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Q&A: How Both Sides Can Help Heal the IT-Business Rift

The common schism between business and IT can be solved with solutions that involve collaboration and cooperation.

"I think it's important that people recognize that without IT and the business bridging that gap and working together, a problem doesn't get solved," says Peter Evans, who is the business intelligence and analytics product evangelist for Dell Software. "There is no easy way around this. If [the two sides] stay separate, they will always have problems. If they get together and work on the problem together, they can deliver result across the enterprise."

In this interview, the second of two parts, Evans discusses his observations on the common schism -- and some solutions. [Editor's note: You can read the first part of the interview here.]

Evans has over 16 years of experience in the field and is an expert in the design, implementation, and delivery of business intelligence and analytics systems for major international companies. He holds certifications from Microsoft, Novel, and TARGIT, contributes regularly to the Database Journal and online forums, and tweets and chats on analytics and BI.

BI This Week: As we discuss this schism between IT and business, do you see either side being more at fault?

Peter Evans: Actually, I don't. In my personal experience, there are people within IT who want to make it work, and there are people in business who want to make it work. You often have, however, what I call the stick-in-the-mud -- someone who simply doesn't want to move. They have their own point of view and they are going to deliver that point of view [forever]. I don't know whether it's a lack of ability to learn or an inability to want to advance themselves, I really don't.

Now, applying that to both business and IT... if you look at a data warehousing system, once your data warehousing team has built a system and done the ETL work and has all of that in place, most organizations don't have a lot of change. You don't go in every six months and re-do the ETL process or drag in a new data source. It's usually minor tweaks. So the IT team, the people who look after all this, really have no requirement to innovate, they have no requirement to do anything differently, because it works. ...

There's no drive to actually change what they're doing until somebody comes in with something new and says, "Why don't you do it this way?" That's when people tend to say, "I don't know if that's going to work!" or, "No, that's a lot of trouble and we shouldn't go down that road," or something similar. I've often seen the Gen Xs, the Gen Ys, and the Gen Zs looking around and saying, "Yes, that's great, we really need to do that, let's get on with it, let's drive it, let's move it."

I was speaking to [BI analyst] Howard Dresner just the other week about this. You can look at companies that have boardrooms with Gen Ys and Gen Zs, and they are dramatically more flexible in the way they look at problems and how they solve those problems compared to boardrooms stuck 15 or 20 years [back], too scared to do anything innovative because it might change what they have.

That's an interesting observation. It sounds like one solution to IT/business conflicts is having more innovative and flexible people in positions to make decisions.

I personally believe that those companies that will succeed are the companies that will take on people who think "out of the box," so to speak, as opposed to those companies that stick with people who are bound by a traditional set of rules.

Now, that doesn't mean that those traditional companies can't innovate. It just means they've got to look at the methods of innovation. That's where the outside sources, the outside programs, the outside BI, the visual discovery tool -- it all comes into play.

Perhaps each side needs to start reaching out and trying to repair relations with the other side.

Yes, I think so. In fact, TDWI did a very good job of that about five or six years ago, when you started bringing forward the concept of the BICC, the BI competency center. The whole point of that was to bring teams together, to put people who knew the apples and the oranges with the people who knew the zeros and ones. The delivery to the end user would then perfectly suit what that user wanted to use the data for. I think that large companies that have put a BICC in place and have had it running for two or three years -- and it takes two years, by the way, to get a BICC up and running properly -- then their business intelligence start to improve across the enterprise. They start to be able to gather insights quicker and deliver results faster.

I think it's important that people recognize that without IT and the business bridging that gap and working together, a problem doesn't get solved. There is no easy way around this. If they stay separate, they will always have problems. If they get together and work on the problem together, they can deliver result across the enterprise.

It sounds like a competency center can really help address this issue. Any other suggestions?

The other way to bridge the gap is with tools. That goes to where I sit within Dell. You need tools that are agnostic -- that have the ability to integrate across the enterprise very easily but retain the governance that's being applied by the IT team. Agnostic tools allow that while allowing the business user to be flexible with the data they have access to. That allows the enterprise as a whole to work faster and quicker with their data. Especially in the small-to-midsize market, there may not be the capacity to put a BICC in place. However, if they have tools that are agnostic to whatever system they have, and they have the ability to focus those tools on individual use cases, a toolset can allow both sides to talk and to work together.

The final piece is collaboration, which is where business intelligence is going in the next five years. If you can't collaborate around data, if you can't collaborate around visualizations, then you're going to get left behind very quickly.

When you use collaboration in that sense, you're talking not just about collaborating with different business groups but collaboration between business and IT?

Collaborating between business and IT, helping IT and business to work together -- I mean collaborating not just around the personnel but also the data. Much of the reason that data silos have become such a problem within the enterprise, along with so-called "shadow IT groups," is because IT doesn't get involved. The business side, on the other hand, thinks they have the goods, so they don't care.

If you look at most enterprises, however, the problem is that neither side actually has the whole solution. Data silos are caused by people going to IT systems that are closely governed, then extracting the data and storing it elsewhere. As soon as they store it, it's out of date. Something could happen on the IT side and until they go back and refresh that data set, it's stale.

Let's build a bridge that goes in both directions. Once we have the data, the IT team can go off and do their thing with the data warehouse, bringing the data in slowly and correctly and doing ETL processes and so forth. At the same time, the business can access the data and doesn't get frustrated because they can get results there and then. They don't have to wait six months or work off Excel spreadsheets; they can still work from live data from the data warehouse. I think it hugely important -- not just collaborating between departments, not just collaborating between business and IT, but collaborating between data and the visualizations that come out of data.

What does Dell bring to this discussion?

Dell has a huge role to play. Until 18 months ago, Dell was primarily known as a hardware company. With recent acquisitions, especially Quest Software, we've brought Toad Business Intelligence Suite into the picture. Toad basically allows that collaboration I've just described, not just around personnel but around data. It uses agnostic tools that can connect to any data source. Toad Data Point, which is our data integration piece, allows connectivity in a native way to most relational data bases.

There's much more, but part of it is what we call The Last Mile. IT is still doing their job and providing data through a Dell solution to the end user; the end user is working with that data and integrating his own data. The difference is that users can publish that data back to Toad Intelligence Central and the IT team. It's a full circle of collaboration, bringing people, tools, and data together in one agnostic view across 360 degrees of the enterprise very easily and very quickly. That's what Dell is all about in this BI and analytics space. We're making it easier, simpler, and faster to gain ROI from your data.

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