It took the catastrophic economy of 2008-2009 to knock “alignment of IT and business” off its first place throne and displace it with cost reduction as the most pressing concern of CIOs, according to a study by the Society for Information Management (SIM). SIM VP of Academic Community Affairs, Jerry Luftman, says, “One would think that over thirty years, with all the smart people, CIOs, academia, it [alignment] would move further down the list, but it hasn’t.” The gulf between business and IT is often caused by conflicting priorities and an inability to speak each other’s language. And never the twain shall meet – but it is our job to ensure that they not only meet, they are able to integrate and work as a cohesive unit.
There is often a race to place blame for the “data gap” that exists within organizations. It’s IT’s fault says business. They insist upon using buzzwords like “linkage, convergence, and integration,” the meanings of which are not simple to communicate. It’s business’s fault, says IT, because they can’t understand technology or how to use it. SIM’s Luftman says that “everyone is looking for the silver bullet… if [we] had the best technology in the world, the business would love IT.” Technology, though, is not the problem.
One of the biggest gaps I see in companies is not being able to bridge accounting and operational information layers with system layers. Neither side is able to take complex information and translate it into language that everyone can agree upon — bridging the gap so that everyone is on the same page.
Accounting and operations want summary and detail data provided in an organized, understandable way to make tasks like proactive reporting, forecasting, and budgeting easier. The problem is that IT systems often have legacy information and incredibly complicated data structures that are not organized in an easily consumable fashion. IT often cannot traverse that gulf or find solutions that would bring the two worlds together.
Why? Is there something lacking in either the IT or business components? Not necessarily; most of the time IT has to work on putting out fires and managing large production systems. They understand the need to provide management with the tools and information they need to run their business but simply do not have the bandwidth to do so while also keeping the lights on. They’re running IT! Likewise, the business side is focusing on day-to-day operations and does not know how to bring IT into the process. In essence, they are running two separate, parallel operations without knowing how to interact, like interstate highways that are moving in opposite directions.
SSB’s role is to build a bridge between these two separate entities. The key is creating a clear understanding between IT and business. We are translators. We can communicate with business, breaking technology into manageable, measurable factors; at the same time, we can work with IT to facilitate a better understanding of business objectives and goals in a way that meshes with their mission. We can help your CIO cross business/IT alignment off the list of worries.
I came across an article on the “silo effect” in InfoWorld in which a CIO commented, “From the way everyone behaves you’d think my head of application development was Bill Gates and the head of Operations was Larry Ellison. There is no trust at all, and they appear to be out to undermine each other more than they’re out to be successful at their own responsibilities. Worse, the attitude is contagious…There’s no trust, no ability to collaborate…nothing except a lot of blaming, which seems to have become our core competency.” Unfortunately, while we tend to hear a lot about the value of integrating information, systems and employees, it does not usually work out that way in practice.
We are sometimes called in to consult when a company needs business intelligence services specifically; more often, though, we are called in when a company is having a problem and no one knows what is going on with their system and data. They may be finding themselves in situations like the CIO above: they are getting different answers from different systems and they can’t rely on any of the data. There is no framework for organized data strategy, no consistent accessibility and usage strategy. The bottom line is that no one trusts each other, and no one trusts the data.
One of the chief causes of this problem is the “silo-ing” of information and systems. This prevents information from being shared and used openly, which limits the business’s ability to function optimally. According to the American Management Association, 83 percent of executives report that silos exist within their companies, and 97 percent believe they are having a negative impact. Sixty percent of respondents felt that lack of collaboration was the major concern their companies were facing. It is a classic case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing – further, the right hand thinks the left is incompetent while the left thinks the right is out to get it.
Clients typically call us in to consult when they are facing the fallout from information segregation and lack of a coherent system for dealing with the numbers. Whether they are not collecting the data they need, or they do not know how to access the data they have, the problem remains that a framework needs to be implemented that will allow for an organized data strategy that consolidates information and provides a single source of truth. This boosts confidence in data, and enables different “factions” to work with a common strategy and purpose.
Explaining business intelligence is like moving a piano up eight flights of stairs. It’s not just that the piano weighs a ton; it’s that it is incredibly unwieldy. Business intelligence is a cumbersome term, and it, too, is difficult to haul around a building full of diverse personnel. Gartner defines BI as “an interactive process for exploring and analyzing structured and domain-specific information to discern trends or patterns, thereby deriving insights and drawing conclusions. The business intelligence process includes communicating findings and effecting change.” This often does little to clarify the term and, more importantly, to communicate goals and objectives to management and teams. It’s helpful to take a moment and define business intelligence. Maybe we can’t make the piano lighter but we can help you figure out a better way to carry it.
At its most fundamental level, BI is being able to make information available and accessible. This enables better business decisions in an organized, timely fashion. That’s it. It’s enough! As Gartner defines, the end goal is to effect change. According to a 2011 LogiXML survey, many business users are dissatisfied with their companies’ BI implementation. Nearly 38 percent felt that their BI tools were not adequate. LogiXML CMO, Ken Chow, said of the findings, “It pointed to something we’ve seen, which is this widening gap between IT and business users with respect to their BI expectations.”
We help find a way to bridge that gap. One of the problems we see again and again is not being able to implement change in a lasting way. Business leaders always want to question data and use it to make better decisions. The problem is that they have to go through the process of working with IT to pull that data each time they want to do something different. It is as if each BI project or tool is designed to be a “solution” to a discrete problem rather than a strategy that can be applied to a range of concerns throughout the organization. This is time-consuming and ineffective, and it further widens the gap between business and IT.
BI puts a usable data framework together. This way, management and personnel can use the data to make rapid decisions regardless of the specific application. SSB is able to help build the infrastructure your business needs in order to access and utilize data efficiently and consistently. Creating this framework is usually our first step; it provides a solid foundation for launching other goals and initiatives. From there, we can move on to helping them make automatic assessments and in discovering capabilities they had never thought possible before. A strong framework suddenly makes these applications possible – and manageable.
More than half of all BI projects fail entirely or do not deliver on the promises made when they were launched. The most common reason is that many businesses regard BI as “just another IT project” instead of a dynamic, evolving strategy. We help create the mindset that a well-organized framework will help facilitate decisions throughout the organization. While flexible and fluid, the framework adds necessary organization and consistency to data-related efforts.