Business vs IT

                After reading the last few posts by nickmalone and Jordan I started to think back about the companies that I have either observed or been employed by and I realized one thing.  There’s a large disconnect between the technical people and the business people.  Now I realize that some of you already know this but hear me out.  I think this causes more problems than many realize.  NickMalone’s post is a great example of what can happen when that gap isn’t addressed, and Jordan’s advice of value added statements is a great way to start fixing the problem.

                As many of you know, I have my Bachelors in Information Systems, which is more of a pure Information Technology degree as it had very few business classes.  I was very happy just learning about how to program and network computers.  The more I learned about networking specifically the more I thought I knew about succeeding in the business environment.  The last quarter of my Bachelor’s degree I took an Advanced Oracle Database class.  That class introduced me to a whole new thought process behind IT, that of IT is there to solve business problems.  Before that I hadn’t really but how IT related to business.  Now some of you may be saying, of course IT is there to solve business problems, what else would it be doing.  But I want you to think about any current or past IT project that you may be on.  What was the purpose?  There are always cut answers of improving user experience or improving the way the business functions but what really was the main goal behind the project.  What was it going to do to help that particular company succeed? 

                That is what I believe is the main point/goal  behind Nick and Jordan’s last posts and what I believe is the fundamental problem in IT departments.  To many IT professionals can make computers do amazing things but they have forgotten that IT is there to help businesses succeed, not the other way around.  I am sure there are cases where it is different but even for companies that specialize in IT consulting or Software design, every IT system should have a purpose and should be directly correlated to a business function.  Once that business goal or function is made aware and focused on I believe that IT projects will be smoother and stop having the Business needs vs. Personal needs issues that NickMalone talked about.

                Now I don’t mean to sound like this is all a problem with bottom-level IT people.  When was the last time you heard about an Executive of a company want to implement some new technology that they read or heard about?  Maybe they heard about want to implement a type of Social Network on their intranet and tell their direct reports to start making a business case for it.  Here again is another face of the same problem.  You shouldn’t make business cases for technology.  You should make “Technology Cases” for business problems.  It might be a slight adjustment but think about how many times technology gets implemented without proper planning so it fails.  If executives, managers and underlings alike were to start the planning and implementation phases of every project linking everything back to specific business problems, businesses would spend less and be more productive overall.

                Now I realize that I don’t have the years of experience of others who are reading this blog so I ask for your thoughts.  When was the last time you started a project that failed?  Did you know the main purpose behind the project?  Was that purpose if you did know it?  Have you seen a difference between projects that directly relate back to business goals and ones that are unclear of business goals?  Now this doesn’t address fully the change management side of things but I but I believe that if employees truly understood how these specific technology implementations helped not only them but the business as a whole you would have less push back, and believe me, being in Security, I know about users pushing back on new technology implementations, but that is a whole different post.

And, why exactly is this a good idea?


illustration borrowed from Flatland.com

We’ve all experienced it before.  Some VP or director has a brilliant idea for a new distribution method, a plan to launch a new product line, or any number of other schemes that have the potential to be a really good idea.  The idea makes its way onto the company’s strategic road map, and resources start getting thrown at it to complete the project in some crazy time frame.

At some point the project will make its way to some smart analyst’s desk.  He starts to do some investigation and quickly finds that either no work has been done to look into the potential costs and benefits of the project, or that the figures being thrown about are little more than someone’s educated guess.  As an analyst, this is when I usually ask, “Why exactly is this a good idea?”  But by then it’s too late.

Businesses often leap before they look into projects, both large and small, without taking the time to delve into the data and use facts to determine if benefits justify the costs. For large decisions, such as new product launches and entering new distribution channels, such an analysis is crucial to the well-being of the company, but is often overlooked or done in a superficial manner. The same is equally if not more important for small projects since such analysis is so often missing.

Taking the time to investigate the value of a project helps reduce the amount of money, effort, and energy we waste on projects that just aren’t worth it.  So, why do businesses so often jump into projects without taking the time to look at the data and make well informed decisions?  I think the answer is twofold.

First, businesses are run by people, and people have more motivating factors than the best interest of the business. The personal (not business) cost of answering these questions can be high.  It takes time and effort to do the research required to make an informed decision.  Not everyone is going to be inclined to put in that kind of effort for an idea they already believe to be a winner.  Furthermore, answering these questions upfront runs the risk of having to kill one’s own project, which can create a conflict of interests between the individual’s ego and the business’s best interest.  The business often loses out.

Second, managers empowered to make decisions do not always have the right skills, tools, or data to identify and access the information needed to make these decisions.  Even if I had the best possible intentions to thoroughly examine my next initiative, if the data didn’t exist or I didn’t know it existed, I would have to rely on my gut or just make up some numbers.  This is often the case in projects with no existing analog.

Alternately, when dealing with projects that extend or modify existing methods, the information to drive such decisions should exist.  However the needed data might be incomplete or non-existent because the designers of the system at the time didn’t bother to store it.  This is problem of design intention and a failure to think adequately for future needs.

In another possibility, the data may exist, but it is buried deep down in the unearthly bowels of several databases and would take an expert to retrieve.  This is a situation where the business decision makers need to have strong relationships with the analytical and technical folks who know how to get this information.

The solution to the problem of making informed decisions is a two-way street: it is equally incumbent upon analytical and technical folks to build relationships with the people running the line of business. Such relationships could save us all from having to ask, “Why, exactly is this a good idea?”