Illustration: Business- IT Relationship (Image src – Pat.it)
Previous posts in this blog have discussed the fact that technological capabilities now make or break business models. It is critical for IT to operate in a manner that maximizes their efficiency while managing costs & ultimately delivering the right outcomes for the organization.
It is clear and apparent to me that the relationship lines of business (LOBs) have with their IT teams – typically central & shared – is completely broken at a majority of large organizations. Each side cannot seem to view either the perspective or the passions of the other. This dangerous dysfunction usually leads to multiple complaints from the business. Examples of which include –
- IT is perceived to be glacially slow in providing infrastructure needed to launch new business initiatives or to amend existing ones. This leads to the phenomenon of ‘Shadow IT’ where business applications are run on public clouds bypassing internal IT
- Something seems to be lost in translation while conveying requirements to different teams within IT
- IT is too focused on technological capabilities – Virtualization, Middleware, Cloud, Containers, Hadoop et al without much emphasis on business value drivers
So what are the top asks that Business has for their IT groups? I wager that there are five important focus areas –
- Transact in the language of the business –Most would agree that there has been too much of a focus on the technology itself – how it works, what the infrastructure requirements are to host applications – cloud or on-prem, data engines to ingest and process it etc etc . The focus needs to be on customer needs that drive business value for an organization’s customers, partners, regulators & employees. Technology at it’s core is just an engine and does not exist in a vacuum. The most vibrant enterprises understand this ground reality and always ensure that business needs drive IT and not the other way around. It is thus highly important for IT leadership to understand the nuances of the business to ensure that their roadmaps (long and medium term) are being driven with business & competitive outcomes in mind. Examples of such goals are a common organization wide taxonomy across products, customers, logistics, supply chains & business domains. The shared emphasis on both business & IT should be on goals like increased profitability per customer, enhanced segmentation of both micro and macro customer populations with the ultimate goal of increasing customer lifetime value (CLV).
- Bi-Modal or “2 Speed” IT et al need to be business approach centric – Digital business models that are driving agile web-scale companies offer enhanced customer experiences built on product innovation and data driven business models. They are also encroaching into the domain of established industry players in verticals like financial services, retail, entertainment, telecommunications, transportation and insurance by offering contextual & trendy products tailored to individual client profiles. Their savvy use of segmentation data and realtime predictive analytics enables the delivery of bundles of tailored products across multiple delivery channels (web, mobile, point of sale, Internet, etc.). The enterprise approach has been to adopt a model known as Bi-Modal IT championed by Gartner. This model envisages two different IT camps – one focused on traditional applications and the other focused on innovation. Whatever be the moniker for this approach – LOBs need to be involved as stakeholders from the get-go & throughout the process of selecting technology choices that have downstream business ramifications. One of the approaches that is working well is increased cross pollination across both teams, collapsing artificial organizational barriers by adopting DevOps & ensuring that business has a slim IT component to rapidly be able to fill in gaps in IT’s business knowledge or capability.
- Self Service Across the board of IT Capabilities – Shadow IT (where business goes around the IT team) is not just an issue with infrastructure software but is slowly creeping up to business intelligence and advanced analytics apps. The delays associated with provisioning legacy data silos combined with using tools that are neither intuitive nor able to scale to deal with the increasing data deluge are making timely business analysis almost impossible to perform. Insights delivered too late are not very valuable. Thus, LOBs are beginning to move to a predominantly online SaaS (Software As A Service) model across a range of business intelligence applications. Reports, visual views of internal & external datasets are directly served to internal consumers based on data uploaded into a cloud based BI provider. These reports and views are then directly delivered to end users. IT needs to enable this capability and make it part of their range of offerings to the business.
- Help the Business think Analytically – Business Process Automation (BPM) and Data Driven decision making are proven approaches used at data-driven organizations. When combined with Data and Business Analytics, this tends to be a killer combination. Organizations that are data & data metric driven are able to define key business processes that provide native support for key performance indicators (KPIs) that are critical and basic to their functioning. Applications developed by IT need to be designed in such a way that these KPIs can be communicate and broadcast across the organization constantly. Indeed a high percentage of organizations now have senior executive in place as the champion for BPM, Business Rules and Big Data driven analytics. These applications are also mobile native so that they can be provided access through a variety of mobile platforms for field based employees & back into the corporate firewall.
- No “Us vs Them” mentality – it is all “Us” – None of the above are only possible if the entire organization operates on an agile basis in order to collaborate across the value chain. Cross functional teams across new product development, customer acquisition & retention, IT Ops, legal & compliance must collaborate in short work cycles to close the traditional business & IT innovation gap. One of chief goals of agile methodologies is to close the long-standing gap between the engineers who develop and test IT capability and business requirements for such capabilities. Using traditional app dev methodologies, it can take months to design, test and deploy software – which is simply unsustainable.
Business & IT need to collaborate. Period. –
The most vibrant enterprises that have implemented web-scale practices not only offer “IT/Business As A Service” but also have instituted strong cultures of symbiotic relationships between customers (both current & prospective), employees , partners and developers etc.
No business today has much time to innovation—especially in the age of IT consumerization where end users accustomed to smart phone apps that are often updated daily. The focus now is on rapidly developing business applications to stay ahead of competitors that can better harness technology’s amazing business capabilities.