What more can I say about this provocative and contentious issue of a barrier wall separating IT and the business that Jim Harris did not say in his excellent article, “The Business versus IT – Tear Down This Wall ”? Let me give it a try.

For background I suggest you now read Jim’s article hyper-texted above. There are additional discussions and opinions by others in links in Jim’s article if you want a deeper dive. A key quote from Jim’s article is:

“(There is a) figurative wall, prevalent in most organizations, which literally separates the Business, who usually own its data and understand its use in making critical daily business decisions, from Information Technology (IT), who usually own and maintain the hardware and software infrastructure of its enterprise data architecture.” 

Jim continues to make observations that language such as “a wall” can cement a damaging and adversarial us-versus-them mentality and also why collaboration between IT and users for mutual benefit is important.

Will the adoption of business analytics lower the wall?

I have never worked in an IT department. I am not that technical. My experiences are with managerial methodologies supported by IT. As I observe the complexity of operating the IT function, I increasingly understand the joke that CIO stands for “career is over”! It is a tough job. I am Greek-American who grew up working in my mom and dad’s delicatessen in Chicago, and I see a parallel between the CIO and a short-order cook scrambling at the lunchtime peak load. Everyone wants their request immediately and with non-standard special requests.

My sense is that complaining to and about IT is counter-productive. Carrot or stick? I think the carrot is the way to go. Rather than users accusing IT as the improvement-prevention team, IT needs encouragement. My belief is this is IT’s big opportunity time. They can truly help create value that so many media articles promote.

What might open a door to this opportunity for IT? Business analytics. Why do I say this? My understanding is IT likes standardization (e.g., daily batch processing, routine workflows). IT has learned lessons from the past on how their domain can organically grow erratically without sufficient foresight and control – like weeds in a garden. Some went on a buying spree. IT has responded by harnessing rational thinking and planning.

However, on the other side of the so-called figurative wall, increasingly the subset of users who are experienced analysts want easy access to and flexibility with data and the ability to manipulate it. This is especially true with business analytics where users want to explore and test hypothesis for insights. Their analytical process cannot be standardized. The increasing value of business analytics – to investigate for the purpose of to gain insights for better decisions and resulting actions – means that this subset of users needs to be accommodated. This means business analysts need the data on the other side of the wall.

Managing IT as a business

If we revisit the analogy of my parents’ delicatessen, it was definitely a business. We were successful in large part because my parents were extremely customer-oriented. In fact, at our store’s 6:30am opening time Chester, a loyal customer who was always waiting for my dad to open the door, was eventually given the store keys to open up and start the coffee. Talk about inmates running the asylum. Chester was trusted. The customers were operating the business until my dad arrived! Having an excellent relationship of service provider to service user is mutually beneficial. The same goes for managing IT as a business. In fact, I would argue that it is an imperative. Here is why.

No longer can IT be viewed by its users as simply a technology supplier. It must be seen to be 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. This is one reason why fair and equitable internal charge-back invoices are important. They not only establish prices for IT services (for full cost recovery of IT derived from activity-based costing methods), but they also encourage market behavior. Without service level agreements (SLAs) and chargebacks, users conclude the services are free. And we all know the abuses that result from that.

Analysts are more confirmatory than just exploratory

Business analytics are more confirmatory than exploratory. It is not like finding diamonds in a coal mine. One cannot flog the data until it confesses. Experienced business people suspect and hypothesize that two or more things are related or that some underlying behavior is driving behavior seen in the data. Business analysts then search for confirmation and understanding of the relationships.  This is why investigation is so critical. To analysts business intelligence reporting consumes stored information. Next, business analytics produces new information. Corporate performance management methodologies then deploy the analytics.

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.


Tear down the wall

Jim Harris’ article refers to President Reagan’s famous June 27, 1987 speech in Berlin encouraging the end of Communism by removing the Berlin Wall. Our subject is obviously not as dramatic about political ideologies; but it is an emotional one, and the long term sustainment for a high performance organization depends on collaboration between IT and its users.