Blogging was where we began, and how we built our company so we have preserved this archive to show how our thinking developed over a decade of developing the use of social technology inside organisations

Divide and conquer to solve the business-IT disconnect problem

by Lee Provoost

“I’m fed up with our IT department. Why does it take 4 months todeliver a small project if I can have it right now and much cheaper asa hosted service?”

“Why are those IT guys spending three yearson an SAP roll out? I want them to focus on projects that has a directvalue for my sales and marketing! Who cares about that ugly ERP systemthat everybody hates?”

Chances are that if you are workingfor a large company, this will sound very familiar. I have to admitthat it is hard to understand why the IT department is focused on amulti-million ERP consolidation project that doesn’t seem to help youat all in winning more deals. Even more, due to this “beast” of aproject they don’t have time to help you in your Enterprise 2.0 / Web2.0 endeavors. Double #FAIL.

Does that mean that IT departmentsare not with the times anymore? Are CEOs doing the wrong things? IsEnterprise 2.0 the big savior that will guide us through the economicdifficult times?

Before jumping to any conclusions, let’sbacktrack a bit to the root of the problem. The big disconnect betweenIT and business that you see in many companies can be explained by whatyou could call “the gap between IT stability and business agility”. IThas always been seen as a cost for a company, and especially in theseeconomic times, that means that companies are trying to squeeze theirIT budgets. The role of CIO or head of IT is one of the more difficultpositions to be in: you get less and less budget, but somehow you needto deliver more and faster to the business units. (And let’s not forgetthat almost everyone in the company is putting you under pressure.)

So,there lies one of the roots of the problem: if you are an experiencedIT head, you will be tempted to consolidate your systems and platforms.Kick back the plethora of small niche vendors and products and settlewith one or two vendors. Most obvious choices are for instance to havean “SAP and Microsoft”-only (or IBM-only for that matter) policy. Thatmeans that in the former case you would have your ERP, CRM, KM, HR, BI,Portal from SAP and Office suite, server OS and database from Microsoft(just an example setup).
graph-agility-stability.jpg
Asyou can see on the diagram, the price you pay for consolidating andreducing your IT platforms is that with a higher (IT) stability, thetrade off is a lower (business) agility.

Does that mean that weshould stop consolidating and reducing our IT systems and platforms?Not necessarily.. Remember that although you might never really “see”your ERP system, it does control the majority of the core processes ofyour company. Furthermore, it does not make sense for a company to havethree different large ERP systems running, resulting in a situationwhere one business unit being unable to gain insight into other’s.Also, it’s pretty hard (and very expensive) for a company to hire anarmy of Oracle, SAP, Microsoft and IBM experts just to keep yoursystems up and running (in the assumption that you’re lucky enough toget hold of that expertise of course).

What you get is therealization that your IT department is running at a different speedthan your business. IT is focused on the platforms and core systemswith a long-term vision and planning, while the business wants to beable to adapt, on a day-by-day basis, to changing market conditions.

So,how can we approach this disconnection? Well, as a starter I believe weneed to redefine what is expected from the IT department. As I postedearlier on a different blogthe IT department should be transformed from a solutions provider to asolutions enabler. It is unrealistic to expect the IT department in alarge organization to be as agile as an internet start-up or a cloudservices provider.  Corporate IT should focus on the core processes,the large back-end ERP systems, big desktop roll-outs, governance,compliance, etc. Instead of expecting them to deliver you every singlepiece of skunkworks project, small web application or socialcollaboration tool; take that power into your own hands. Hire externalexperts to help you with collaboration processes and tools, rent someservices in the cloud for fast go-to-market. The IT department willhelp you with plugging your new system into the backed system byproviding APIs and will help you integrate into the user directory ordo security assessments upon your requests.

Does that sound scary? It does. But let’s look at the division of responsibilities:

IT department:

  • Focus on systems supporting core processes (ERP, CRM, etc.)
  • Consolidating and rationalising the IT landscape
  • Focus on security and compliance in the corporate IT landscape
  • Open up parts of the back-end systems through APIs

Business:

  • Focus on processes and applications that add direct business value
  • Hire external expertise or rent cloud services to get the job done (regardless of the vendor policy of the IT department)
  • Plug these applications into the company’s back-end systems by the APIs that have been provided by the IT department

So,the irony of being able to better align the goals of your business andIT lies in the fact that you actually have to completely disconnect thetwo.

Now the inevitable question is: “How are we going toreconnect Business with IT, considering the above mentionedchallenges?” My next blog posts will introduce Social Business Designas a strategic framework for analysis and future implementation. Itallows the traditional-IT-as-we-know to focus on its core function,whilst providing an evolutionary roadmap for satisfying the emergentneeds of business and users whose expectations for IT serviceprovisioning are increasingly informed by the consumer-facing socialweb.

That said, this is also my inaugural blog post for theHeadshift blog. I recently joined the team in London and one of myroles will be to focus on helping our clients to solve this IT-businessdisconnect/reconnect problem. Previously, I worked for a global ITconsulting firm / system’s integrator where I helped out IT departmentsto integrate their disconnected systems and advised business units onthe disruptive change that new emerging technologies can bring. Followmy stream of thoughts on Twitter or drop me a mail for any questions :-)


If you’re interested in these topics, a good starting point is the excellent book Mesh Collaboration by Andy Mulholland and Nick Earle.

One Response to Divide and conquer to solve the business-IT disconnect problem

  1. By Jimmy Gough on May 31, 2010 at 9:05 am

    Yes, ERP needs to be appropriate to the size and function of the company. In my experience, the root cause is a combination of business stakeholder accountability (those who should give the ‘blessing’ mentioned earlier), existing and target state business process, core master data and the willingness of an organization to take a long, hard look at itself, realize what is wrong with it’s processes today, and to do something about it.