Business technology is defined by Forrester as “pervasive technology use that boosts business results”. As such Forrester recognises the potential impact of technology on business but pinpointing the pain of most organisations which are still set-up along the lines of the traditional business-technology divide. The general suggestion is that in recognising the impact technology can have on business in terms of added value instead of just enabling stability, business will fare better in today’s increasingly digital world. Andy Mulholland has discussed this position excellently so I will not dive into this too much here.
I could not agree more with Forrester! However, how can we organise BT without too much pain for our current organisational layout? What do we need in terms of resources and where is the delta for our current talent pool? There are many natural, logical and not so logical objections against the concept of business technology. Many of which come from traditional hardliners in both ends of the organisation: “IT” and “the business”. With this, and the reality of differences between IT and Business people in mind, I propose a more subtle and incremental approach towards integrating Business Technology in the organisation in a focused manner by setting up a Business Technology Office.
Focussed? The concept of IT stability versus business agility is central to the discussion of Business Technology. IT needs stability as much as business needs agility. However, some nuance should be added. Stability applies to that part of the organisation which is responsible for the efficient continuation of basic business processes: purchase to pay, book to bill, etc… The majority of processes in any business are and will continue to be transactional “keep the CEO out of jail” processes that have to adhere to compliance and regulation and do not provide any kind of competitive advantage other then costs savings. Those processes that will enable you to have a competitive advantage, i.e. that make your organisation unique, have to be flexible, subject to change and are often very custom. Now let’s oversimplify by suggesting 80% of processes are non-competitive and 20% of processes are. Stability is in favour of the 80% “transactional processes”. Agility is in favour of those processes that make you money by adding value. This 80-20 division is the logical divide for determining the position, focus and scale of business technology without running the risk of hampering IT stability thus positioning the discussion towards actual business issues across disciplines instead of departments.
How do we go about this transformation towards Business technology? By setting up a business technology office within the technology department which is held accountable along Business KPI’s and reports to a Business CXO. One of the major shifts BT proposes is to hold IT accountable along measurable business results. This presses heavily on the current IT function whose success is measured along other indicators. However, by essentially holding a cost-center accountable for profit increase, the lines of responsibility have to change which is not in favour of the stability of the IT organisation. Remember we are still talking about IT stability and Business agility here and they have to co-exist in some form or another and a radical change towards Business Agility will endanger stability tremendously. As such ideally the CIO office sets up the Business Technology shop, but accepts accountability in terms of contribution to the business instead of adherence to a budget. Why IT? Because in reality we see the investment budgets in the hands of the business which, to the frustration of IT departments, is increasingly shopping outside to get their technology needs satisfied.
Is the BT office then purely a technology driven function, and don’t we have Business Analysts for this? No, the BT office should accept responsibility in two directions. 1. in translating business demand into manageable and effective IT programs. 2. in communicating, inspiring and providing input on the opportunities and possibilities that technology offers to the business… This duality is only possible if the business technologist is both IT and Business savvy, has an understanding of the business, the organisation and the markets in which he or she operates, knows and has experience in technology, speak tech as well as business and knows how translate business to technology and vise versa. Moreover, the Business technologists must have a clear insight into the current architecture of the IT systems in place, the potential fit of new programs and the integratability of new initiatives. Without acting as a gatekeeper, the business technologists is a go-between to reconcile the needs of the business with the restrictions of the technology and vise-versa. This gives focus to the discussion on talent pool as we are seeing a new breed of professionals who are not that clearly definable along Business versus Technology lines.
Is it a competence thing then? The BT office should be supported by methods and processes that enable it to show the potential value of technology, translate vague requirements and progress the discussion between two different worlds along effective and constructive means. The growing acceptance of visualisation methodologies and prototyping helps by capturing the age old logic “a picture speaks a thousand words” in constructive purpose built methodologies and tools. The BT office links closely to Business analysts and architects and as such operates with methodologies for Business Analysis and Requirements gathering as well as operate under architectural principles and models. As such, it is more than just a competence thing; the BT office has the potential to direct an organisation to operate under architecture and embrace methodologies for requirements gathering and business analysis which will be beneficial to the effectiveness and focus of any Business or IT initiated change.
The Business Technologist should focus new initiatives on both sides of the Business and IT divide along the goals of the organisation by facilitating through Business Case oriented planning, an understanding of implications and restrictions of the current landscape, etc… As such, Business Technologist keep both the business and IT function sharp by being complementary and helping good initiatives and ideas grow into potential value added programs to the organization.
What do you think? Is the Business Technologist of real value? Or does it add another layer to the complex reality of large organisations?