Five years ago, I identified a growing business trend affecting the way technology professionals engage with their business counterparts.  This shift in expectations and attitudes involved a variety of interactions at the strategic, tactical and operational level.  It was clear, however, that business culture was undergoing a change and that this change would have a ripple effect on IT roles within organizations as well as IT and business consultants working with clients.  To address this new environment and provide the structure to respond with business services, we formed a new professional practice area within our business consulting services: Business/IT Alignment (BITA).   Over the past five years, we have defined approaches, best practices and potential deliverables that contribute to the delivery of BITA services. These have been used successfully with ‘early adopter’ clients struggling with the changing culture.

It hasn’t been easy, however.  Although the reality of the evolving business/IT relationships now seems apparent (and has been recognized early by a small number of organizations), it has taken longer for others to identify the trends.  Helping clients to understand the purpose and the value of a BITA engagement has been an educational activity that for the most part has been well received; getting clients to back that understanding with specific budget and resources has been a longer struggle.  Even within our own IT consulting industry, there have been some high profile sceptics arguing that this concept of the ‘alignment’ of business and IT isn’t real, or isn’t valid, or isn’t an issue – because they hadn’t encountered it.  That’s the same type of narrow thinking and limited experience that would have considered the ‘internet’ to be a fad or that the ‘world wide web’ had no business value! It’s hard to keep something moving forward when only a few individuals seem to ‘get it’, but we have persisted because we have been convinced this was the right direction.

Just as we’re at the point of concluding that perhaps we’ve been too far ahead of the trend on this and need to focus on more traditional and operationally visible services, we see a break in the clouds.  Forrester research analyst, Jeff Scott, in this article from CIO.com, clearly outlines a strategy and approach specifically targeting Business/IT Alignment.  Although emerging from an Enterprise Architecture perspective, the essential points are sound, and reflect the same approach and structure that we have developed and been applying in our Business/IT Alignment practice for the past five years.  I don’t expect that there will be any dramatic change in the industry or our clients’ budget allocations for BITA services, but it is very reassuring to know that we were not off-track in our thinking, planning and direction. This article indicates that BITA is now being recognized not just as a topic for debate, but as a needed service that is entering the industry main stream.

Please take some time to read this excellent article by Jeff Scott, and if you decide, as we have, that Business/IT Alignment is real, necessary and a core element in your business strategy, let’s talk!

Jeff Scott – Don’t Just Build Business-IT Alignment, Map It

 

Business/IT Alignment is all about making sure that management decisions related to IT are grounded in solid, identifiable business strategies and priorities.  A BITA engagement typically involves working with organizations to assist management with the data, information and assessments required for sound management decisions.  The article attached below from Michael McLaughin at RainToday suggests that this is the one, single critical service that EVERY professional services company should offer to their clients.

Sometimes in the quest for solid, long-term project revenue, professional services firms can lose focus on the value of quick, strategic assessments to clients. It is these assessments that help clients identify high priority challenges and provide some shape to move forward.  Many client organizations are faced with multiple symptoms of issues that are simply overwhelming to management.  Often there are interdependencies that make it difficult to separate one issue from another so that they can be addressed.  The uncertainty of what to address can prevent organizations from ever getting to the point of discussing how to successfully do it.  The best investment senior management can make before confirming any initiative or project, is to engage a knowledgeable, independent consultant to examine the situation and provide an assessment of what the core issues are, what the implications are (risks/benefits) and recommendations on a strategy to move forward. If this is done before projects are authorized, it will save considerable project planning time and the potential of significant re-work once the project becomes active.  It is not lost investment: it is shifting investment to the front end of an engagement before resources are committed at the back end.  I would also suggest that if more organizations grasped this one small truth, management decisions generally – whether projects or operations –  would have a much higher success probability.

The One Service Every Consultant Should Offer – RainToday.

 Well it’s officially the New Year and along with well-intentioned but insanely optimistic personal resolutions, we are also treated to a vast list of predictions for the coming year.  Typically, these predictions focus on news, disasters, sports, celebrities or politics. I’ve been waiting for some industry specific oracles, but generally the most that appears from the IT gurus is focused on technology tools and toys. I don’t have any earth shattering personal resolutions to share this year, since they are all the same as last year.  I do, however, feel compelled to share my predictions about the future of the IT industry as a whole – not technology and tools, but demand, careers and the evolving role of IT in society as a whole. 

 Information Technology is changing, and these changes are beginning to accelerate as society responds to economic and social pressures.  Here are my predictions for trends we will start to see over the coming year in the IT industry:

 

We will see a DECREASE in…

We will see an INCREASE in…

1. 

RFPs issued for major IT projects

RFRs for specific project roles with specialized skills/expertise.

2.

 

Demand for network/server staff roles

Contracted network/server/infrastructure services

3. 

CIO/VP IT roles at executive level

IT Director/Manager roles at operational level

4. 

Enterprise Architecture and Technology Architecture within organizations

Business Architecture and Information Architecture within organizations

5. 

Trying to view IT as a ‘partner’ with business

Viewing IT as an utility or contracted service

6. 

Maintaining IT as a separate operational unit and cost centre within the enterprise

Absorbing business-focused IT expertise into business units and supplementing with external contractors

7.

Custom application development by major organizations

Identifying and adapting packaged solutions to meet key business requirements

8.

