet government regulatory and reporting requirements?
Of course, the difference is not just in the language; it reflects a difference in focus, from the technicalities of IT to the business imperatives of the organization – the reason we invest in IT in the first place. And that is what will make the difference between IT being viewed as a cost and IT being viewed as a business enabler.
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