The IT Value Stack - Process Entwinement
between IT and Business

by Ade McCormack

     
   

It is usually very difficult to impress Americans. However my recent business trip to New York left them in a state of awe for the British. My contribution in this respect was relatively small. The star of the show was the UK Government, which had just lost the data of 25 million people after two disks were lost in the mail. "You guys certainly know how to lose data."

I am one of the few who can be grateful for the timing of the loss of two CDs containing the UK's child benefit records, as this systemic error highlights the importance of the entwinement of IT with business (and government) processes.

As IT is largely used to automate business processes, one would expect the entwinement of IT and business processes to be yesterday's issue. But as the loss of personal data records in the UK has shown, much remains to be done.

The IT department should influence the business processes as much as the user community. Some would argue that, as a "supplier", the IT department should just do what it is told. In many cases this happens and the IT function slavishly automates the flawed process without question.

However, the IT department is in a unique position in terms of its view of the process flows across the organization and so can provide genuinely valuable process consultancy.

In many cases neither the users nor the technologists feel this is an appropriate role for the IT function. I believe process consulting is the core function of the IT department.

If that is the case, why are many businesses still so far off the pace?

Here are some suggested reasons:

  • Business knows best - The IT department is a supplier and so should not get ideas above its station.

  • Too tech-centric - IT people are often happy to work on a system, or a small subset of the system, without having any real desire to understand the business rationale. The technical solution is the end in itself.

  • Safer behind the sandbags - Many technologists place survival at the top of their daily to-do list. The only reason they would ever climb over the IT department sandbags would be to rescue an injured fool who thought that engaging with users in a helpful manner would undo years of bitter enmity.

  • No perception of process value - Many IT functions do not think in terms of process expertise and after each project shuffle their staff across business systems without any regard to the process expertise acquired. Clearly, such IT functions do not see the business value that lies untapped in their staff.

  • Unscrupulous vendors - Big technology suppliers often bully small buyers into taking systems that on the face of it match their functional requirements but do not map on to how the buyer's business works. Sometimes the bully is on the buyer's side of the table. Occasionally, "alpha CFOs" feel the need to impose their will on the IT function.

So what can we do to change this state of affairs?

  • Process clarity - Processes fit into two categories, documented and undocumented - although "documented" subdivides into those that are followed and those not followed. Processes that are undocumented or documented but not adhered to are a business risk and a risk to the IT function that is tasked with automating them.

  • Engage all stakeholders - Technologists must not rely on the first person on the business-side who has a vague clue about the processes. System sponsors are important people, but they are not always battle-scarred users. Ex-users can be dangerous because their perspective is usually suspended in amber and therefore out of date.

  • DNA engineering - Technologists who are indifferent to the user condition need to be flushed out. Process expertise needs to be nurtured and applied. Technophobic users should similarly be ushered to the nearest exit.

  • Remove analysts - The role of business and systems analysts exists because of the inability of technologists to communicate with the users on their terms. Once technologists become hybrid business-technologists there will be no need for these "user emissaries".

A lack of process entwinement severely compromises IT value maximization. More positively, an IT department that embraces it, instantly multiplies its value in the eyes of the users. This provides a defense against commercially shrewd but process-ignorant IT outsourcing providers.

Users will be all too aware of the dilemma of weighing the cost of asking the outsourcer to do something, which will cost more money, against the risk of taking a chance on common practice.

Symbiotic user-IT relationships and process entwinement will go a long way to reducing such dilemmas.

     
   
     
   

The Author

Ade McCormack Ade McCormack is the author of The IT Value Stack - A Boardroom Guide to IT Leadership (Wiley, 2008) and IT Demystified. He writes a regular column for the Financial Times advising business leaders on business-IT issues He is the founder of Auridian, a people-development business focused on helping organizations get best value from their IT investment. For more information or to contact Ade, see www.auridian.com and www.itvaluestack.com .
     
   
     
   
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Copyright 2008 by
Ade McCormack. All rights reserved.

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