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Does your IT department work well with operations?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Is IT staying with the demands and requirements of an operations department in developing new ways to do business better? Perhaps not, says Dutch Holland

How closely does most companies' IT function work with operations personnel? Or vice versa?

Is IT staying with the demands and requirements of an operations department in developing new ways to do business better?

In short, is the business aligned with IT and 'Does your IT department work effectively in the Digital Oilfield?'

How important are those questions?

Googling 'Business/IT alignment' produces millions of hits, easily exceeding any other alignment search terms, such as for Finance, Engineering, or Marketing, for example.

So, what about re-inventing the connection between IT and the business?

Let's examine the wide-ranging 'seven dimensions of re-invention for business-IT,' comprised of:

Language: speak the language when in Rome
Organization Structure: structures must match the business
Competence: getting 'professional'
Program Management: herding cats to the vision
Process Management: drink the water of 'Process'
Corporate Responsibility: willing to take 'full responsibility?'
Operations Integration: taking it all the way to the bank


Listening to a conversation between business and IT management can be both interesting and entertaining.

Imagine an IT professional using the following terms in a discussion with a business team that needs support: applications, servers, data bases, vendors, operating systems, DBMS, infrastructure and data architecture, network components, and on and on. Imagine where this conversation is going.

IT management and support personnel must do two things: learn to speak oil patch with some degree of authority and limit their IT vocabulary to (1) business goals and objectives (2) work processes and (3) names of applications.

An IT audience member asked: 'Are you saying I have to learn their business language but they don't have to learn mine?' 'Yes' was the reply. She defiantly said, 'That's not fair.' True, but it is what it is.

Organization Structure

If change is the rule for the business today (and it is), IT must be formally organized to play in an environment of continuous change.

Business organizations are more and more being organized along the lines of 'Run the Business' and 'Change the Business.'

In a typical modern upstream organization one will find departments ginning out a workstream today just like they did yesterday.

Look around, however, and one is likely to find a medley of 'projects' or task forces focused on 'Changing the Business.' Projects might be focused on streamlining some aspect of supply chain or developing rules and protocols for intra company collaboration.

While at one time such ad hoc groups or teams were likely to be comprised of 'people who aren't busy right now,' the tide has turned. Taskforces and projects are now staffed with the 'best and the brightest.'

So, what is the problem? Almost all change-the-business projects today involve information technology, so there should be an interface between business and IT. Frequently, the interfaces are not funny -- or maybe they are funny.

An IT organization's structure must match the business structure and in some ways it usually does, such as IT operations interfacing with the run-the-business side of operations. However, many IT organizations have no strong and robust analysis function (or section) that can square off with best and brightest team members from the business side.

Try making progress in a team populated with business-side pros and a couple of recent graduates of a ranking business school attempting to fill the shoes of an experienced IT analyst. Maybe it's time to return to mainframes' heyday when just about every IT shop had a first rate business analysis section made up of pros who could stand with one foot in the business and the other foot in IT.


Given today's taxing environment with needed interplay between IT and the business, something more than programming and modeling skills are called for in the interface.

In fact, in an effective IT interface, players look more like 'professional service guys,' accountants, lawyers, and even consultants from the big companies. Such professionals spend the better part of their lives working with parts of their client's business that need professional advice and services.

Thus, the suggestion for re-invention is not to stage a raid on a big name consulting house, but to begin cultivating professional service competence in IT. For example, looking into a typical IT organization today may reveal those who could perform very well in the business/IT interface.

Conversely, others who might not have what it takes to play that critical interface role are typically easily spotted.

A more complicated way of saying it may be: IT can no longer send its best and brightest into the bowels of IT where contact with operation people is limited to a collision in a hallway.

Today's world calls for the best and brightest IT talents to take their place on the IT organization's boundaries where they regularly interact and innovate with the best and the brightest from the operations side. What goes around, comes around.

Today's new executive standard is 'to run the business well all the time, and to change the business well every time.' Both sides of the standard will be impossible to meet without business-IT alignment.

Program Management

Program management is coming to the fore as a needed discipline for handling the proliferation of changes, upgrades and modifications IT faces every day. The phrase 'herding cats' is common parlance around many of today's IT departments.

Program management is not new to many IT organizations, but there is good news and bad news. The good news is that program management as a discipline is gaining a foothold, on the IT side at least. The bad news is that program management has become a creature of IT, not the enterprise.

Program Management to guide multiple technical projects in IT to a safe conclusion except for a collision or two with other projects clearly works.

But the real need is for program management to be used at the enterprise level, not just inside IT. The reason is simple. Those on the operations side just do not do program management or Project Management. Their skills are in running the business to hit targets, something they do well. But, in today's changing world, running the business well just isn't enough.

Today's new executive standard is 'to run the business well all the time and change the business well every time.' IT's competence in program management can even be used outside of IT. Business management with multiple task forces and initiatives going all at once could use strong program management skills and discipline. Today's IT organization must have the skills and the willingness to re-invent their role to include helping the enterprise 'change the business well every time.'


One might make a case that changing business practices require Information Technology to 'reinvent' itself for Business IT Alignment. Yet, reinvention is not a simple linear operation; reinvention must happen on multiple fronts or dimensions. It may not be fair, it may not be easy, but alignment is there to get done. 'Lead, follow, or get out of the way.'

Starting with seven dimensions was a good idea, but perhaps too bold an attempt to cover everything in a brief overview. Fortunately, there is a next time and, in the next edition, expect to hear 'the rest of the story.'

About the Author: Dutch Holland is a multi-decade veteran of the business wars, in the trenches long enough to know that the real excitement comes from taking the high ground to see today's big picture and to envision tomorrow's 'Upstream Business of the Future.' Dutch can be reached at

Associated Companies
» Holland Management Consulting

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