Does IT make you productive (or, are you an existentialist or a fatalist)?

Interesting article in Thinking Faster, just getting around to capturing my comments …

On Requirements

“The first reason that business folks don’t get what they need from IT is because they aren’t sure what they want”

The fundamental challenge of capturing and managing knowledge – it’s much easier to understand something than it is to describe, document, teach it. Why do so many organizations do knowledge transfer and training by saying “follow that person around for 3 months”? Of course, there are multiple ways to address this, my favorite being Rapid Application Development (RAD), where the iterative cycle of conversation / quick requirements capture, prototype / get something working, review change / improve, makes it easier for folks that can’t sit down and write up a complete, well-thought-out design architecture. The challenge (offset by patient explanations and participatory solution development) is to get folks to understand that this is not instant, it’s a growing process.

On Information (not Data)

“These systems are great at everyday transaction processing, but fairly poor at providing information to help people make decisions”

We’re struggling with this right now, with a new business system that does not provide easy data access via simple spreadsheet / query tools. The sad yet classic search for the magical silver bullet, with folks insisting that six-figure investments for graphical reporting tools will make all the problems disappear. We’re fairly confident that the complexities of the typical ERP data model will generate far more questions, but the key observation is that analytics are often an afterthought.

Another point here – the classic mistake IT makes all of the time is the assumption that the business folks are unable to comprehend the concepts and complexities of “reporting”. Come on – it’s 2005, basic Data Processing classes are at the heart of all undergrad business degrees, and everyone knows the amazing things folks do with their spreadsheets … IT must give some basic credit to folks looking for information like “show me the customers in these three cities who bought this type of filter over a year ago .. I want to sell them a replacement filter, they are due …”.

On Technobabble

“What reinforces this problem is … IT people … tend to talk in three and four letter acronyms and argue about the benefits of Java or .NET”

I’m fascinated by those that make this argument / observation, yet themselves speak in terms of SG&A, EBITDA, COGS (Finance), absorption, phantoms, PPV (Operations), and CPI, MPS, impressions (Marketing). Every area of business has their own set of acronyms, concepts, and terms, and so does every vertical industry. It’s just as tough for the IT group to have to wade through the “native language” of five different areas within the same organization.

However, I do agree with the observation that business people treat IT as a mystery – maybe not most of them, and this is absolutely not a young vs. old observation. I know plenty of IT folks that wish business folks would behave predictably, like the 1’s and 0’s of their digital world.

I like to think of the self-empowerment question – are you who you say you are? Do you have control / responsibility for your environment? The existentialist takes ownership, understands all the tools, drivers, forces, options, and figures out what needs to be understood to get the job done. The fatalist identifies reasons for their lack of results, and rails against the wind.

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James MacLennan

... is the Managing Partner at Maker Turtle LLC, a digital consultancy focused on creating value in ways that align with your strategy and drive engagement with employees, customers, and stakeholders. He is an active creator, providing thought leadership through on-line & print publications, and public speaking / keynotes.