In the digital age, for business to achieve competitive advantage, time to market, strategic advantage means business partnering with technologists to develop software solutions that provide the differentiation advantage. Typically this boils down to – either we go find a custom off the shelf solution or build technology solution ground up or enhance existing solution, that fits within the existing architecture, to move bits and bytes around. We do this to create or enhance the business processes to deliver on the differentiation advantage. Putting on a simplistic lens, there are two ways the technology and business team work together to determine the solution – one is what I call (1) transactional engagement and other is (2) involved engagement. Without driving into the details, common sense, suggests that involved engagement is better than the transactional engagement. But often times we find the modus operandi is transactional in nature resulting in sub par outcome with lot of non productive “us/them” discussions.
To draw a parallel, a transactional engagement is similar to a car servicing experience. In general, most of us, average car users, we take our car into the dealership because of a problem. We experience the problem (like not getting enough mileage or not having enough power etc) but we have little idea what is under the hood and what has to happen to address the problem. We trust the service technician whom we regard as an expert. So the expert looks under the hood and come back with a list, this is good, that is bad and total cost of $x. While most of us are not very happy with the $x but then we take it as cost of everyday life. A very similar set of interaction occurs between technology and business. The business, like a car user, defines a problem statement which is loaded with assumptions and misunderstanding because they don’t know what is under the hood. The tech guy, like a mechanic, pops up the hood figures out what needs to be done and then rings up number sometimes running into million $. The business with limited alternatives agrees and embark through the work. The tech guy goes to work, and unlike typical car service transaction, the half-baked understanding and assumptions starts falling apart here and once the work is done, there is an even bigger bill for the business to foot. Often times, the finished solution is not exactly the business had in their mind in the first place. Us, seasoned technology folks, all have seen this play out. This is the classic transactional case, where the engagement is transactional. I have a problem, you have a solution, it cost certain money, i pay and i get the solution. Most of the time the solution is not what the business wanted.
On the other hand, the business and tech can try alternate approach to engagement. To draw a parallel, this approach would be akin to adding a new media room in the house. In the case the person who is looking to put in a new media room takes on a very active interest to make sure everything is built as per desired specs and ends up achieving the desired outcome. This, as it turns out, is a very collaborative process where in the builder/architect is intimately involved with end user often time adapting where it is possible. As the product is shaping up the user can walk around and get an intimate preview of how things will finally shape up. Here the constant engagement and ongoing fine tuning is the key. So any structural mods that needs to be done gets identified and done early in the game to keep the cost under control. The end is practically left for cosmetic changes. The same idea holds true for software development as well. The business needs to closely work with technology, get behind the scenes and help identify changes, especially the fundamental ones, early on in the process. This will involve the business and tech to walk around the system and make sense as to how things are coming together and work together to piece it together. The Agile SCRUM process which is replacing the traditional waterfall in a rapid manner provides opportunity for the business to be closely engaged but then this engagement needs to go even further. Agile SCRUM addresses the feedback aspect with the process. What needs to happen more than Agile is the learning. The business need to get more in depth understanding of technology and process, and technology teams need to get much more comfortable with the business. With learning and process, marked by tight collaboration and frequent feedback, the probability of achieving the desired outcome is for certain high.
To be truly successful in any sort of software implementation and software related change, it is important for both the business and technology to work together in close partnership. The technology team need to speak the language of the business and business need to develop courage to look under the hood. This is what will ultimately ensure that multi million dollar investment bears dividends. Without such active engagement… it will be one troubled deployment after another…