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Many blogs have been written and thoughts have been shared about Business and IT alignment. Here’s a few that I came across and liked in 2009 looking at Business and IT alignment from various different angles:

  • How to Cut Through IT Bureaucracy (Susan Cramm, author of “8 Things We Hate About IT”, @scramm)
    … within every company, there is an IT department struggling with how to make business leaders love them while pushing the bitter pills of strategic alignment, value realization, integration, standardization, self-sufficiency, and risk management…

Based on my experience of having worked in the IT field for many years up until  recently, I think it’s always good to look at and think about Business & IT alignment. It’s important to look at it from different angles, as the specific journey of Business & IT alignment will be different for different companies and company cultures and different individuals involved.
I wanted to share a different analogy of how Business and IT engagement often seems to work today, respectively how it should work.

Typical Business-IT engagement in a regular mid to larger corporation today:
Let’s say IT runs a restaurant and it happens to be pretty much the only restaurant in town, the “Business” comes in one night and sits down at the table.
They might have to wait a while for the waiter (part of IT) to show up, but let’s not talk about that. The waiter comes and asks the Business what they want.  Neither does he  give them a menu nor does he tell them about any specials, but comes only with a blank notebook eager to write down what the Business might request.
The Business is stumped a bit, they can’t immediately say what they want without having seen a menu or having heard any specials, so they ask for some more time to think about their “requirements”.
image Eventually the waiter comes back and the Business tells  her they’d like a Vegetarian Thali. Back in the kitchen the Executive Chef & Sous Chef, the Service Manager and some other waiters all come together discussing what the Business might have meant by  a “Vegetarian Thali”. They are say a nice Italian restaurant, specialized on homemade pasta and succulent meat dishes. They even  recently sent one of their chefs to Italy to learn more about how to perfect their risotto, that didn’t sell so well so far.
Now they got a big task to do to satisfy their customer who unfortunately hasn’t ordered anything they have much experience with.
So they Google “Vegetarian Thali” and needless to say find lots of pictures and recipes.
It’s too late to go to the market now, so they take what they can find and fix something up for the Business, that somewhat looks like a Vegetarian Thali.
To make a long story short(er), the customer remains somewhat disappointed, as the Thali doesn’t taste like they would have expected. They leave early and while they might come back eventually to give the restaurant another try, probably eat at home for a while.

Moral(s) of this story: (in no particular order)
For IT, the restaurant:

  • Think about your specialties and give your customer choices in form of a menu (yes with prices too).
  • Go to the market daily and find out what’s hot, understand the offerings and try to include things that are currently hot sellers on the market into your portfolio. Offer some of these specials to your customer too in addition to the standard menu.
  • Think about which of your offerings go well together to enhance the customer’s experience (…”Want fries with that?” might not be the best reflection on this, but still in good restaurants, every waiter knows the entire menu and specials so well, that he can always recommend additional choices for a better experience (and a bigger sale!).
  • Never fix up anything for the customer, that you haven’t tried before yourself
  • While the Chef might carry more responsibility and might connect to the guests after Dinner for some feedback (given the guests don’t leave early) the folks who deal with the Business the most, the waiters, are typically not very high up in the hierarchy. Let your waiters feel how important they are and empower them to make decisions right at the customers table.

Business_and_IT
For the Business, the customer:

  • If you don’t get a menu ask for it.
  • Similarly ask for specials, most restaurants (and IT organizations) go to the market often and inform themselves what’s hot, even if the IT organization you deal with doesn’t do that much, they will start doing so if you are asking.
  • If you don’t get a menu, don’t order something you’ve seen somewhere else, determine what kind of food you are most hungry for; Let’s call it: describe your pain points.
  • Don’t be hasty. If you don’t like your food, don’t leave early, tell them! They can do better.
  • Don’t wait with feedback for the Chef to come around, connect well to the waiter and give your feedback to him openly and often, they know how things work back in the kitchen and can make things happen
  • Don’t settle for bad meals, however and don’t start the blame game. Give feedback and describe what you are hungry for / your pain points in more detail.
  • In the rare case, that the waiter doesn’t believe the food is no good, let him try it right at your table.
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7 Comments

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  1. Krishnakumar Ramamoorthy
    Martin
    A simple but a strong message with a good analogy. Many times I have heard business saying that they don’t care what IT can/will do but they just want solutions. Though there is some truth in it, at the end of the day, as per your analogy, the business is the one who is going to eat it.. great food or the lousy one. Good point on how IT should give options as well. Many times I have also seen IT taking the backseat and trying to satisfy business issues only when asked for. As you say, they should be proactive in their approach in educating and providing the business with some options as well building skills/resources within the team.

