How to Move Beyond Requirements and Toward True Partnership
Intimacy is not a word that is often used in IT organizations. But it should be.
Almost from the moment that the first computer was developed, there has been a divide between IT and “the business.” Technology is intrinsically complex and requires a certain type of (typically non-business) person to make it function. For a long time, this worked – the business didn’t understand what was going on and didn’t want to. And the IT guys preferred to be left alone to play with their blinking lights.
But as technology became more and more entwined into the fabric of business, this divide became a problem. The business was now reliant on these blinking lights and the folks that made them run to deliver their core business services. And so began the long conversation about how to bring IT and “the business” together.
PICK YOUR PARADIGM
Along the way, a number of terms, concepts and “paradigm shifts” were introduced to try to bridge the divide. Going by the names of “IT Business Alignment”, “Project Portfolio Management”, “Requirements Definition” and so on, organizations have gone to this well over and over in an attempt to find some way to make IT and “the business” come together. Yet the conversation continues, because the problem is seemingly intractable and the solutions fleeting.
The root of the problem is that the efforts to bridge the divide are almost always based on IT trying to get “the business” to speak its language. Whatever paradigm is chosen, they almost universally require that IT and “the business” have a conversation to connect business goals with IT requirements. IT wants to be a friendly assistant guiding the business through technical complexities so that “the business” can define their “requirements” and prioritize IT’s work. Even the term, “the business” speaks to IT’s myopic perspective. What other part of the organization refers to everyone else as simply “the business”?
A NEED FOR INTIMACY
Perhaps most humorous is the often heard complaint that IT customers are “solutionizing” – coming to IT with solutions before the problem has been fully defined. But this is merely the result of years of conditioning. IT already wants “the business” to spell out exactly what they need and the priority with which IT should work – why not just tell them exactly how to solve the problem as well?
It is clear that there must be another approach.
The first step in identifying a new approach to bridging the divide between IT and “the business” is to recognize that the business doesn’t care about any of the technology. They only want the benefit that the technology can provide. They recognize that in the new era of business, technology is not only a business enabler, it is often the source of competitive advantage and perceived customer value. But that doesn’t mean that they want to understand the intricacies of the technology itself.
Instead, what “the business” wants and needs is for someone who already understands the technology and its capabilities, to come along and be able to understand what they’re trying to achieve and figure out how technology can help get them there. The dirty little secret that explains why most “alignment” and “requirements” driven efforts fail is that “the business” doesn’t really know what they want or need from a technology perspective. So, when they are asked to define it, it inevitably leads to misfires.
It’s kind of like going to the doctor and after you settle in to the exam room, the doctor walks in and the conversation goes something like this:
Doctor: “Tell me your requirements.”
You: “I don’t know. I’m sick – figure out what I need to get better.”
Doctor: “I can’t meet your needs if you don’t tell me what you want me to do – the more specific the better.”
You: “Fine, I think I have strep throat. I need antibiotics.”
Doctor: “Great. Now that we’re clear on your requirements and expectations, here’s what you need to do to get better….”
It’s preposterous, but that’s the conversation that occurs every day between IT and “the business.” Instead, the best healthcare comes from a long standing relationship with your physician. As they get to know you and your lifestyle, they develop a level of intimacy that enables them to understand your health objectives and issues, your attitudes, your behaviors and your personality. With this level of intimacy, they are able to spot things that may be causing you problems, or attitudes that may be limiting your ability to improve your health. At that point, they become much more than a simple provider of health services – they become your trusted partner who you rely on to help manage your health.
CREATING INTIMACY & PARTNERSHIP
IT organizations need to do the same thing. You need to stop talking about “the business” generically. You need to stop asking for requirements and priorities. Instead, IT leaders and management at all levels need to come along side their customers and have conversations about their business strategies, goals and directions. But the goal of these conversations is not to simply translate business-speak to tech-speak for them.
IT leaders must have these conversations with a singular goal in mind: to understand.
The goal is to develop a deep understanding of your customer’s specific and unique business challenges and opportunities. The conversations should be about current market share, competitive threats, changing consumer tastes, market gaps and so on. At a more tactical level, they may be about current business processes, transactional workflows and operational structures and why they exist the way they do. By creating this deep level of understanding about your customer’s business, you will be in a position to help them leverage technology to solve their problems and take advantage of opportunities.
You may hit initial resistance to this approach, because this will seem foreign to your customers after years in the wilderness. But this is what they want. Once they believe that you will deliver, they want nothing more than to simply focus on their challenges and opportunities and to have you bring solutions to them that accelerate their success. But you must be able to deliver.
Creating intimacy, therefore, requires two things. First, you have to understand that you need to create it and have the political will to drive a fundamental change in your relationship with your customers. But before you can go there, you must have also built up a bank of political capital and credibility by delivering routine services consistently and reliably. If you haven’t done that, your customers will never have enough trust to allow you to build the relationship you need.
Built upon a foundation of trust and credibility, however, creating intimacy with your customer will allow you to become the IT organization that your customer has always wanted. One that understands their goals, challenges and opportunities and brings solutions to the table that create significant value for them.
Without them needing to see a single blinking light.
About the Author:
Founder & Institute Fellow
Charles Araujo is a technology analyst and internationally recognized authority on the Digital Enterprise and Leadership in the Digital Era who advises technology companies and enterprise leaders on how to navigate the transition from the Industrial Age to the Digital Era. Having spent over thirty years in the technology industry, he has been researching Digital Transformation long before it became the uber-buzzword of today, and is now focused on helping Digital Era Leaders prepare themselves and their organizations as the macro trends of the primacy of the customer and the primacy of the algorithm collide, ushering us into what he calls The New Human Age.
Principal Analyst with Intellyx, founder of The Institute for Digital Transformation, author of three books, and most recently the co-founder (with his wife) of The MAPS Institute, he is a sought-after keynote speaker and has been quoted or published in CIO, Time, InformationWeek, CIO Insight, NetworkWorld, Computerworld, USA Today, and Forbes.