This mantra has been something we all have heard and may have said in response to the gap between business and IT. The statement is used as a way for IT to define its way out of being a support function and into being a mission critical function. The problem is that just saying something does not change you from one thing into another.
Here is an example.
The other day I was discussing the issue of IT business value with a group of IT executives. We were talking about how IT’s traditional source of value has rested in building technology and enabling the business. When the business was not automated, integrated or internet-ready the value potential for IT was great. Simply implementing the technology was enough for many organizations to get results. This made managing cost, scope and schedule all part of the definition of IT value and success.
As IT has done all these things, these sources of value are depleting like an oil well or a watering hole in the desert. There is still value there, but soon IT will need to define and measure other sources of value. That discussion elicited the following question.
“We do not have this issue. We deliver business value, because at our company there are no “IT” projects, only business projects.”
I asked him what he meant and he said that in his company projects encompass business process and technology changes rather than be named or focused on implementing a particular technical solution. He gave the example of a project that he is working on around launching a new product.
I asked how does IT contribute to the success of the product launch.
His response was that ‘we build the enabling technology.”
Following-up I asked and how will that technology lead to greater sales of the new product, more efficient distribution, higher satisfaction, etc. The answer.
“Well we are building the technology that enables the product launch.”
It was a reasonable response; in essence he described a Business project that contained an IT project.
An IT project is one that concentrates on implementing the technology and the changes required to deploy and operate that technology. So despite statements to the contrary, his company does have IT projects.
Regardless of where it is focused, if the project team is primarily concerned with implementing the technology, then its not a business project.
A business project is one that changes business performance. That is the real value of IT.
The distinction may seem like splitting hairs, but consider it from the business’s perspective.
If you ask them – what was IT’s contribution to launching the new product?
Will there response be based on technology – they implemented the enabling systems, or will it be based on the business – together we figured out a way to support twice as many customers with the same level of customer support.
No matter how much you say that there are only ‘business’ projects your actions speak louder than your words. That is important because IT organizations need to do more than just say they deliver business projects and actually take steps to do so.
You have a technology project when:
- Your project involves implementing a solution under the assumption that having the solution is the same as having the business result.
- Your description of the business change is based on new features and functions.
- Your decisions are based on balancing scope, schedule and cost where success flows from delivering to the plan.
These characteristics describe an essentially technology project even when it sits inside a business transformation project. Transitioning from a technical to a business project involves a change in purpose, description and decisions.
You know that have a business project when:
- Your project’s purpose involves changing business performance regardless of what is required to achieve that purpose.
- Your description of business change is based on how the business will be tangibly different
- You make decisions regarding the project based on the best way to achieve the business case.
If there are only business projects in your organization, then you are doing more than restating a mantra; you are re-imagining IT in your organization.