Does IT speak the language of business?

I just spent a few minutes reading Tom Wailgum’s article entitled SAP and IT: Best Buddies, Worst Enemies. Definitely worth reading as it is so apropos. And apart from the fact that is was posted as ASUG news, the title could probably just as well have been ERP and IT. This isn’t just an SAP problem.
I spent most of my 30 years prior to becoming an analyst working for ERP companies (or their predecessors, because ERP isn’t as old as I am!) During that time … and continuing today… one of the biggest challenges was getting to the line of business LoB executives, past the CIO gatekeeper, during the selling process. Given who ultimately signs off on the deal (often the CFO or the CEO) you would have thought it would be easier. But it isn’t.
Often this is because sometimes the business world and IT appear not to speak the same language. Tom makes a very good point in saying, “…if [SAP] wants to sell to the business, it’s got to be able to talk to the business in a way that not just Computer Science grads can understand.” Again, I think you can substitute any other ERP vendor’s name. I have always made a point of talking about any enterprise business system in a business context, highlighting the successes versus the failures and measuring the success by the business benefits rather than cost, time to implement or other measures that tend to be the domain of the IT staff. In spite of having a master’s degree in computer science, I consider myself much more a businesswoman than a technologist. But even I fall into the IT jargon trap occasionally.
Often some of the most important business benefits result from the effective use of underlying technology infrastructure – like SOA (Service Oriented Architecture). But ask any business person if they care about SOA, and you will probably either get a glazed, disinterested look, or you will lose their attention completely. But if you talk about the benefits of SOA – easier integration, better connection to and communication with their business partners, then it will resonate.
Or take the concept of “abstraction.” The non-IT person might first think of Picasso’s art or Carl Jung’s psychology or philosophy, which I bet wasn’t the favorite college subject of your typical CFO. To a technologist, abstraction is an intuitive concept. It is very difficult to explain to someone esle (who might not have a clue) something that is immediately and intuitively understood. But if you tell a business person you can set up rules that will govern processes once, and those rules will be enforced by all your business systems, then you have introduced the concept of abstraction without having ever said the word. But it probably won’t really mean anything to them until they want to change the rules. If they find they only have to make a simple change once and it is propagated through all the business systems automatically, they now understand the value.
In order for any company to maximize the business value of ERP or any enterprise business system it must be embraced by the line of business executives responsible for delivering business performance. In order for that to happen, either the line of business needs to be more IT-savvy or the solution providers and the IT professionals need to learn the language of business.
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