In too many firms that we visit, a disconnect exists between the "front office" -- the place where business management lives -- and the "back office" -- the home of IT professionals. Despite the obvious interdependencies of these two domains, there is too often a rift, in the worst case, an atmosphere of outright hostility that has developed over time. In fact, regardless of the project we have been summoned to review and to participate in fulfilling, often the real goal of those who hire us is to obtain an "independent view" that will support a strategy already decided by one side or the other. To be honest, we generally do not like those kinds of projects.
The rift is the problem. It usually begins with a misalignment of the speech of business managers and IT professionals. The latter do not appreciate the work habits or performance of the latter; the back office does not view the front office as particularly tech savvy or competent to provide input on any technology strategy. Both are wrong, but the rift exists nonetheless.
We try to communicate what we have learned in similar situations. We offer simple memes to help both sides achieve a kind of communicative parity. Call it a business value triangle. Management may recognize it from Harvard Business Review, where editors have a penchant to expressing virtually any concept as a triangle. IT folk may see it as an "impossible triangle" that cannot exist in three dimensional space -- as a metaphor, that toward which we aspire. We just see it as a simple way to express a simple idea.
The boundaries of the triangle are the words cost-containment, risk reduction and improved productivity. These are the components of a business value narrative that must be defined and described in a manner that is satisfactory to the decision-makers in the front office if the magic of IT is to be manifested. No bucks, so the saying goes, no Buck Rogers.
Unfortunately, IT pros are too often steeped in the linguistics of technology -- science and engineering -- or the jargon of vendor marketecture. They bandy around concepts like clouds (aka outsourcing to a network-based hosting service provider) or software-defined storage (a current darling of the vendor community despite its very old pedigree in mainframe computing) or virtualization as though these terms actually mean something, or should be self-validating even to the mediocre technical minds of the front office. When communications break down, they seem genuinely confused.
Depending on the firm, the source of the problem may be located in the front office or in the back office. But, to resolve the rift, both sides need to come together on what they want and how to express it.
The problem is even more profound for vendors who are trying to make a case for their products or services in a what is usually a very noisy market environment. Some truly great technology has been developed over the past several decades that never saw light of day because venture capital didn't see its value and provide the necessary investments or because large companies with three letters for names suppressed it or because the start-up developer didn't have the coin to buy the endorsements of the name brand industry analyst firms or to purchase sufficient advertisements in trade press publications to merit coverage there. Like an internal technology acquisition project, the successful marketing of a new technology product or service requires the articulation of a business value narrative that will convince the front office to invest and the back office to deploy.
We are exploring this topic in book length detail in a blog we have established at our Data Management Institute website. We welcome your input there.
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