Improving Biz/IT Convergence: An Action Plan

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted September 24, 2002
By Steve Andriole

Every once and while it's therapeutic to step back and look at the forest. Then after you feel a little better, it's fun to target some trees.

Here are 10 things you can do to improve the relationship between business and technology. Some of them are a little draconian, some pretty obvious, some edgy and some really nasty.

If you're change-challenged, this is the time to stop reading and go do something else. Here we go. 1. Reward the Good, Fire the Bad, Punish the Costly (& Give Up on the Reluctant)
Everyone knows that success depends on people. But how many of your people really know what they're doing? Do you watch them for clues? Do they ask for training? And then more training? Are they competitive? If they're technologists, are they always trying to learn more about the business? If they're on the business side, do they make an effort to learn about technology? You be the judge. Line 'em up.

2. Disband Large Teams
I realize that we've been talking about teams, bonding and collaboration for years. But how many of us really enjoy those off-sites intended to get us to relate to each other (while the senior guys play golf)?

Look, the more people working a project the more likely it is to fail. At the very least, it will cost a ton of money, much of which goes for meetings coordination. Keep it small, keep it manageable. Big projects can be broken up in small pieces. According to industry research, over 75% of all uber-projects fail, so there's reason to re-think how we do things.

3. Kill Flat Management Structures
Whose idea was it to empower everyone? If we take this to its logical conclusion it means that everyone gets veto power over everything. Successful experience should rule the day. The last thing you want to do is empower idiots. You know who they are and where they live. Keep them away from all of the important discussions. And re-think the way you manage generally: I still like high access hierarchical structures, where smart, experienced professionals make the big decisions after listening to (just about) everyone.

4. Hire Only Partners
Some of my best friends are consultants, but before hiring one you really have to make sure you know precisely what you want them to do and you understand the structure of their direct and indirect vested interests in the outcome of the work they do. Sounds like fox and henhouse stuff, right? One of the best acquisition practices you can adopt is shared risk: if your vendors won't share risk then you shouldn't share your money with them. It's also usually a good idea to hire honest brokers to look over the shoulders of the mainstream consultants and vendors you use, honest brokers who, regardless of the advice they provide, cannot make a dime after their gig is over.

5. Get Requirements Right
It's like a nightmare that you have every night: We don't understand the requirements! Who owns the requirements? Are they valid? Does everyone agree about which ones are important and which ones are expendable?

Requirements are hierarchical: There are strategic, tactical and operational requirements. Who owns them in your company? If you get these requirements right a lot of good things happen. But keep in mind that strategic business and tactical technology requirements are intertwined and ideally seamless bedfellows.

6. Stop Building, Start Buying
Off-the-shelf software - as an alternative to building stuff from the ground up - has made sense now for about a decade. Why do you still build when you could buy and integrate? Yes, nothing's perfect, but it makes more sense to customize a packaged enterprise application than to build one from scratch. Do you really need all those Java programmers? Do you really need to spend an extra 90% to get an extra 5% of "custom" features?

7. Measure Everything
You have to measure everything. I really hate this. It's almost like exercise: We do it because we have to, not because we like to. But if you don't measure things - like assets, processes, people - then you have no way of knowing how you're doing and no way to benchmark yourself against your competition. Without empirical data, you fly blind.

8. Lest of Breed
This one will breed lots of controversy, but it makes more sense to commit to a few hardware and software vendors than to anything more than several of them.

Yes, this is an argument against best of breed in strong favor of single or double sourcing strategies. Why? Because of the complexity of our computing and communications environments and because emerging business requirements call for scalability and agility we have to increase the chances for the successful integration and interoperability that reduces complexity and fosters agility.

Look around your company to see just how much variation you're paying for and how much money you're leaving on the table. OK, so nobody's perfect, but do you really want to have three database management environments just to prove a point about independence?

9. Look Good
While it's easy to criticize people who spend way too much time grooming their personal and professional selves, it's nonetheless important to keep "form" and "content," "style" and "substance" in perspective.

If you develop a killer business case for a major enterprise technology project but it looks and reads like it was written while you were on vacation, your case will fail. If you're presenting to the senior management team and your folks are in jeans and t-shirts, the team will be treated accordingly. Training materials, documentation, office signs, business cards, Web sites and people all need to look and feel professional. Not cool, professional.

10. Re-Think Relationships
I know, here we go again. But this time there are some major differences in the maturity of both business modeling and technology effectiveness. Ten years ago business models were linear and sequential, now they're dynamic and continuous. Twenty years ago most computing and communications technology barely worked. We're now at a very different business technology place. If we're now talking about collaborative, integrated and continuous business then we're no longer talking about business requirements thrown over the fence to eager or not-so-eager technology professionals who have to interpret what the requirements mean, but rather a holistic approach to business technology convergence that renders most of today's reporting relationships obsolete.

Very simply, if your business gurus are at arms length from your technology gurus, and your organizational structure endorses the distance, then you have a fundamental problem in how you do business. It's time to re-think everything.

Some Final Thoughts (From The Bunker)
Change never occurs in a vacuum. The 10 things you can do to achieve business technology convergence - to get to collaborative, continuous transaction processing - are not simple extrapolative changes you can make a little at a time. They're much more dramatic and therefore much less likely to happen. But hope springs eternal: Maybe once we get ahead of the curve. Good luck.

Steve Andriole is the Thomas G. Labrecque Professor of Business at Villanova University where he conducts applied research in business/technology alignment. He is also the founder & CTO of TechVestCo, a new economy consortium that focuses on optimizing investments in information technology. He is formerly the Senior Vice President & Chief Technology Officer of Safeguard Scientifics, Inc. and the Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President for Technology Strategy at CIGNA Corporation. His career began at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency where he was the Director of Cybernetics Technology. He can be reached at stephen.andriole@villanova.edu.

Reprinted from itmanagement.earthweb.com.

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