When Planets Collide: The Need for Business/IT Collaboration

Although their responsibilities and cultures may be planets apart, organizations ultimately need what business and IT teams can only deliver together.

More than a few times, I have heard the title of John Gray's 1992 bestseller about solving gender differences, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, applied to the communication breakdown that can occur between business users and the organization's IT function.

In Gray's view, men and women communicate effectively during periods of stress only when each understands the distinctive customs and characteristics of the other's "planet." No doubt, this insight could apply to the often contentious relationship between business users and IT professionals. With business intelligence and analytics rising in importance, it is critical that denizens of these two "planets" find ways of bridging their cultures and improving communication and collaboration.

IT's role in BI and analytics is vital, but the spotlight today is on "business-driven" BI and analytics. Indeed, business-driven BI is the theme of the TDWI World Conference in Boston (October 20-25, 2013). Executives and managers of key departments and line-of-business (LOB) functions such as marketing want to be more self-reliant and less dependent on IT for BI reports, ad hoc queries, or advanced data mining algorithms they want to run. They desire the freedom to set up their own dashboards and the flexibility to choose visualizations. Business users also often want to access more data sources than IT commands, including customer behavior data, social media data, Hadoop big data files, unstructured content, and external data sources.

To support business-driven BI and analytics, some LOBs and functions have been developing their own "shadow" IT projects, including using cloud-based sandboxes, for performing analytics. Many times, these later become IT headaches; data governance, integration, and management become difficult once the shadow systems grow beyond the capabilities of nontechnical personnel. Built as silos, they often do not conform to corporate metadata and other key standards. The consultants who may have been hired to develop and deploy them are of no help with documentation because they are long gone.

Shadow IT projects can satisfy immediate business-user requirements without the wait of the IT backlog or for working systems delivered only at the end of long "waterfall" development cycles. Some are even built with the intention of being disposable, to be shut down once a marketing campaign or particular analytical inquiry has run its course. The systems can be beneficial to organizations as an entry point for new and innovative technologies or practices that are not part of IT's repertoire. However, if they exist on a "planet" too distant from IT management, they can represent security exposures and cause the problems I've mentioned when the day inevitably comes that IT has to take over responsibility for them.

Agile Methods and Collaboration

Thus, rather than having two separate planets that occasionally and violently collide, many organizations are looking for ways to improve communication and collaboration between business users and IT. Agile method implementation is becoming popular. Scrum and other agile methods are driven by small teams composed of business and IT personnel who work on projects together to deliver increments -- and incremental value -- rather than waiting until the end of waterfall cycles for finished projects. Participation in agile teams gives business sponsors a continuous presence in development, and, therefore, the ability to more fully control a project's direction and results.

To create "analytics cultures," some organizations are decentralizing their data analysts or scientists and embedding them within business functions, such as marketing. In a research survey for the TDWI Best Practices Report, Achieving Greater Agility with Business Intelligence (First Quarter, 2013), 30 percent of respondents said their business and IT teams work "moderately closely" together on BI and analytics projects and 26 percent said they work "very closely and continuously" together. However, our research found that in the majority of organizations, data analysts and scientists are not actually embedded in business teams; only 15 percent said that this is the case.

Follow the Money?

In early 2012, Gartner analyst Laura McLellan made news by predicting that by 2017, chief marketing officers will outspend CIOs on technology purchases. Gartner's research indicated that high-tech marketing budgets were growing at more than twice the rate of IT budgets, in part due to the competitive need to access and analyze big data. If Gartner's projection holds true, then it's clear that IT cannot wait to improve communication and collaboration with marketing and other LOB and operational functions. The proliferation of non-IT managed shadow systems will present an expensive and difficult challenge for IT that will ultimately harm the organization's ability to realize value from data.

Although their responsibilities and cultures may be planets apart, organizations ultimately need what business and IT teams can only deliver together. Seeing the direction money for technology purchases is flowing, IT organizations need to engage business teams now about how to govern business-driven BI and analytics. The challenge will be for IT to exercise governance while acknowledging and even supporting business users' desire for freedom and need for much more rapid development of BI and analytics systems.

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