Here’s a conversation that may touch some nerves out there. Let me know if it hits home.
The participants include a whole horde of “chiefs”: a chief executive officer (CEO), a chief operating officer (COO), a chief financial officer (CFO), a chief marketing officer (CMO), a chief security officer (CSO), a chief learning officer (CLO), a general counsel, and a “facilitator” — me.
The venue was stimulated by loud complaints from the lines of business about technology problems in a large enterprise. I was called in to moderate.
“Basically we think you’ve screwed up the relationship between business and technology, and now because of all of the screw-ups, we have to rethink it — again…so much for the ‘business technology alignment’ process.”
“Sounds like ‘re-thinking’ will cost money…will the outcome of all this require me to write more technology checks? I remember everyone talking about Y2K and eBusiness the same way. What’s different here? Alignment costs money.”
“Yeah, and what about all the good stuff we do day in and day out? Does anyone get any credit for this? The lines of business are clueless about what we do all day and have never given us clear guidance about what to buy — and not buy…all they want is everything to work all of the time and cost less each year.”
“OK, you deserve some credit — feel better? But I have to tell you that there’s still a price on your head…there are a lot of people in the trenches that want you gone…I get calls every day about systems that crash…not to mention what your team costs all of us.”
“There’s no justice — you want five 9s for no pain. Our infrastructures and architectures are obsolete because you bastards won’t spend any money on the basics.”
“What the hell is an ‘architecture’? What are ‘five 9’?”
“All of this makes sense, I guess, but we still have holes in our infrastructure and environment — we can get hacked anytime. We need to spend a lot more money here. I’ve been telling you this for years.”
“Is there a reason why I should be here? I don’t hear anything really new. You’ve been talking about all this for at least a couple of decades and nothing really changes. If there’s no new message here or something I can really spin, then I have some other things to do.”
The General Counsel
“Everyone, just sit down.”
“Great group we have here…you’ve all missed the point. Here’s what we need to do. First, forget about Y2K, the dot.com bubble and the great deals you got on unproven technology and service models. Second, strip away the hype and remember that vendors and consultants are not necessarily our friends, at least not yet. Next, rethink your business models and the best that technology can offer, especially as they involve collaboration and integration.”
“I like this. Finally, a hammer!”
“I like it too, but it’s a hell of a lot more than a hammer. It sounds like a way to finally get all this stuff to work together. Good timing, by the way, because I’m tired of dealing with the ‘relationship’ the same old way. And the board of directors is actually starting to understand this stuff.”
“Did someone give them ‘The Idiot’s Guide to Technology’?”
“Cute. Let’s continue with a conversation about what collaboration and integration really mean, one step at a time. But I guarantee all of you that this will work — at least a whole lot better than things work now. Stay with me.”
“Not so fast. Summarize all this in English.”
“Fine. For several decades the relationship between business and technology evolved as silos — there were people responsible for business, technology and the management of all this stuff. We tried to ‘align’ these activities, but by and large we failed. We developed business strategies and then turned to technology to make it all work, under-emphasizing the role of technology — just as, by the way, business planners under-appreciated what technology could really do for business. Our management consisted of a set of ‘worst practices’ that we repeated for decades. And to make matters worse, we confused ourselves about how all this should be organized. The net effect is probably the worst track record — 75% probability of failure — in the history of business.”
“Maybe I didn’t really want it summarized.”
“It gets better. All of this was exacerbated by the perfect storm — our temporary insanity over Y2K, eBusiness and how cheap the venture capitalists were selling ‘killer apps'”
“Give it to me straight. The whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
“The truth? You can’t handle the truth.”
“Let’s get to the good stuff. So what else are you telling us?”
“The future is about business technology convergence. The silos have to come down. We have to recognize that business, technology and management are inseparable and that this inseparability has huge implications for how we develop business technology strategies, how we buy stuff, how we make it work together and — essentially — how we kick the competition’s ass.”
“So we have some work to do — before we spend any more money on gear!”
“Halleluiah! I’ve died and gone to heaven.”
“Not quite yet Now we need to drill down on all these ideas.”
“I thought this was going to be easier.”
“But we’re not spending any more money, right?”
Steve Andriole is the Thomas G. Labrecque Professor of Business at Villanova University where he conducts applied research in business/technology convergence. He is also the founder and CTO of TechVestCo, a new-economy consortium that focuses on optimizing investments in information technology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.