In the world of political activism, there are terms such citizens’ rights and privacy rights. In IT, I propose there should also be information rights.
By this, I don’t just mean that employees in an organization should have access to certain types of information – though they should. Users should have better and more timely information to gain insights for making good decisions and taking bold actions. However, in my full definition of IT information rights, information itself should have rights to be produced and used.
Two Sides of the Same Coin?
I picture information not as intangible, inanimate and lifeless, but rather as organic and desiring to be used for maximum benefit. This type of information is the raw data itself wanting to break away from its data warehouse shackles. And who is responsible for freeing the data (or holding it captive)? I believe it is the CIO and the information technology function. Raw transactional data, such as that produced by an enterprise resource planning system, desires the freedom to grow and contribute to its organization’s performance.
Am I being too harsh on the CIO and the IT function? Probably. But my intent is to catch your attention. Why? I believe there is a wall between IT and its users, and this disturbs me. This wall separates users who understand the use of information in decision-making from those in IT who own and maintain the hardware and software infrastructure. This wall can result in a damaging and adversarial us-versus-them mentality. This is why collaboration is important between IT and users.
Will the Adoption of Business Analytics Lower the Wall?
I see a parallel between information rights and a meal order at a restaurant where the short-order cook, in this case the CIO’s function, is scrambling at the lunchtime peak load. Everyone wants their order served immediately and with non-standard special requests. My sense is that complaining to and about IT is counterproductive.
Carrot or stick? I think the carrot is the way to go. Rather than users labeling IT as the improvement-prevention team, IT needs encouragement. My belief is that this is IT’s big opportunity. They can truly help create the value described in so many industry articles.
Business analytics might open a door to this opportunity for IT. My understanding is that IT likes standardization (e.g., daily batch processing, routine workflows). IT has learned lessons from the past on how organic growth in their domain can spread erratically without sufficient foresight and control, like weeds in a garden. Some users of IT services went on a buying spree. IT has responded by harnessing rational thinking and planning.
However, on the other side of the figurative wall, increasingly the users who are experienced analysts want easy access, flexibility and the ability to manipulate data. This is especially true with business analytics, where users want to explore and test hypotheses for insights. To analysts, business intelligence reporting consumes stored information. Next, business analytics produces new information. Enterprise performance management methodologies then deploy the analytics in the context of operating the organization.
The analytical process cannot be standardized. The increasing value of business analytics – to investigate for the purpose of gaining insights for better decisions and resulting actions – means that this subset of users needs to be accommodated. This means that business analysts need the data on the other side of the wall.
Having an excellent relationship between a service provider and the service users is mutually beneficial. No longer can IT be viewed by its users as simply a technology supplier. It must be seen as adding value to the organization and providing strategic capability. IT performance management enables it to become service oriented, aligning itself with the organization to provide internal customer-driven solutions to problems.
Tear Down the Wall
To analysts, queries simply answer questions. In contrast, business analytics creates questions. Further, analytics then stimulate more questions, more complex questions, and more interesting questions. Most importantly, business analytics also has the power to answer the questions.
President Ronald Reagan made a famous speech in Berlin on June 12, 1987 encouraging the end of Communism by removing the Berlin Wall. My call to tear down the IT wall is certainly not as dramatic, but is still emotional and important for our industry. The long-term sustainment of a high-performance organization depends on collaboration between IT and its users. Remove walls to give information the freedom to be created and applied.