Whose Responsibility is IT Management?

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Over the last decade, general managers who report to functional areas other than information systems — “line managers” — have increasingly gained information technology (IT) management responsibilities.1 Perhaps the single most important factor underlying this dispersion is an increased need for line managers to manage interdependencies within and external to the firm in light of (1) pressures to globalize operations and (2) new competitive requirements such as increasing product quality and decreasing time to market.2 For example, IT resources are being used to solve business and strategic challenges associated with cross-functional integration, coordination and control of mutually dependent value chain activities, and team development across organizational and geographic boundaries.3 Line and IT managers must increasingly work closely together.4 Although IT managers possess important technical and systems know-how, IT applications are best led by line managers who thoroughly understand the business situation.

The technological and strategic complexities of managing IT resources have increased dramatically over the past decade. These complexities are motivating many organizations to reexamine their IT management architectures. An “IT management architecture” is the locus of decision making for IT-related processes within a firm. We use this term to draw a parallel with the technical IT architecture within a firm and to focus attention on the general management issues underlying IT resource application. Our concern is not with the location and distribution of the IT resources themselves, but rather with the location, distribution, and pattern of managerial responsibilities and control that ultimately affect how IT resources are applied and then implemented.

Consider the following example, based on a composite:5

A large financial institution maintained a centrally managed group of analysts, programmers, and project managers. This group provided support for multiple business units responsible for their own product introductions and subsequent profits and losses. The firm was facing rapid product obsolescence in a fast-changing industry and, consequently, needed to be able to rapidly introduce new products.

Battles between information systems (IS) and managers from the business units were an accepted way of life. Early efforts to disperse system development activities had resulted in poor system quality and slower development cycles, so system development responsibilities were returned to central IS. One line manager summed up the situation: “We don’t understand their language, and they don’t understand ours.


1. T. Gerrity and J.F. Rockart, “End-User Computing: Are You a Leader or a Laggard?” Sloan Management Review, Summer 1986, pp. 25–34;

P.G. Keen, “Computers and Managerial Choice,” Organizational Dynamics, Autumn 1985, pp. 35–49;

J.F. Rockart, “The Line Takes the Leadership — IS Management in a Wired Society,” Sloan Management Review, Summer 1988, pp. 57–64;

R.W. Zmud, A.C. Boynton, and G.C. Jacobs, “An Examination of Managerial Strategies for Increasing Information Technology,” Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Information Systems, 1987;

H. Rockness and R.W. Zmud, Information Technology Management: Evolving Managerial Roles (Morristown, New Jersey: Financial Executives Research Foundation, 1989); and

P. Dixon and J. Darwin, “Technology Issues Facing Corporate Management in the 1990s,” MIS Quarterly, September 1989, pp. 247–255.

2. J.F. Rockart and J.E. Short, “IT in the 1990s: Managing Organizational Independence,” Sloan Management Review, Winter 1989, pp. 7–18.

3. T.W. Malone and J.F. Rockart, “Computers, Networks, and the Corporation,” Scientific American, September 1991, pp. 128–136; and Rockart and Short (1989).

4. J.C. Henderson, “Plugging into Strategic Partnerships: The Critical IS Connection,” Sloan Management Review, Spring 1990, pp. 7–18.

5. In order to maintain confidentiality, this scenario and most of the others that follow are based on composites of actual consulting engagements conducted by Gerry Jacobs and Bob Blanchard of IBM within a variety of firms in the financial services, manufacturing, consumer goods, and high-technology sectors.

6. The concept of “alignment” has played a central and pivotal role in the IT literature. See:

Henderson (1990);

M.S. Scott Morton, ed., The Corporation of the 1990s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991);

N. Venkatraman, “IT-Induced Business Reconfiguration,” in The Corporation of the 1990s, ed. M.S. Scott Morton (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 122–158;

K.H. MacDonald, “Business Strategy Development, Alignment, and Redesign,” in The Corporation of the 1990s, ed. M.S. Scott Morton (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 159–186; and

J.F. Rockart and J.E. Short, “The Networked Organization and the Management of Interdependence,” in The Corporation of the 1990s, ed. M.S. Scott Morton (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 189–219.

7. See W. M. Zani, “Blueprint for MIS,” Harvard Business Review, November–December 1970, pp. 95–100;

F.W. McFarlan, “Portfolio Approach to Information Systems,” Harvard Business Review, September–October 1981, pp. 142–150;

J.A. Zachman, “Business Systems Planning and Business Information Control Study: A Comparison,” IBM Systems Journal 21 (1982): 31–53;

M.E. Shank, A.C. Boynton, and R.W. Zmud, “Critical Success Factor Analysis as a Methodology for MIS Planning,” MIS Quarterly, June 1985, pp. 121–129;

N. Rackoff, C. Wiseman, and W. Ullrich, “Information Systems for Competitive Advantage: Implementation of a Planning Process,” MIS Quarterly, December 1985, pp. 285–294;

J.C. Henderson and J.G. Sifonis, “The Value of Strategic IS Planning: Understanding Consistency, Validity, and IS Markets,” MIS Quarterly, June 1988, pp. 187–200;

A. Boynton and R. Zmud, “Information Technology Planning in the 1990s: Directions for Practice and Research,” MIS Quarterly, March 1987, pp. 59–69; and

A.L. Lederer and A.L. Mendelow, “Coordinators of IS Plans with Business Plans,” Journal of Management Information Systems 6 (1989): 5–19.

8. In particular, see Shank, Boynton, and Zmud (1985);

Rackoff, Wiseman, and Ullrich (1985); and

Henderson and Sifonis (1988).

9. Rockart (1988).

10. Rockness and Zmud (1989); and

Gerrity and Rockart (1986).

11. Rockness and Zmud (1989); and

Gerrity and Rockart, 1986).

12. B. Allen, “An Unmanaged Computer Can Stop You Dead,” Harvard Business Review, November–December 1982, pp. 77–87;

J.I. Cash, W.F. McFarlan, and J.L. McKenney, Corporate Information Systems Management (Homewood, Illinois: Irwin, 1988);

A. La Belle and H.E. Nyce, “Whither the IT Organization?” Sloan Management Review, Summer 1987, pp. 75–85;

Rockart (1988); and

Zmud, Boynton, and Jacobs (19


The authors would like to thank IBM’s Advanced Business Institute for its support of the research that led to this manuscript.

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