Business Sponsorship

April 8, 2010
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All contributions to this very deserving cause are most welcome

 
Strong business sponsorship is generally cited as a major success factor for IT projects. From one perspective this is essentially a truism, but looking at the phrase from a different angle perhaps reveals something of interest – indeed perhaps it highlights a reason for some IT projects failing. Let’s look at a definition to start with:
 

 sponsor /spónsər/ n. & v. • n. 2 a a person or organization that promotes or supports an artistic or sporting activity etc. (O.E.D.) 

 
There are other definitions, but maybe surprisingly the one I show above is probably the closest to the meaning of “business sponsorship”. The very first entry in my Oxford English Dictionary for this word is one that brings back memories:
 

 sponsor /spónsər/ n. & v. • n. 1 a person who supports an activity done for charity by pledging money in advance. (O.E.D.) 

 
This takes me back to school (a long time ago) when every year we had a sponsored 20 mile (32 km) walk around the streets of London, each time for a different charity. In an age

All contributions to this very deserving cause are most welcome

 
Strong business sponsorship is generally cited as a major success factor for IT projects. From one perspective this is essentially a truism, but looking at the phrase from a different angle perhaps reveals something of interest – indeed perhaps it highlights a reason for some IT projects failing. Let’s look at a definition to start with:
 

 sponsor /spónsər/ n. & v. • n. 2 a a person or organization that promotes or supports an artistic or sporting activity etc. (O.E.D.) 

 
There are other definitions, but maybe surprisingly the one I show above is probably the closest to the meaning of “business sponsorship”. The very first entry in my Oxford English Dictionary for this word is one that brings back memories:
 

 sponsor /spónsər/ n. & v. • n. 1 a person who supports an activity done for charity by pledging money in advance. (O.E.D.) 

 
This takes me back to school (a long time ago) when every year we had a sponsored 20 mile (32 km) walk around the streets of London, each time for a different charity. In an age before such events became mainstream, I believe we held some record for the amount of money raised. It is surprising how many hills you can fit into 20 miles, even in London, and I can well remember how tired I was after doing this as an eleven-year-old.

A good place to go and ask for sponsorship money

I can also recall wandering from house-to-house in my neighbourhood, knocking on doors with my sponsorship form to ask for pledges. As a rather naive child I never really understood why some people were occasionally a little disgruntled to have me appear on their doorstep at 9am on a Sunday. Of course, post walk, I had to do the same rounds again to collect the money. I escapes me how much I raised, several hundreds of pounds I think, but I recall some people raising a lot more than that.

Both of the above definitions have the connotation of a kindly benefactor indulging a pet cause, be that the arts, or a small schoolboy. There is also the sense that the sponsor is vicariously involved, no one is asking them to play a recital, or to walk 20 miles. Perhaps here we begin to detect the seed of a problem.

When I read IT people on various on-line forums speaking about ensuring business sponsorship, or gaining business buy in, I get the strong impression of an idea originated in IT which is seeking support. Some of the recent discussions on LinkedIn.com, which formed the basis for my earlier article: Who should be accountable for data quality? are a case in point. Several contributors have made comments along the lines of “IT needs to educate the business about the importance of data quality” – as well as being rather patronising, I think that this perspective on business life is rather wrong-headed.

In my mind it takes me back to an IT colleague (at which company I will not mention) saying “of course we [i.e. IT people] are so much smarter than them [i.e. non-IT people]“. To this day I am still unsure whether he was joking or not. In my experience, IT people are just like non-IT people, some are smart, some are not, most are somewhere in between – I suspect the distribution is pretty similar in both cases.

Why have a dog and Bach yourself?

So when people talk about business sponsorship, maybe this is code for convincing the paymasters that some of IT’s ideas are worth spending on. Maybe it is the same as a penniless 18th century musician seeking the indulgence of a feudal monarch. IT has all of the tunes, but he who pays the piper…

On the other hand, if IT and non-IT were well-aligned then maybe it would be more of a case of the business seeking IT sponsorship; i.e. of business folk originating ideas and IT working out how to implement them. Of course I tend to be an advocate of a partnership approach. I read recently on a LinkedIn.com thread about some IT departments being active and others passive. I would recommend IT being active, but not in the sense of pursuing its own agenda, or feeling (as perhaps my IT colleague did) that it knows best.

This was the noblest IT project of them all...

Maybe instead of seeking business sponsorship – which sounds rather like what you would do after IT had already figured out what to do and why – it would make sense to seek business engagement much earlier in the piece – this would hopefully lead to jointly crafted approaches that have business support baked-in from the outset. Surely this is preferable to the corporate equivalent of going door-to-door soliciting money, no matter how noble the cause might appear the the IT person who originated it.