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Good Order-taking Is Not Good Enough

October 19, 2009 Leave a comment

I’m currently dealing with a client whose IT department is pretty good at being an order-taker. But the business folks are dissatisfied. An LOB exec told me “when we told IT we wanted [a particular solution] they should have probed for what the real issues were and then come up with a better solution than what we asked for. They should have pushed back.” I don’t know about you, but I find this remarkable.

For years IT has struggled to be the best possible order-taker. Back in 2006, Forrester defined three archetypes of IT: The Solid Utility, the Trusted  Supplier, and the Partner Player (see  the first figure). These archetypes are progressive: you can’t be a Trusted Supplier without also being

IT Archetypes

IT Archetypes

a Solid Utility, etc. It took a lot of work to be a solid utility by providing cost-effective dial-tone reliability with transparent, constantly declining costs. And then it took a lot of organizational maturity to attain Trusted Supplier status by nailing projects and consistently delivering on-time, on-budget, and to spec. So when we talk about being a Partner Player, being at the proverbial table and helping to move the business forward, it really sounds like IT management nirvana — we’re going beyond technical execution into the strategic realm.

Of course, EA programs can help at each phase (see the next figure). EA can help by defining

EA Enables IT Archetypes

EA Enables IT Archetypes

and governing to the standards and technology strategy that make IT cost-effective to run and support, and by baking these standards into application patterns that take a significant amount of risk out of development projects. And by pursuing business architecture, EA can begin to have the strategic discussions that will lead to being perceived as a Partner Player.

But back to the IT department I mentioned at the beginning of this post. These folks are crying out for architect-led interactions at the brainstorming stage, but their organizational culture and their processes currently prevent the whole “dream with me” stage described by Eric Hendrickson in his comment to a previous post. Making those interactions happen and formalizing them into regular occurrences is the way to nail the alignment problem and move into strategic discussions. But for this organization it’s not a nice-to-have — it’s as big a black eye as failing to provide a sound infrastructure or always being late with projects.

If this is generalizable to the industry at large, then getting to be a Partner Player is no longer an aspiration that would be nice to achieve but a no-big-deal-if-we-don’t-nail-it-this-year sort of thing. Being a Partner Player is  just meeting expectations. It’s just what the business perceives as necessary to utilize technology in a way that will enable them to survive, compete, and excel. And my take on this client so far is that they are a relatively conservative organization, so if their business folks have this expectation of IT, many others do also.

That means the bar has been raised. IT organizations must evaluate themselves and see if they’re headed in this direction soon. If not, it’s time to change something: change your organizational design, change your processes, change your strategy, change whatever you need to change to make this happen. And since I’m an EA guy, I have to say my view is that the EA effort is where to place your bets.

Comments welcome and encouraged, of course. Take another 30 seconds and take this quick poll — how would you characterize your organization?