TypoArt BS

Really, we need Bi-lingual IT

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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[1]

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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[1] http://www.gartner.com/it-glossary/bimodal/ retrieved 11/08/2016.

Photo credit – TypoArt BS

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4 thoughts on “Really, we need Bi-lingual IT”

  1. Doug thanks – excellent prompts here. Given the modern language of journeys, scenarios, stories and so on that DevOps/Agile leverage to connect to the business I think its so important that IT organizations seek out what are termed a ‘Journey’ or ‘Consumer Scenario’ catalog/s. Also, that they have on hand some form of stakeholder analysis of interests, keywords, imperatives, and the like to tune into any particular language.

    This is at the very core of today’s successful service businesses, and of course ‘Outside-In Thinking’ – you knew I’d go there 🙂

    As for bi-ligual – thats a good start – but I’d suggest IT goes much further and endeavors to ensure a catalog is designed from the perspective of ANY intended audience.

    Again thanks – an important topic.

    1. Thanks Ian for reading the post and for your comments. IT must be able to speak the language of the business if it is to be successful. Even better if IT takes an “outside-in” approach to how it delivers services.

      You’ve given me some ‘food for thought’ regarding the ‘journey’ or ‘consumer scenario’ catalogs….adding those topics to my list of things to look into further.

  2. Great prompts here as ever Doug. I see this as one of the biggest barriers to us shifting from the order-taker to trusted advisor/strategic partner role. We consistently see this globally in all of our workshops. In terms of the ABC (Attitude, Behavior, Culture) worst practice cards ‘IT is too internally focused’ and ‘It has too little understanding of Business impact and priority’. The first card supports Ian’s comment about the need for outside in thinking that he has tirelessly been championing for many years. I also believe the BRM (Business Relationship management) capability s a core capability for IT organizations moving forward. One of its key competencies is ‘powerful communications’ Here is a link to a recent Grab@Pizza simulation we ran. Click on Scene 3 in this screenplay scenario – what you see is typical in the majority of IT organizations! “https://brm.institute/digital-transformationdisruption-is-it-just-fake-news/”

    1. As always, Paul, thanks for reading my article and sharing your insights. If IT is to remain relevant, IT must learn and speak the language of the business. But that is only the first step. IT must reach out and form the solid working relationships with its business colleagues, not wait to be approached by business colleagues. Secondly – and this one is going to be difficult for many IT organizations – IT must quit acting like an order-taker, and begin acting as a trusted advisor/strategic partner. If IT acts like an order-taker, then IT will be treated like an order-taker, which is a dangerous step toward irrelevancy…

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