The Real Truth...

Friday Apr 2nd 2004 by Steve Andriole
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Columnist Steve Andriole generated an avalanche of email -- some heated -- with his recent piece questioning the tech industry's ability to deal with problems that have held back business/technology alignment for decades. Here's a sampling.

I received a lot of emails about February's column, "Can You Handle the Truth?" Seems that a lot of us think that the truth is, well, the truth -- at least from the technology side of the house.

But a healthy percentage of the communications were from the other side, the managers who use technology, approve huge technology budgets and otherwise define corporate strategies. You know, from the senior management team -- the "SMT" -- that has to be persuaded that technology investments make business sense. I also heard from some vendors.

Here's a sampling of what I received:

"The propeller heads need to understand that technology is only important if it helps business make money. The further removed from that goal they stay, the more irrelevant they are to operations and strategy. I really don't care if they think I don't understand what they do. Their job is to make me successful."

When I got that email I cringed, but -- just for the hell of it -- I forwarded it to the same guy who drank all the wine last time to reality-check the comments. Here's his reply:

"Fine, we're propeller heads. But what the hell is this guy talking about? What are we? Servants? Everybody works for the business. This guy's no rocket scientist."

Another one wrote:

"Tell the guy who drinks the wine to get real. If he wants perfection he needs to move off the planet. Standards are not straight-jackets. And whoever said that business wasn't messy. It's hard to develop strategies. Hard to organize companies. Hard to manage people. Grow up."

Then a vendor chimed in:

"I love how 'vendors' are always the fall-guy. We do the dirty work for lots of companies. We train our people and when money is tight negotiate our fees. Where's the problem here? We know the business -- it's our job to know the business. Here's a truth: without us, there would be no applications, data bases or networks. Give me a break. And if he can't tell the difference between a fad and a solution then he's in the wrong business. Killer apps? ... what is this ... 1999?"

So what do we have here? Very different cultures; very different agendas -- and multiple versions of the truth.

Alignment's like a religious war. But let's talk perspective:

The business technology relationship is morphing into a place where everything that isn't overtly strategic is a commodity. The business performance management trend is about business technology optimization or, put another way, alignment on steroids. If you're stuck in the trenches, then you think the "SMT" is stupid about technology; if you're part of the SMT then you think the people in the trenches just don't get it. These perceptions need to marry ...

Killer apps are investments that simultaneously reduce costs and increase growth and profitability. If you even think about them without these two goals in mind, then you're hopelessly stuck in the 20th century -- and if you don't think systematically about costs and benefits then you probably shouldn't be in business ...

People will always be nearly impossible to organize and manage: It makes more sense to accept this rather than to try to change it. The exception to this advice is situational: If your company is tanking then there'll be a bigger appetite to deal honestly and directly with people issues. Seize these moments to do the right thing for the company (and all of the employees expected to work hard to turn things around) ...

If we don't partner well with vendors, we'll ultimately fail. Expertise is specialized and even die-hard in-sourcers will eventually need help. The pace of technology change and the economic pressures over which we have little control will make at least co-sourcing inevitable. The key is to partner with vendors who know your sector and technology well. But don't delay. It's essential that you develop a short list of bona fide partners ASAP ...

"Strategy" is owned by everyone. Gone are the days when technology pros can claim that business pros need to prime their agenda with detailed scenarios comprised of business models and processes; business and technology cannot exist without each other. Strategy is a team sport ...

I don't think these five "perspectives" are very controversial. Maybe we argue so much because we're under so much stress, or because we've been trained to be suspicious about the other side's motives. The key idea was expressed in one of the emails I received. All of this stuff is "messy." There's no perfect business model, architecture standardization, or killer app. While it's fun to talk about "disruptive" technologies, conversations about balance and compromise are more realistic, more adult. Alignment is much more about cooperation and negotiation than anything else, and maybe that's all the truth we need.

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