    Thanks
    KK

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    1. Martin Lang Post author
      Thanks KK, yes, very good points, especially these two:
      – …”the business is the one who is going to eat it.. great food or the lousy one”…
      –> Yep exactly! I think IT should try every item on that menu including the side dishes and wines themselves in order to really recommend the best options for a great dining experience.
      – …”Many times I have also seen IT taking the backseat and trying to satisfy business issues only when asked for”…
      –> yes, I didn’t say it so clear in the blog, but I’ve also seen just that. What I would love to understand is how to best motivate/push everybody in the restaurant to a more proactive approach.
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  2. Vijay Vijayasankar
    Loved it – and beautiful example.
    And thanks for a link to my blog – glad you liked it.

    If IT is the only restaurant in town, business better like italian cuisine a lot 🙂
    IT organizations usually align themselves to technologies and products…like “we are an SAP shop”, or “We are a java shop” etc. So the usual mode of problem solving is – so how can we solve it in SAP or in ASP .Net? as opposed to – how can we best solve the problem?

    I believe Thali just means a plate. So a vegetarian thali could be “interpreted” by an Italian chef as vegetarian italian dishes served in a plate. Now, wouldn’t that resemble a lot of real life Business – IT alignment ?

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    1. Martin Lang Post author
      Thanks a lot Vijay! I think I would actually say yes “If IT is the only restaurant in town, business better like italian cuisine a lot”. It’s fully ok – my view anyway – for an IT department to be an SAP Shop or a Java Shop etc. and build up a certain amount of expertise around certain technologies.
      What I see is often not done enough is that IT departments research comprehensively what their customer desires (aka understanding their pain points) and then puts a menu together that reflects their understanding of the customers desires plus the experience, expertise and creativity of the (yes possibly Italian )Chefs.

      Or in other words: IT is considered a “vendor” (vendor of choice usually) and the Business is considered the customer. Now for most vendor-customer relationships, the vendor spends a lot of time to figure out what I might want. Take car manufacturers as an example, they do lots of research and then let me know through their websites what I might want, I can even configure the car of my liking etc. before I actually buy it, they are not giving me a blank website with a question like: “Please let us know what you want and we’ll get it to you.”. Successful vendors figure out what their customers want and offer them specific choices, yet in IT I’ve seen more of the blank page kind of scenario. Often IT might say it doesn’t have the time, resources or skills to fully understand the Business pain points. (and that might of course be the reality)
      I’d love to explore more how this could be turned around in situations where it works somewhat as described in this blog…

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  3. Marilyn Pratt
    This analogy resonates well and reminds me of two real stories that might further illustrate the challenges of IT meeting business expectations and continuing the analogy of a successful culinary experience.
    One is a true story my grandfather told me the other something that happened to me when I was a young mother.
    My grandfather’s story first.  When my grandparents first arrived in Berlin in their teens from a small village in Poland in the early 1920’s, my grandfather, who loved to jest, bought my grandmother her first tropical fruit from a street vendor, extoling the taste of bananas.  My grandmother found them revolting and really hated the taste of the skin and thus disposed of her first banana, while never really tasting it, having no clue how to peel it, nor ever experiencing the sweet fruit inside.  Not having proper instructions prevented her from evaluating the offering.

    Sixty some odd years later when on a vacation in Canada I told my young children about the fine taste of boiled lobster and bought them one (to go), moments before boarding a train bound for NYC, unfortunately failing to think to ask for a nutcraker or lobster pic.
    A few hours of our ride was spent struggling with the shell.  I probably cut myself and nobody really enjoyed the treat.

    So I suppose another important point about satisfying the hungry business customers: they might need proper instructions or the proper implements in order to be able to evaluate whether the item suited their taste buds.  Hard to tell if they don’t know how to remove a peel or have no imnplements to crack a shell.  Sound familiar to anyone?

    By the way, Michael Krigsman is a masterful story teller of IT failures and our own Vijay V. as well so enjoyed the references to them both!

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  4. Gretchen Lindquist
    In my recent project experience, our restaurant’s executive team studied the pain points of the customers and heard them saying that the dish was too difficult to consume, so a lot of work went into designing a dish that would offer the same nutritional value but in a more easily consumed format. So on our service menu, the spaghetti was replaced with lasagna; however, when the lasagna was rolled out, we still had issues because while some liked the change from the spaghetti noodle to the larger, more stable lasagna noodle, others wanted someting smaller, more flexible, and easier still, such as elbow macaroni and minced beef. while vegatrians wanted only an all veggie lasagna. You may be able to offer a service with infinite options to customize, such as some US burger chains, but then the price point may change. When your customers all “want it their way” *and* at the cheapest possible price point *and* round the clock high availability, now you have interesting challenges!

    Regards,
    Gretchen

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  5. David POISSON
    I really liked the article and as a Manager, am  particularly aligned with the empowerment of the waiters. One of my challenges is to understand each of these waiters, what their motivations are, to make sure they are empowered in the way they would like. It is not always obvious that they will enjoy their margin of action and take initiatives, which is for me the ideal scenario : the waiters are making suggestions to the Chief to improve the menu and increase the customer satisfaction !
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