After all the investments in business intelligence (BI) over the years, many companies are still data rich but information poor. While IT bragged about its multiterabyte data warehouse, the businesspeople were using Microsoft Excel like duct tape to patch together the information they needed. (I call that duct tape data shadow systems.)
Why the disconnect? Little has changed since my August 2005 column Business Intelligence Goes Back to the Future, Part 2: Couples Therapy for IT and Business Users when I said Both sides are talking, but it seems like nobody is really listening or understanding. Does IT have a sense of what the business users really need? Do the business users really care how IT is going to deliver the data?
I hear similar sentiments from Ade McCormack, who writes in his new book The IT Value Stack(Wiley, 2008): To obtain real value from the IT investment, the IT strategy cannot simply be a response to the business strategy. The IT department needs to play a role in determining business strategy, and at times actually driving it... An underlying theme is that IT value management will be delivered by people as much as technology. Both are potential assets from a value perspective. However, the people, in my opinion, are where the attention needs to lie.
Its time for IT and business to graduate from couples therapy and start working together to create business value. Every successful business needs comprehensive, current, consistent and correct information. Over the last several years, people have developed a better understanding of the value of information. Maybe they were concerned about Sarbanes-Oxley compliance and the demand for financial transparency from stakeholders or they saw how successful other companies have been by leveraging information to build and expand their businesses.
Whats the role of IT to justify their projects and deliver business value? They need to be able to talk to businesspeople (in business terms) and get them involved in data warehousing (DW)/BI/project management (PM) on an ongoing basis to be able to deliver the information that the business needs. People, politics and processes will make or break information projects. Technology is an enabler, but all the shiny new tech products in the world wont get a set of common definitions of data and performance metrics.
How can you make the marriage work for the long haul? Three key processes support the business and IT dialogues and strengthen their relationship to increase business value: data governance, DW/BI/PM program management and integration competency center (ICC).
Data governance. Data governance is the linchpin of your information efforts. This is how you turn the terabytes of data into business information. Businesspeople have to define the data and performance metrics in discussions with IT, which then delivers the DW/BI systems to deliver that information. This is very basic, but it is amazing how often businesspeople do not understand how the data or performance metrics have been defined in these systems.
How could that be? The systems are theirs and must reflect their definitions of the data. And even when companies do have businesspeople involved in the initial definitions, most of the time it is a one-time effort with no follow-up to determine if the business and those definitions have changed. Engaging the right businesspeople in this process is a lot about politics and building relationships - which is often outside the comfort zone of IT folks.
Program management. Providing comprehensive, current, consistent and correct information is not a one-time effort. It takes time, and if you are successful, businesspeople will continually demand even more information, both within and outside the enterprise, to help them manage and expand the business.
Most successful investors manage a portfolio of investments. Similarly, the IT group has to have a portfolio of DW, BI and PM projects to continually deliver new and expanded information for the business. Just as you plan out your business over a multiyear horizon, IT and the business need to map out that multiyear program to deliver business information.
ICC. Ironically, most companies have stovepiped their integration efforts. Integration projects are often grouped based on the technology used rather than the information delivered to the business. This happens because IT views their work based on how it is done rather than how business views the end result.
IT needs to view integration from a results-oriented perspective rather than from a technology-used perspective. A great way to enable this perspective is by establishing an ICC. Under an ICC, all integration projects and technologies are viewed as a common backbone to deliver information. It is surprising to many people after an ICC has been established that these previously separate integration projects have so much in common and, in fact, overlap significantly. Rather than duplicating efforts and creating new silos, an ICC can help IT leverage various technologies to deliver the common information that the business wanted all along.
Conditions are ripe for IT and business to solidify their relationship by talking, listening and understanding each other. The business needs information. IT can deliver that information if it understands what the business is asking for. As with anything that involves people and politics, establishing processes to encourage communication and lay out expectations provides the cornerstone for success.
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