In this series, Chief Business Development Officer David Murray explores one of the deepest problems facing digital businesses today: the chronic disconnect between business and IT. How can we solve this new problem, one of the most important in today’s digital businesses?
Imagine the modern digital business as an iceberg—a single, massive entity, partially visible, balanced in the water. Above the water is all that is seen and understood by the typical business owner—real customers, product and service output, financial results, and the like. But a huge amount of the iceberg, the portion that stabilizes the whole mass, remains underwater and unseen.
The part below the water represents the technological underpinnings and interworkings of the modern digital business, often run by an IT department and/or other service providers. While the strategic vision, customer acquisition, and overall business direction comes from the portion above water, the underwater is often more vast and important than the business leader sees. Similarly, the technology teams may never fully see or understand the clients or business challenges they are supporting.
It is this unfortunate status quo that represents the quintessential dilemma of the digital business owner. Further segments in this series will approach the problem from different perspectives, but for now, let’s examine the struggles of the business owner in a world of fast-paced technology that is, ultimately, built to satisfy clients and generate revenue.
The challenge facing digital business owners is that, although they are responsible for the entire, functioning business, a substantial portion of it is opaque. At a time when the underlying technology is implicit and intrinsically entangled with the business itself, it simply isn’t acceptable to be responsible for the business, but not understand or have visibility into how the majority of it operates.
The digital business customer can be agile and finicky in terms of with whom he/she chooses to do business. He can easily and often change providers. His interaction with the digital business can be ephemeral or transactional. Accordingly, digital business owners strive to understand the outcome of each and every customer interaction and take action to achieve high Net Promoter Scores (that is, “would you recommend me to another consumer or business?”).
The classic misalignments of business and IT are as difficult as they are myriad. There are often fundamental disconnects: the business leader may find that he simply does not speak the language of IT, so communication is stilted from the start. He tends to have three complaints about the IT department - 1) it is slow and not adequately responsive or aligned to his/her needs, 2) it is hard to deal with, requiring complex processes and limited transparency, and 3) it is expensive and it is unclear how to impact one’s costs.
The problem maps back to the conflicting perspectives of the business and IT. This is the profound business problem we are most interested in solving. The business knows that its transactions are digital and technology-driven. But, they also feel that their IT group(s) that creates or manages those technologies, don’t understand business needs and definitely don’t see the bigger business picture. The blame piles up, and for many organizations the inertia of this resentment is such a daunting problem that is costing the whole business dollars—and nobody knows how to fix it!
Perhaps the business is just from Mars and IT from Venus (or is it the other way around)? What if IT lived and died by Net Promoter Score? How would IT change its delivery if its internal customers indicated that they were UNLIKELY to recommend its services to others?!
Solving this problem is more than just putting a band-aid on an old wound. A business that can overcome this disconnect puts itself on a path to be exponentially more successful than it was with its Iceberg Problem still intact. From the business side this means gaining a full transparency into the business - understanding how all aspects of it are operating and correlated. It involves making a concerted effort at involving the relevant IT members in the larger strategic conversation. It means working with, not against or over, the IT department to understand the business data associated with the business transactions, and using the insight thereby gleaned to create a better service for clients and achieve that ultimate business goal: more revenue.
But as I said, this problem has many sides. Join me for the second section of the series, where I lay out the problem from the view of the underwater IT leaders.