There’s been some hype recently over what is called ‘bi-modal IT’, an approach to delivering IT services that essentially divides an IT into two “modes”:
- “Mode 1” or ‘traditional’ IT, is sequential, emphasizing safety and accuracy
- “Mode 2” is exploratory and nonlinear, emphasizing agility and speed
Frankly, I think bi-modal IT is the wrong approach.
But the bi-modal model does call out a significant issue that exists within many IT organizations. What is the issue? The IT organization doesn’t have sufficient understanding of the business it serves. While the IT organization has a good grip on the technology, it doesn’t have a clear understanding of how the business wants to (or could) exploit technology for competitive gain.
It’s time for bi-lingual IT.
Just being good at technology isn’t good enough for the businesses that IT serves. IT has to speak the language of the business, and not get lost in the bits, bytes, and “geek-speak”. Learning how to talk in business-terms and then translate that information into technology is critical. IT must become bi-lingual.
This is not just a job for a business relationship manager. On the contrary, all IT personnel, from the service desk agent to the application developer to the sysadmin to the CIO are presented with daily opportunities to build and nurture good relationships with those that consume IT services. But IT won’t nurture those relationships if the conversations are about things like CPU clock speeds, network utilization, or the latest and greatest chip set.
Learning the business of the business is critical for the modern IT organization. Why? Because business needs IT. Business is counting on IT for enablement of business strategies and plans. The question is “where will your business get IT?” If you don’t understand the business of the business, you won’t be able to talk in terms that the business understands. If you can’t talk in terms your business understands, don’t be surprised when your business gets IT from somewhere else.
Learning the business of the business
How can you learn the business of the business of the business? Here are some tips.
Read your company’s mission and vision statements. Why does the business exist? That question is answered in the mission statement. Where does the company want to be? Check out the vision statement.
What are your company’s core values? Often companies will publish a “values” statement. A values statement helps provide insight as to why the company takes certain actions.
What does the business do? What are the major business functions at your company? Whether your company produces widgets, manages services, or transports goods, technology plays a role.
What goals has the business set for this year? How can or does IT contribute to those goals? Answering this question may identify innovative uses for technology.
Who is the competition? Check out your competitor’s websites. What are the market spaces in which your company and the competition participates? Where does your company excel, or have an advantage? Where do competitors have an advantage? How can IT be leveraged to help your company achieve new business or improve its market share?
Finding the answers to these questions isn’t as overwhelming as it might seem. Intranet sites, all-hands meetings, and annual financial reports are great sources for information. Job shadowing, reading local business journals, and attending other departmental meetings are also great ways to learn more about the business of the business.
Is your IT organization bilingual?
How do you know if your IT organization is bilingual? Here are some indicators:
Check out the IT service catalog. If the service catalog is defined in terms of business functions, outcomes, and value, this indicates that your IT organization is bi-lingual. IT is able to interpret technology solutions into business terms. How the service catalog is defined separates the modern, strategic IT organizations from those that are simply “order takers”.
Has a formal Business Relationship Management (BRM) function been established? A good BRM function helps business partners make the best use of current IT services. But more than that, a good BRM function not only understands how the business uses IT today, but also promotes and helps plan how business should use IT capabilities in the future.
Do business partners fill the role of the Product Owner on your scrum teams? Are Product Owners and other business representatives engaged during sprint reviews, development of user stories, or backlog refinement sessions? Having ‘business-side’ representation in your scrum teams indicates that the IT organization is engaging in a collaborative way – by speaking the language of the business.
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