Maintaining IT resources and developers for key business applications

Contracting with external providers for application hosting and maintenance

9.

Vendor controlled and defined products

Client controlled agreements defined by service levels

10.

Considering IT as a distinct, specialized industry and profession

Fragmentation of existing array of IT functions into specialized, distinct types of services

 
So these are my predictions.  Nothing earth shattering, I think, but not everyone will be comfortable with some of the direction stated here.  Over the coming months, I’ll take each of these items and expand on it in my regular blog, to provide some context for the observations and hopefully generate some discussion.  As the year progresses, we’ll see how close I am in each of these predictions!

How do you interact with the various life domains that you experience each day? Do you carry experiences from one to another, or are you able to segregate each domain so it remains untouched by the others?

We are used to thinking of life in segregated ‘domains’. You have a ‘family’ life, a ‘work’ life, a ‘social’ life, a ‘spiritual’ life, a ‘love’ life…sometimes even a ‘secret’ life! Our culture over the past century has encouraged this view to the point that we often think of ourselves as having separate personalities, or ‘personas’, depending on the situation. Certainly there are different rules of behaviour depending on the circumstances and relationships with others, but does that necessarily make us different as individuals? Perhaps by attempting to define the boundaries around our various life experiences, we hope to somehow control what happens within those borders. In reality, however, is the separation between our various ‘lives’ only superficial, primarily affecting how we behave or respond to others? Experiences in one ‘life’ tend to spill over into the other ‘lives’, no matter how much we try to control the effects within each domain.

 I’ve found many studies and papers that look at the roles, behaviours, attitudes and responses of individuals within the specific parameters defined by one of our many domains: workplace, home, social groups, faith, etc. There are few studies, though, looking at how events and experiences in one of these domains affect us in the other domains. This project is looking for those links through your own stories, and observations. Perhaps by sharing our own experiences, we can work together to build bridges between our many life domains and look for clues to an integrated life.

Share your views, your experiences and your observations by participating in the Work Life Stories Project: http://worklifestories.wordpress.com/

Earlier this month I had the privilege of presenting at the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) conference in Winnipeg on the topic of Business/IT Alignment. I wanted to focus the presentation on a topic that was relevant to business analysts, so the title was: Strategic Business Analysis: An Essential Skill for Business/IT Alignment. As I prepared the presentation and reviewed the key points from the Business Analysis Book of Knowledge (BABOK), I was struck – again – at how limited our interpretation of business analysis is within the work environment and how comprehensive the application of business analysis could be based on BABOK. So often, we view BA simply as a required sub-activity within another project, rather than an activity that has value in its own right. To be fair, even the assumed association as a part of project work is something to rejoice over, given that only a few years ago most organizations viewed business analysis work as ‘optional’. We probably all remember when the clients just assumed that the business knowledge required for the project work would just be discovered or extracted somewhere along the line by the project team. Project managers (usually because they ended up responsible for this activity) were likely the first to realize that this ‘discovery’ process required a different set of skills from the technical expertise of the project team, and from the management and coordination skills of the PM. Most project teams now automatically include at least one BA role to work with the business, and have seen project success improve as a result. Even this, however, is a limited role and only scratching the surface of the true value that a BA can provide to an organization. Business Analysis is more than just providing requirements to a technical team, or advising on implementation changes to the business users. It is more than just an input to attain a project outcome. Properly understood, business analysis can become a strategic activity to improve not only project success, but provide decision support to management and executives in strategic and operational planning. To do this, ‘Business Analysis’ does not need to change or mature – it is ready to take this on now, with a mature best practice model, internationally recognized standards and professional certification. Business attitudes, however, need to mature to recognize the value that sound business analysis can contribute – not just within the limited operational scope of a project, but also at a corporate level to support enterprise business decisions.

View/Download IIBA Presentation:  Adnams BITA IIBA Nov 3

All the Business/IT Alignment posts will now automatically be tweeted as well! Not on Twitter? You can join at – www.twitter.com.

Another fascinating question from one of my strategy network forums: What is a company’s core competency? It sounds easy enough, but from some of the responses provided, it seems clear to me that there’s a lot of confusion around what a company’s core competency is, let alone how to go about identifying it!

This could be tremendously detailed and complex, but it sounds like the colleague posing the question is looking for a basic answer to a basic question: how does a company identify what its core competency is? If a company only does one thing, then it’s pretty easy, but as organizations are growing they often take on many different activities, and can lose sight of what they started out to do. Often some of these ‘extra’ activities are necessary in the early days to support the key activity, but over time, as practices, structure and expectations grow around these activities, the ‘extras’  take on a life of their own. I could probably write pages on this tangent alone, but here’s my simple answer to the basic question:

A company’s core competency is whatever it is that they do that no other company can do the same way, and that can’t be outsourced to anyone else. (Some would add that there should be a customer/client demand for the product or service as well, but there’s also the argument that if you have a unique product/service, you can always create a market!)

I’ve told clients and colleagues in the past: if you’re doing something that someone else can do better, faster or cheaper, then get out of that business – that’s not your core competency, no matter how much you may like to do that or how long you’ve been doing it. Once a company knows what it exists for and clearly understands their core competency, making strategic decisions becomes a much easier activity!

What about your company – does this simple rule apply and if not, how would you define your organization’s core competency?

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