The magic formula: getting IT and business heads on the same wavelength

The importance of upping the communication ante

Agility is the magic word in the modern business environment. Uncertain economic conditions, fast-changing customer demand and new forms of partnership call for strong and fast adaptive abilities on the part of organisations and individual employees.

A good supply of information is crucial in order to be able to respond quickly to changing circumstances – a quality that many organisations today sadly lack. IT cannot keep pace with the rate of change and business users are not able to specify their information requirements adequately.

In recent years, organisations have invested heavily in ERP systems, Business Intelligence solutions and other tools in order to improve the supply of information within their organisations at the strategic and operational levels. In practice, many organisations do not get the most out of these systems because they are not able to generate the right information quickly from the large volumes of data available. At the operational level in particular, organisations are unable to access the right information.

Here are my thoughts on the three primary bottlenecks in cooperation between business leaders and IT, and my advice on why end users should take the lead in gathering information themselves.

1. Complexity of data models

Complexity in data models is the main cause of the long lead times in IT. What appear to be simple questions from business staff often lead to lengthy development and implementation processes in IT, because behind the scenes, many steps have to be followed.

For example, IT may need to spend a great deal (or an excessive amount) of time on creating lists for individual users, even though their time would be better spent deploying this knowledge at a strategic level.

2. Complexity of application logic

Because few business users have a complete insight into the application logic – how does an order move through the system? – it is very difficult for them to specify precisely which functional solution they need in order to obtain the information that is operationally relevant – certainly in relation to cross-department topics.

Business users only know exactly what solution they are looking for when they see the first deployment from IT. The question from IT to the end user is usually: "What are your information needs exactly?" As a result, this often does not lead to an answer that IT can work with.

3. Difference in mind-sets

In order to bridge the gap between business and IT, management, subject experts and IT departments, a level of inter-functional collaboration is required. However, the various disciplines have different mind-sets, different training and different interests.

As a result, they look at things differently and do not understand each other clearly enough. This makes inter-functional cooperation difficult, if not impossible. The management is looking at profitability, the experts to the business problem and IT is already thinking of formulating the solution when the problem is not completely clear yet.

Perhaps the biggest misconception is that the business specifies what it needs and that IT decides whether it can develop this. What business users need is fast information supplies, in terms of 'an answer to my recent question', fully tailored to their own role in the process. Users should be able to ask these (ad hoc) questions to the system themselves.

Enabling operational users to take the right information from the system via self-service tools without burdening them with data model or application logic complexity is key. Designing good data systems is one thing, but real returns are only achieved by turning the large volumes of available data into usable information through tools that automate access to information and present it in user-friendly interfaces.