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IT Has Become a Business Obstacle Part 1 of a two-part series on the IT crisis

Originally published January 17, 2013

IT is in crisis. IT organizations cannot deliver solutions at the speed demanded by changing business conditions, new regulations, and operational innovations. CIOs recognize this: the majority of them say they “can’t implement fast enough to meet business goals”1 – their top obstacle for IT support of the business. This reflects the impatience of CIOs and their business partners with the current level of IT performance.

IT is too slow, too complex, and too far behind in introducing new technologies that can help the business meet its objectives. Business units are responding to IT as an obstacle by relying on their staffs to process information, reducing their need for IT support. The Corporate Executive Board reports2 that “IT employees will account for a smaller percentage of total employees .... and that more IT is being done, formally or informally, within the company but outside [the] IT function.”  Shadow IT in business units bypasses IT, grows at the expense of IT, and provides departmental rather than enterprise solutions.

Business unit shadow IT work adds to the already large number of information silos, conflicting values and definitions of data, and ever-more-complex data manipulation and integration challenges that exist in every business. In other words, shadow IT, including SaaS solutions, adds more and more software and information silos that increase IT complexity.

It does not need to be this way! This article will describe the core problem driving the crisis in IT and explore the nature of the IT crisis and the challenges it presents. Part 2 of this series will describe how IT can overcome the IT crisis and become a business enabler.

The Core Problem

The core problem of the IT crisis is the way IT solutions are built, installed, and modified: application by application, with little regard for simplifying information silos and resolving associated data issues and inconsistent rules. This application by application approach uses methods and tools that are not much evolved from what they were decades ago. Yes, today we have the Internet, mobile devices, smart devices, and new programming languages and IT tools. But the way an IT solution is developed for any technology, old or new, is the same: software architects, engineers, and programmers are tasked to design, build, install, or modify an IT solution or business application.  Unlike much business work, IT tasks have not changed for decades.

Two major challenges, and several supporting factors, must be addressed for IT to cease being an obstacle to the business.  These are:

  • Gathering accurate business requirements. The process of eliciting and documenting requirements of business users for an IT solution is flawed and unreliable. “Most survey participants believe that the business is usually or always out of sync with project requirements (78%)” with 88% of business participants believing this. And “75% of [survey] respondents admit that their projects are either always or usually “doomed right from the start” with 82% of business participants believing this.”3   With survey results like these, is it any surprise that the business is doing more of its IT work outside of IT?

  • The time and resources required to deliver an IT solution or application. IT solutions continue to be hand-crafted in an age when other aspects of business are incorporating automation, standardized designs, and assembly-line manufacturing.

The supporting factors that contribute to these challenges and help make IT an obstacle to the business are:

  • Focus on specific platforms. An IT solution focuses on a specific platform, such as IBM/Linux, HP/Windows, Apple/iOS, or some combination of computing hardware and operating system software. This has resulted in a hodge-podge of mixed technologies that supports a range of IT solutions and fills corporate data centers. The  hodge-podge creates redundancies and inconsistencies in business data and rules that further complicates IT’s ability to deliver IT solutions. The platform focus of IT solutions is a major reason that IT work is manual.

  • Tying an IT solution to a specific platform. An IT solution is limited to the technology for which it is developed – technically, this means the solution is “tightly coupled” to the platform; that is, a change in the underlying platform for the IT solution cannot be made without physically changing the IT solution.  This is true even for software that supports multiple platforms – while much of the software may remain the same, the versions made for different platforms are not interchangeable. Thus, platforms become central to decisions about IT solutions because they may limit the solution options available to meet a business need.

  • Tying the business to a specific platform. Similarly, the business is tightly coupled to the IT solution – a change in the business cannot be made without physically changing the IT solution. This is because the user interface, data, and rules are embedded in the solution and don’t exist separately from it, requiring a physical change to the solution for any change to the UI, data, or rules.

  • Focusing on a platform, not the business itself. IT solutions, or business applications, become the focus of IT – keeping them working, moving data between them, and increasing their capabilities within the constraints of existing solutions take precedence over understanding and improving a business’s operations or processes. A focus on the IT solution and all it entails contributes to problems with gathering business requirements because attention is not fully on the business, its operations, and improving its effectiveness.  

