When IT is really about communication

By Allen Brown, CEO, The Open Group

In his classic book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, John Gray sets out to give us a guide to understanding the opposite sex. This is something that has been perplexing our species since we first arrived on this the third rock from the sun, yet there is a much more important distinction that we need to understand as IT becomes more and more a part of the enterprise.

BusinessWe hear talk of IT specialists and enterprise and IT architects needing to speak the language of business, but there is much more to it than that. At various times I hear statements like, “What CEOs need to understand is…” or, “Our business leaders do not understand their business processes.” Just as Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady asked that wonderfully expressive yet completely un-PC question, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” so are people who are equally exasperated asking, “Why can’t a business leader be more like an IT expert?”

Fortunately we are all different. Business leaders, with some exceptions, do not have their brains wired in a perfectly logical manner nor do they inhabit a planet where everything is clear and every action is obvious.  Instead they live in a world where decisions have to be made based on incomplete information, where risk and reward is the way of life and where things often get done in spite of the organization’s formal structure rather than because of it.

John Gray points out that, “You cannot, nor should you ever try to, change your partner. That is his or her job. Your job is to change the ways you communicate, react and respond to your partner.”

The same is true for us. You cannot, nor should you ever try to change your business leaders. That is their job. Your job is to change the ways you communicate, react and respond to your business leaders.

Allen BrownAllen Brown is the President and CEO of The Open Group. For more than ten years, he has been responsible for driving the organization’s strategic plan and day-to-day operations; he was also instrumental in the creation of The Association of Open Group Enterprise Architects (AOGEA). Allen is based in the U.K.


  1. So true.
    It’s also necessary to realise that business people don’t all speak the same language either, and their ability to communicate, even in their own language, will be imperfect and faltering. And also, just because something communicated 2 years ago, doesn’t mean it does now.
    That’s why long term relationships are important, something many IT organisations fail to realise or foster.

  2. I haven’t read John Gray’s book, but the inference seems to be that “IT people” and “business people” are somehow fundamentally different, which to be frank strikes me as nonsense. Their objectives are essentially the same, i.e. the success of the business. Having worked in IT for nearly 40 years, I am still amazed at how many IT people and organisations regard themselves as separate from the businesses they serve. Of course there are massive difficulties in communication, but these are in essence no different from the difficulties encountered in other parts of a business organisation, for example between the finance and manufacturing departments.

    1. I don’t think the inference is that IT people are fundamentally different — rather it is that IT people (especially those who have been in IT for many years) have been conditioned, by virtue of their discipline’s bit based foundation (on/off, black or white), to think and communicate with more certitude and less nuance than their business colleagues in other disciplines. This becomes a handicap for many IT people when they are in a position requiring risk management skills, for example; however, it is not something that cannot be changed. The best IT leaders have all found ways to think and communicate like their counterparts in other functional areas, without losing their ability to exploit technology.

  3. The distinction between business and IT is more important than the distinction between men and women?

    Not true in my house anyway.

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