Cisco Bigwig Says Business Comes First, IT Second

By | Oct 26, 2012

At the recent Gartner Symposium IT Expo in Orlando, Florida, Cisco CEO John Chambers took center stage to talk about what he sees for the future of IT. Among his important talking points: Admins need to start thinking about business first and fixing tech problems second. But business user satisfaction with IT service and methodologies is already plummeting--will thinking more like management really solve the problem?

Step Into My Chambers ...

An article at Forbes discusses Chambers' recent talk. He believes that in the next five years IT will become "deeply embedded in every business process," and that IT admins have to stop "acting like vendors" and instead focus on helping solve problems. He puts the chance of IT learning this lesson at 50/50.

But Chambers had another message: IT must be a business partner first and tech-savvy second. Instead of continuing with the "silo" model of leadership, the Cisco CEO argues IT admins (and other management) must lead across platforms. These aren't easy marks for pros to hit. In Chambers' view of the world they're not only customer-driven and problem-focused but also see line-of-business as superseding technical issues; in other words, exactly what most IT departments hope to avoid.

Survey Says: Unsatisfied

A recent InformationWeek survey found that while 29 percent of IT admins felt their nontech colleagues were completely satisfied with the quality, timeliness, and cost of IT services, only 18 percent of business users agreed. Sixty percent of admins believe that without IT, business comes to a grinding halt but less than half of their business counterparts are so worried.

While there are some easy answers for this divide--minimal budgets, strict spending rules, and unfavorable comparisons with flashy outside IT agencies, the fact remains that IT isn't doing the kind of job executives and managers think they should. At a time of technology transition (cloud, big data, CRM), this is what IT pros should hope to avoid.

The problem for tech experts is that end users only see end results and almost never the effort it takes to get from point A to point B. While Chambers has a good point when it comes to IT focusing more on what drives business, it would be nice to see this street run both ways: Compliance, integration, and security are just a few of the challenges faced by tech departments as barriers to service.

Reality Check

Midsize IT pros, specifically, should expect more pressure and even less understanding as the market moves forward. The role of administrators, especially in smaller companies, is no longer to manage the bastions of technology knowledge and dispense it as required but rather to liaise with other departments and "sell" the value of technology. Cisco's CEO might just be right with his 50/50 number: If midsize IT can't align with new business models and satisfy business expectations--however unfair--they may find the already tiny budgets slashed to zero.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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