The debate rages on: Should IT be involved in the business side of social media? or are they just support?

The conversation took a sudden turn in the comments of my recent post: ” The Challenges of Social Media in the Enterprise, why Business and IT need to align” I was attempting to highlights the danger of IT being separated from the business. (Please read this post to get context)

I really enjoy the conversation points, and they deserved to be highlighted then here, because this is a real world issue we are all dealing with. To be fair, there are voices from the web strategists on the business side, folks from IT, IT consultants, IT vendors, and there is even at least one CEO I know of that chimed in.

Here’s the highlights from the comments in the previous post:

IT should manage infrastructure only
Ian Laurie:

“Don’t you think IT has needed to align with business for a long, long time? I’ve seen search marketing campaigns, web site launches, PR initiatives and more derailed by stubborn or overworked IT folks.”

The truth is that, in most cases, IT should be managing infrastructure, not web sites. The smart marketer or strategist puts their site somewhere where they can control it, or gets a dedicated IT resource, or screams until the do.”

IT may not want to evolve
Jennifer agrees with Ian (and she’s posted about it on her blog):

“I want to believe that joining together is an option and I always offer them the opportunity to be involved, but at the end of day they either don’t want to be involved, refuse to open their minds to new thinking, or just don’t get it. The IT departments I’ve worked with just aren’t ready to take on websites because they’re still trying to get infrastructure right, so in that sense I have to agree with Ian”

IT is Business Support
In the comments, Jake McKee poses some very strong questions about roles:

“As mentioned above, IT (as a general “thing”) is primarily responsible for infrastructure. They’re the group that keeps the phones on, the internal mail servers functioning, and the firewall secure. They’re not, by default, business support. The same group of people dealing with firewalls shouldn’t be be designing Web sites and activities. The marketing people aren’t calculating production line times in their downtime; the in-house lawyers aren’t taking customers service calls between writing briefs. Why do we expect something different from IT?”

IT not resourced for this change; third parties may be needed
Dennis McDonald, an experienced IT consultant relates from his perspective:

“In many large companies it is precisely because corporate IT departments spend so much of their time and money maintaining infrastructure technologies that they are shortchanged when it comes to being funded with enough staff to support agile and business-oriented responses to rapidly changing business needs….

…It’s a vicious circle that in some companies has led to so much IT outsourcing that providing support for new technologies can’t happen without the involvement of outside contractors.”

From the IT perspective: “we think bigger, do you?”

Nik Butler shares from the perspective of the IT pros:

“First of all IT Departments, Heck IT any Support guys dont like clients carrying out random acts of software delivery and implementation because its the very same IT guys who are reached for when it stops working or wont share or wont export or wont do a whole host of things which werent considered when the “New and Shiny” product is implemented.”

IT: No lust here, business doesn’t see full costs

Wade Rocket acknowledges the desires of IT:

“Your typical IT guy does not “lust” to work on the sweet new Web site you’ve been inspired to create. He just wants to be sure that nothing awful is going to happen that will require him to sweat over the damn thing for hours (or days).”

One solution: develop a corporate plan, but who owns it?
Josh Maher gets strategic and suggests a sensible plan, but the ownership still isn’t clear:

“Any organization actually looking to deploy social media technology needs to have the IT department support them. Not doing so would be a waste of time, money, and resources. If you can’t get the support than you are selling the wrong people.

Step 1. develop social media concept
Step 2. implement pilot on your own time
Step 3. sell your management on the idea
Step 4. leverage you management buy-in to develop corporate strategy
Step 5. use corporate strategy to get funding and prioritization for IT
Step 6. bring project to IT for company wide implementation”

Len also draws upon his experience in his day job and how he works with his IT department, a must read coming from a technologist at a very large IT company.

In the end, what really matters? Is that business is moving forward.

Culture and relationships will vary in every company, on one hand if IT is too stubborn to provide or support social computing tools…the business will adopt them on their own, and there’s little IT alone can do about it. Banning the tools won’t work, especially if they involve customer communications.

On the other hand, if social media tools aren’t going away, IT has an opportunity to step forward and lead the tool selection and deployment for the business, these tools impact every business unit. My new CEO told me that IT should be renamed “Business Technology” and I think he’s right.

I hope I’ve represented the select quotes well, I spent at least 30 minutes reading and pulling this content together. For what it’s worth, I’ve worked in both IT and on the Business side of web projects.

So where does IT start and stop? Do they have a role here? What’s at stake for them not to step up to the adoption of social media by the business units?