A Credibility Equation for IT Specialists

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A few years ago, we were discussing the role of information technology (IT) specialists in business process reengineering projects with a group of chief information officers. One bitterly exclaimed, “What role? I found out that my company was starting a major reengineering project when I read about it in the Wall Street Journal.” That surprised us. But what surprised us even more was that we heard similar stories as we continued our research.

For instance, in a reengineering effort at California State Automobile Association, top managers engaged outside consultants to plan a vision for the future.1 The internal IT organization was not invited to participate in redesigning key business processes such as customer service. When IT specialists visited project team rooms after hours, they were shocked to discover that the plans for the reengineered processes would involve major changes in the IT infrastructure. Unless they began immediately to make the needed changes, IT would hamper the implementation of corporate strategy. In this case, IT was critical to the organization’s strategic initiatives, yet its own internal IT group was left out of the planning.

Reengineering is not the only situation in which IT groups are left out of decision making that clearly involves IT. We have heard CIOs talk about not being consulted when their chief executives decided to outsource their IT functions. Why does this occur? We can think of many reasons, including genuine oversight of the IT implications for some strategic initiatives. However, we believe that a major contributing factor is the IT specialists’ low credibility. In this article, we examine the issue of IT credibility and what IT groups can and should do about it.

IT Units Are from Mars

The IT specialists we talk to are usually well aware of their low credibility with businesspeople. Yet they often unconsciously hold theories about credibility that prevent them from doing what they can to improve the situation. IT specialists think businesspeople just don’t understand what the specialists do to help the business. If businesspeople did understand, they would value their IT colleagues. In other words, many IT specialists believe that other people’s ignorance leads to negative stereotypes of IT people. The obvious solution is for other people to change their negative views.

We don’t deny there may be some truth to this theory. After all, businesspeople sometimes do have incorrect or incomplete beliefs about IT.



1. J. Moad, “Does Reengineering Really Work?,” Datamation, 1 September 1993, pp. 22–28.

2. M.L. Markus and R.I. Benjamin, “The Magic Bullet Theory in IT-Enabled Transformation,” Sloan Management Review, volume 38, Winter 1997, pp. 55–68.

3. J. Gray, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus (New York: HarperCollins, 1994).

4. W.L. Gardner and M.J. Martinko, “Impression Management in Organizations,” Journal of Management, volume 14, number 2, 1988, pp. 321–338;

R.A. Giacalone and P. Rosenfeld, eds., Applied Impression Management: How Image-Making Affects Managerial Decisions (Newbury Park, California: Sage Publications, 1991);

J.M. Kouzes and B.Z. Posner, Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993).

5. E.G. Mallach, “Do You Really Understand Your Business?,” Computerworld, 2 December 1996, p. 37.

6. P.G.W. Keen, “It’s Time for IS to Learn Civility,” Computerworld, 24 March 1997, p. 86.

7. S.B. Sitkin and N.L. Roth, “Explaining the Limited Effectiveness of Legalistic ‘Remedies’ for Trust/Distrust,” Organization Science, volume 4, August 1993, pp. 367–392.


This study was funded by the Advanced Practices Council of the Society of Information Management, International.

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