This, then, is the IT crisis: the inability of IT to implement business solutions quickly with the resources available.  For IT to stop being an obstacle to the business, IT must rethink and change the way it operates. But first, IT must confront what I call the IT "hodge-podge" – the IT operations resulting from the challenges and factors discussed above. 

The IT Hodge-Podge

Consider the operational and technical complexity IT deals with today – a wide variety of applications that duplicate functions, data, and business rules, written in a variety of programming languages that employ a range of transaction and data management technologies to integrate application operations and information.

I call this accumulated complexity the IT hodge-podge. A driving factor in this complexity is the way that technology evolves when new technologies get incorporated into business processes and business operations. New technology coexists with legacy technologies already in place. Consider this technical framework representing the range of solutions, applications, technologies, and more that IT supports and uses to support business processes and operations:

  (Mouse over image to enlarge)

CIO Magazine considered the problem of IT complexity and the challenge IT faces when attempting to simplify it:
“No company sets out to create convoluted processes supported – sometimes thwarted – by layers of overly complicated technology. But too often, that's what we face. Applications that require days of training but still generate streams of calls to the help desk. Databases and tools too old for vendors to support, but too vital for CIOs to shut down. Data centers choked with servers and wiring, connected to more just like it.” 4
CIO Magazine calls this accumulated complexity Moore’s Flaw, recognizing that accommodating technology change is not simple and does not occur at the rate of change described by Moore’s Law, popularly interpreted as a doubling of technical capability (processing power, data storage density, transistors per integrated circuit, and so forth) every 18-24 months. For IT, “Keeping up with this flood tide [of technology] quickly becomes too difficult (and costly) for anyone to manage.“5

As an example, consider a recent technology change confronting IT: mobile devices. The paradigm a user of mobile devices operates by is: “Present the data I need when I need it, no matter where I am, where the data is, or what application I’m using.” This includes, as an example, the seamless integration between apps on the mobile device, such as linking directly into a map, phone, or browser application. Like it or not, the mobile experience is setting user expectations that contrast with the often frustrating experience users get from existing IT solutions.

This frustration is a consequence of the past 50 years of IT in business: a focus on applications, a focus that has driven IT away from enterprise data governance and information management. We now live in a world where one can ask, “Why can’t IT make my business applications as easy to use as those on my smartphone or tablet?”

Smartphones, social media applications, and more are transforming the way we live our lives. Yet in business we are stuck in the remnants of our past, as short as that past might be, and its legacy of numerous fragmented business applications and data. This cannot go on if we are to transform IT and make IT into an organization that enables the business.

Changes IT Must Make

IT cannot continue down the never-ending path of increasing and ever-changing technical complexity. “Business today requires rapid responses to changing business needs” according to Bruce Moore, Global Managing Principal of Business Consulting, RCG Global Services. “These rapid responses require quick assessment of the impact of change on the business and the systems that support it. Unfortunately, business processes are not well documented and existing documentation’s alignment with the business and its systems leaves much to be desired.”

Fundamental changes are required to transform IT:
  • Business solutions need to be defined in purely business terms – these include business legal entities, goals, organization units, functions, processes, process actions, use cases, data, rules, user interface, and other aspects of business operations that define a business structure and its operations. Bringing these components of a business solution together make it into a business design.

  • The business design must include management and manual actions – not only operational actions supported by or performed through automation. The representation of the business is visual for easy understanding. “Having a visual representation of a business operation,” according to Moore, “makes it clear, easy to understand, and easy to maintain when changes occur. The representation is the documentation.”

  • Each aspect of a defined business operation must be unique and non-redundant – this applies software engineering principles such as a single point of truth (SPOT) for data and "don’t repeat yourself" (DRY) for rules.  It also provides an objective foundation for governance of business data and rules.

