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Talk Your Way Out of the Tarpit

Bob Rhubart
Community Manager, Oracle Groundbreakers Team

Over the years I’ve found a number of occasions to refer to Gerard O’Neil’s book 2081: A Hopeful View of the Human Future. Yet another of those occasions popped up just moments ago, after reading Making the CXO Connection Work for BPM, by Gartner blogger Jim Sinur.

Mr. Sinur’s post deals with the “communication gap between BPM professionals and top management.”

Saying “that processes make you more efficient” or “processes save money” just doesn’t cut it any more because executives hear this all the time about different programs and projects that promise the same. Why should they invest in processes over the other efforts presented to them? We have to be able to articulate how process connects to all the values the executive has in his or her mind.

He’s right, of course. And that same logic can be applied (and has been by countless writers) to a thousand other situations in which someone from IT has to communicate with someone from the business side of the organization. That communication gap is nothing new and yet evergreen. and I and plenty of other writers have . The question is, why?

Which brings me to O’Neil’s book. While it’s now more than 27 years old (and apparently out of print),  one conclusion O’Neil draws has stuck with me all these years.

O’Neil devotes the first half of the book to an analysis of classic works of science fiction to determine how accurate they were in their respective depictions of the future. O’Neil concludes that these works almost unanimously underestimated technological chang, and overestimated sociological change.

Three decades later that situation hasn’t changed.  Today’s average school kid totes a backpack full of personal tech that the average school kid in 1982 saw only in movies or on TV.  But some of those 80s school kids have turned into seasoned business people, while others have turned into veteran IT professionals, and apparently they don’t really like to talk to each other – even when they work for the same company.

That’s a problem, because it means that those companies are hamstrung, unable to keep up with – let alone ahead of – a marketplace that places a very high premium on innovation as a competitive differentiator. Is any business today doing business the same way it did fifteen years ago? And with the increasing pace of change, how will business be conducted five years from now? Ten? Fifteen?

You could argue that the communication gap between IT and business hasn’t hampered the innovations of the last fifteen years, but you’d be wrong. Look at the newspaper industry, the music industry, the publishing industry, all of which are only now dealing with the technological realities of business as we near the end of the first decade of the 21st century. And while technological evolution shows no signs of slowing down,  business and IT are still sitting on opposite sides of the cafeteria.

Will this ever change? Probably. When those Eighties school kids (and their even older colleagues) are replaced by Millennials who, having grown up with high tech, will view tomorrow’s most sophisticated technologies the same way I view my toaster.  They place a high value on technology, yet aren’t intimidated by it or distrustful of it.

But that future is still years away, and no business can afford to wait. So people on either side of the Business/IT communication gap should finally acknowledge that: a) business considerations are legitimate and not just a pain in the hibachi, and b) technology is indispensible and not just something the geeks throw money at because it’s cool.  That’s a long overdue step in the sociological evolution of any enterprise. 

The enterprise, which is defined by the interaction of its people with each other and which its technologies (that’s what we call Enterprise Architecture, no?), has to evolve, or the organization will end up in the tarpit.

 

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