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Found in Translation: IT as Interpreter

By David Smith

David SmithThere is a plethora of articles written about the need to transition and transform IT from a technology focused organization into a business driven organization; from running the business to innovating the business; from control to empowerment; from reactionary to proactive, and so on. But, how do we make sure transformation actually happens and ensure that it sticks?

Why we fail
To be clear, IT is an enabling function of the business … not vice versa. With the advent of pervasive internet technologies, cloud computing and public SaaS offerings, lines of business’ now have more choices than ever, either putting pressures on their IT department or purchasing these services directly. That means, as IT, we need to be the best choice for the things we want to control. The number one reason that transformative initiatives fail is lack of user acceptance, meaning somewhere along the way IT misses understanding, setting, or managing expectations (or all three).

More modern organizations work together across silos in IT — but they don’t break the barriers into business. The business works horizontally by nature, and it doesn’t think in bits and bytes. Business users think about getting work done. Knowing this, IT’s answer to “I need email,” can’t be, “We’ll give you some servers with Exchange and small inbox quotas.” It should be, “For how many users, in which locations, from where will you access, will you need to leverage other systems as part of your workflow, etc.” IT then translates these into architectural components and technical solutions.

A tool for success
Use cases (a list of steps defining the interaction of the user with the system to achieve a goal) are a powerful tool to help bridge the gap between business expectations and IT delivery. With a use case, you objectify the discussion and allow the business to clearly articulate what they need, which allows IT to clearly articulate the resulting requirements. IT leverages these use cases to also identify common needs and create reusable platform components. Which in turn helps break down custom-built environments (silos), decreases cost by maximizing IT investments across many lines of business and helps standardize integration points across the architecture. There are several tools and frameworks that help guide the creation of these use cases, but it all starts with a conversation.

Use Case ElementsTake, for example, a company that had embarked on a transformational IT initiative. The pressure from the business to reduce time to provision devices and applications was so great that they decided to begin with end user computing. They needed to get desktops to devices and applications to users, but they had segmented users into 35 or 40 different profiles and device types. Then they swung the pendulum over to other side to offering only three device-based options for desktops, from fully managed to BYOD. Their challenges remained. The missing piece was how to take these three desktops that was an IT centric view to a use-case driven view. What they really needed was alignment with business on five or six use-case driven segments including roles, responsibilities and workflows.

Defining this happy medium allowed the company to tie the user to the HR system. So now when a user joins the organization, the provisioning process is automated. If an employee changes jobs, the process originates in HR as well, with all the IT steps that were formerly manual becoming fully automated. In this case there was a very clear definition of where to put automation. This set the ground for a continual improvement process between IT and business. Instead of meeting once a year, they now meet monthly and with help of the use cases, they align on where to prioritize IT efforts and investments.

What next?
Every organization must find a balance in how deeply and in how much detail they want to take use cases. Try not to go overboard and paralyze your process through analysis. Start with a business function in a line of business to understand your organization’s appetite for change. Any amount of progress toward meeting the needs of the business will facilitate real transformation.


David Smith is a business solutions architect with VMware Accelerate Advisory Services with 17+ years of experience consulting, advising and directing business and IT transformation initiatives for major global organizations. David applies his contemporary business and technical expertise to collaboratively develop, design and implement actionable roadmaps that help customers realize their SDDC and ITaaS strategies.