Business computing is now just business, and vice versa

Fifteen years ago I graduated with a masters from City University‘s department of business computing, for whom I’d worked as a knowledge transfer specialist. City has flourished, and now stands in the top 5% of universities. I recently returned for the annual reunion. I’m pictured above with my former classmate, Unify’s Akhil Sachdev. One big change since 1999 struck me as a metaphor for the transformation of technology, and of the working of industry analysts: our former department simply no longer exists.

Back in the 1990s, the intersection of business and computing was hard. At City University the gap between business and information technology was so substantial that it really made sense to have a separate department of business computing. Computing required specialist managers, and business required chameleons who could explain business to technologists, and technology to business people. That department filled a whole floor with little offices where researchers mined for practical business advantages: ways to price things more effectively, find patterns, help people to use computers and so on.

Today, the space is transformed. Now, it’s part of the Cass Business School. Not only the department, but most of the walls are gone now. The space looks like a business class lounge, with diner-style booths for group working, smartly contrasting soft furnishings for informal work, and open plan offices for collaboration. There are photos of the space here (mistakenly labelled as the Bunhill MBA building: it’s actually the Drysdale building).

That physical emphasis on interaction is now mainstream in academia, and the whole university places more emphasis on changing practice in the professions. That’s reflected both by the mushrooming of the business school, and perhaps also by the number of degrees in the school of arts and social sciences which will not be recruiting students this year, despite being listed in the prospectus. The old makes way for the new.

Of course this reflects the changing reality of business computing. Very often, the business is the technology. Managing the business means managing the technology and people who interact with technology as their key form of production. As I found in the B2Buyology study, IT people are being outgunned by managers who can more clearly link decisions to business benefits. IT managers need to understand management, not just systems management. And that’s why both analysts and analyst relations managers need to speak about business more than bytes.

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