Best of the Blog: What ’Chu Talkin’ ’Bout, Business?

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I’ve been around a few organizations now where I still see enterprise architecture being nothing more than a thing that IT people do. There is a terrible lack of trust between the business and IT organization, and we still haven’t gotten any closer to having significant and productive discussions about things that matter to getting business done.

Mostly, we have conversations where ideas are shared and arguments are made, but they really don’t take us anywhere. In my mind, having a discussion with the business is to talk about something that is meaningful and works toward a shared outcome—fruitful talks that realize good business outcomes.

How can we have a discussion instead of a conversation? The Business Capability Model is the single most powerful tool any organization can have to actually bridge the great divide between business and IT. The investment in time and effort to create this model is invaluable. First, because it speaks the language of business using business’ terms! It’s independent of organization structure and will live through many organization changes to become the tool that, in fact, will guide the change. The business will come to love it and want to use it all the time as ITS tool (even though you created it) to explain to people about what the business does, where it wants to be, and where it is hurting.

In the past, many IT people have thought they exist because they’ve got the technology covered and the business side has no idea how sophisticated or challenging the IT environment really is—boy, how times have changed! Business people have learned how to access super-high-speed Internet, network, and automate their homes; connect a myriad of devices; and access any cloud-based service they might happen to stumble upon. Meanwhile, back in the organization, they can’t understand why it takes so long for IT to get their mobile phones talking to Outlook. I often cringe when I hear IT proposing an IT solution to the business without even stopping to understand what the REAL problem is. Back and forth they go, and the business is still not happy with the service it is getting. Lots of conversation happening but no discussions. This leads to lots of frustration that results in IT going to the cloud and being outsourced for reasons justified by “cost-reductions.”

Planning, by both business and IT, is still done separately, with IT expected to do the “magic” and deliver the right IT at the right time and place. So we perpetuate the silos and the great divide and have conversations around “This is what I want, so tell me know much and how fast?” or “I’ve downloaded this great app and want everyone to use it.” I’m sure you have heard these stories before. So how do we fix this? How do we turn dysfunctional conversations into meaningful discussions?

Quite often we see the divide between business and IT because neither have the tools like a Capability Model to move into the discussion mode.

But I have seen the Business Capability Model work, how you can show it to the business and IT teams and see the postures in the room change. The conversation now turns to, “Hang on, that’s not how we describe it— use these words instead,” or “These are my challenges right now; I don’t have the information to do this here.” The IT person can now respond, “Let’s have a look at what systems you currently have in this space,” or “Tell me what your challenges are,” or “Let’s look at options to fix this.” Voila. Now we have a shared outcome. That’s what a discussion is!

So when you reflect on what’s really holding you back from having a valuable discussion with the business side, and what it takes to become a trusted advisor—consider adding a Business Capability Model to your tool kit. Just a warning—your block diagram is not a Business Capability Model.