In a city centre office block, somewhere in Scotland, the conversation between the IT Business Manager (Bill) and the Information Management Manager (Richie) is in full swing,, Bob is irate because his successfully delivered data mart has been derided as unusable rubbish by the business people it was meant to serve.
Let’s join the conversation:
Bill: I hate this job. Every time we try and help the business all we get back are complaints. Complaints because it’s not what they want, complaints because it’s in the wrong format, complaints because of the cost, or the performance, or the availability. All we get are complaints, complaints and complaints.
Richie: Well, to be fair, Little Bill, this was one clearly avoidable situation. We didn’t have to build the data mart.
Bill: I know what you’re thinking, but you are wrong. We had to do something. Anything.
Richie: I don’t agree, Little Bill, we always had the option of doing nothing.
Bill: And why would we do nothing?
Richie: Because. as I said at the time, Little Bill, without demand you don’t create supply, and at this level and on this scale, if you want to create supply, you first encourage demand. But it’s still fundamentally about meeting demand.
Bill: But, things don’t work like that in this organisation.
Richie: I think you will find that in fact that approach works remarkably well, Little Bill, and in almost any type of organisation. The problem is one of perception, if it has never been tried before there is no internal reference to whether it works or not, and of course repeating the mistakes of the past with absolute security, if better than doing something correct, but unproven in this setting.
Bill: No, I still think you fail to understand the nuances of this business.
Richie: You may well be right, Little Bill, but clearly if we really understood the even the nuances of the business, then we wouldn’t have wasted time on this effort, an effort that one of the business executive described as the expensive manifestation of an abject failure to understand the fundamentals of the business.
Bill: They said that?
Richie: Yes, they certainly did, Little Bill.
Bill: Well, if that’s the case then they clearly don’t know what they are talking about.
Richie: As may be the case, but that doesn’t help us either.
Bill: So, you with all of your ‘knowledge and experience’, what do you suggest?
Richie: I suggest that we take a proactive approach to encouraging demand.
Bill: Such as?
Richie: Well, I would revisit the recommendations that I made when I first joined this department.
Bill: Okay, just remind me of the key points.
Richie: We need part of IT to understand business process, and our business processes; in effect we need people who know the business of the business. These should be people who talk to the business in language the business understands, has a good grasp of a vast array of issues, and who can be confident in their everyday dealings with business.
Bill: But, the business always thinks it knows best, how will these people succeed where we have almost always failed in the past? They think we overly complicate things; they virtually try and tell us how to do our jobs.
Richie: That’s why we need people who can communicate with authority, persuasively and with ease, not from a basis of mistrust, lack of empathy and even disdain. We need people who can sell ideas, can frame discussions and articulate coherent and realisable proposals for business IT solutions using language the business grasps the first time. We need people who understand what is said, can lead discussion and can capture requirements in a way that IT can also understand.
Bill: But the refuse to talk to us.
Richie: Well, that’s perhaps rather unsurprising from people who seem to think they have articulated the same requirements to us, and repeatedly, over an extended period of time. The problem is that we have very rarely documented those requirements, and when it has happened it has not been in a way that business can understand and verify, they can’t take any of our requirements and actually understand them without resorting to a translator, so they don’t do it.
Bill: Okay, so apart from blaming IT, what do you suggest?
Richie: The first hurdle seems to be simple. We need to convince the business that we actually have something worth listening to, that we aren’t going back to waste their time, yet again.
Richie: So, what I suggest is this. Part of my team will spend time on investigating existing and new technologies, methods and approaches and how these are applied in similar industries or even dissimilar settings, but with certain synergies. They will have a good grasp of the business but their focus will be on understanding technology and relating it to project opportunities within our business. They will then work with our Business Consultants to actually articulate, explain and sell the benefits of these ideas to the business.
Bill: This, as I have repeatedly told you, is what we do now.
Richie: I don’t think so, Little Bill. There is a marked difference between what we do now, with the “look what a marvellous data mart we have made for you, it has data and lots of menu options, and graphics and stuff” versus the “we would like you to that allows you to be able to identify tangible cross-selling opportunities between various lines of business and with a high degree of certainty, this driving increased revenue, and increased customer intensity, and therefore loyalty… and repeat business”
Bill: So, we go begging the business for projects, with silver-tongued rhetoric.
Richie: No, Little Bill, we give the business what it wants. They are our customers, and as any business person should know, giving the customers what they want is a sure fire route to success.
Bill: Yes, but it would never work here. We are a very conservative company.
Richie: If the rest of the organisation was that conservative, we wouldn’t even be in business.
Bill: So what happens if the business says yes?
Richie: The business consultants and the research consultants work with the architecture consultants in socialising the business requirements and in developing solutions architecture (or a domain architecture), and as part of this they will also interact with the enterprise architecture consultant. So at some point, we will have a Business Requirements document, an IT requirements document, and an IT / Business Process Architecture document, and a Project Proposal document. Then the Business Requirements document – including detailed financials, together with the Business Project Proposal are socialised with the business, and submitted to them for review and approval. We then negotiate.
Bill: You make it sound easy.
Richie: You have to know what you’re doing, and there is logic to it all, but it’s far more rewarding than working on projects that invariably fail to satisfy.
Bill: So, when do we get started on all of this…?
Richie: As soon as you want, Little Bill.
So as we leave Bill and Richie to hammer out the details of the new approach, what can we take-away from this piece of business voyeurism?
I sincerely believe that the hardest job of any data warehousing professional, at least one worthy of the name, is in convincing sometimes even senior IT management of the need for doing the right thing right, of the possibility of doing the right thing right, and of the dangers of confusing ignorance and wishful-thinking with pragmatism.
So, make sure you get an expert, that your expert really is a professional, is absolutely ethical and that they really know their stuff, and when they don’t know, will not try and pretend that they do know, then trust in their professionalism, judgement and expertise, even if you then verify what you are told – and please, don’t verify this knowledge with a charlatan, spend more money and get the verification of a trusted and proven expert. Do this, and in this way and you won’t go far wrong.
Many thanks for reading.
Oh, and one last thng…
According to SAP “Big Data is the ocean of information we swim in every day”. I disagree; Big Data hype is the ocean of crap that we have to navigate through every second of every day.
Moreover, SAP contribute to that shite.
In a big way.
So, not only do we have Software aus Polen, we have Big Data aus Polen. With apologies to the great Polish IT professionals I know and respect.
SAP! Mend your ways.
The choice is yours.
Many thanks for reading.