  • The business design must be validated for completeness and consistency – this means the business design includes a detailed specification of the inputs, outputs, and operation of an IT solution. The detailed business design must be able to be validated as a consistent and complete specification for building the IT solution.
Each of these elements must be presented in business terms and specify a component of the business solution independent of the technology platform, DBMS, and programming language on which the solution will be implemented.  Technical implementation choices must be decoupled from the business design. Such an approach to delivering IT solutions will eliminate the IT crisis and remove IT as an obstacle to implementing business and operational changes.

There is a new technology that eliminates problems with eliciting business requirements by using computer-aided software to capture complete and consistent business requirements in business terms that can be validated for completeness and consistency. Complete and consistent specifications can then be used to computer-generate and deliver a custom IT solution instantly.

Think of this as instantaneous electronic outsourcing that reduces the time from a specification to a usable application from months to minutes. This technology builds on BI principles such as clarity of data definitions to avoid semantic confusion, consistent application of business rules, governance and oversight, and more, and is available from InfoNovus Technologies ( www.infonovus.com ).

Focusing so completely on the business, how it operates, the data it uses, the business rules, the user interface, and so forth, rather than existing applications and platforms, will be a major change for IT professionals. The biggest change, however, will be this: delivering a business design is all that IT will need to do to deliver an IT solution.

A New Paradigm for IT

Achieving a transformation is not simply a matter of performing the work of delivering IT solutions differently.  It is focusing on business operations completely and using technology to perform technical tasks.  IT can focus on business design rather than software development.
A business design that is complete and consistent is equivalent to an IT solution. Using technology, a well-defined business design can be used to generate business application software  and eliminate the time and effort required for application architects, software engineers, or programmers to deliver the solution.  In other words, it is possible to have IT solutions delivered instantly! This means a business design is congruent with its application software when this is enforced by technology. Another way to think of this is that the documentation, when implemented by technology, is the software.
The business design does not tightly couple the IT solution to the business it supports.  However, while the IT solution does remain coupled to the underlying technology platforms it uses, this coupling is not problematic because the application software can be computer generated instantly. Therefore, a change in underlying technology can be performed easily by regenerating the application for the new platform, without significant manpower, time, or cost. This means programming is disposable and easily redone rather than maintained. Maintaining a business design keeps IT involved with the business rather than with programs, technology platforms, databases, and so forth.
To succeed with this new paradigm requires technology that allows IT to capture business designs, validate them for completeness and consistency, and generate complete applications, including database schema, application software, and management and governance. New technology can replace the common IT tools used to support management and control of infrastructure, databases, applications, and application work products produced by architects, engineers, and programmers.

The time it to begin this transformation to a paradigm of business design is now. Part 2 of this article will describe how IT can transform itself, overcome the IT crisis, and become a business enabler.

End Notes:
  1. Murphy, Chris. “Global CIO 2012.” InformationWeek Reports, http://reports.informationweek.com/abstract/83/8690/it-business-strategy/research-global-cio-2012.html (5 March 2012)
  2. “The Outlook for 2013 IT Budgets.” Corporate Executive Board, http://www.executiveboard.com/it-blog/2013-it-budget/#more-2266 (27 September 2012)
  3. “Doomed from the Start? Why a Majority of Business and IT Teams Anticipate Their Software Development Projects Will Fail.” Geneca, http://www.genecaresearchreports.com/GenecaSurveyReport.pdf (Winter 2010/2011 Industry Survey)
  4. Nash, Kim. “CIOs In Search of IT Simplicity.” CIO Magazine, http://www.cio.com/article/708393/CIOs_In_Search_of_IT_Simplicity (28 June 2012) 
  5. Gruman, Galen. “Strategies for Dealing With IT Complexity.” CIO Magazine, http://www.cio.com/article/158356/Strategies_for_Dealing_With_IT_Complexity (24 December 2007)


  • Richard SkriletzRichard Skriletz

    Richard is a manager and management consultant with more than 35 years experience working in large corporate and start-up environments. His professional focus is on the strategic application of information technology to improving operational performance, managing organizational and technical change, and optimizing business effectiveness. Richard is a Global Managing Principal with RCG Global Services and CEO of InfoNovus Technologies. He can be reached via email at Richard.Skriletz@rcggs.com.

    Editor's Note: You will find more articles and resources, and Richard's blog in his BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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