Information Technology is unique in that no other business function has changed its name and “shape” so many times over 4 decades. As a consequence there might be some confusion about IT’s mission in YOUR organization.
The Information Technology function within businesses has been established for several decades yet, in my experience, there are still differing perceptions in many organizations as to the purpose and relevance of IT to the business and IT’s guiding principles and boundaries.
Those of you who are old enough (like me) can remember the significant number of name changes that the IT function (department) has been through over the years including , EDP (Electronic Data Processing), DP (Data Processing), Computer Services, IS (Information Systems or Information Services), MIS (Management Information Systems), IT (information Technology), ICS (Information and Communications Systems), Business Systems and ICT (Information Communications and Technology). I am sure there are several others that I have not mentioned here.
There is also STILL some debate about the value that IT is providing to businesses generally. Is it just a cost center that adds little or no strategic value to the business? Is it the “plumbing and wires” that allow you to communicate with your customers, suppliers and staff? Is it a strategic part of the business that will drive competitive advantage and become a potential game changer for your industry sector?
Whilst I acknowledge the rapid changes in technology that have taken place over the last 20 or so years, I think differing perceptions remain about the purpose and role of IT, between staff working within the IT Department, Senior Business Executives and the Board.
This is not an acceptable situation, and it is therefore up to IT Leaders to ensure that the purpose and boundaries of the IT function are communicated clearly and succinctly both “up the line” and “down the line”.
This can partly be achieved by developing an IT Strategic Plan which will ensure the priorities and investment in IT are aligned to the Business Strategy. In addition, it is critical that an IT Charter is developed and communicated to ensure that the agreed purpose, guiding principles and boundaries of IT are clearly understood by both Senior Management and other company staff.
The standard definition of a Charter is “an official agreement that provides guidelines and rules for something”.
A Charter is a document that should be developed in a group setting to clarify team direction while establishing boundaries, and encouraging understanding and buy-in. It should be developed early during the forming of the team. The Charter has two purposes: firstly, it serves as a source for the team members to illustrate the focus and direction of the team; secondly, it educates others (for example, the organizational leaders and other work groups), illustrating the direction and focus of the team. Investing the required time to develop a Charter reduces confusion about the group’s objectives and focus.
The contents of the Charters can vary but they include team purpose, required commitment, scope, members, desired end result (outcome required) and deliverables.