At an enterprise architecture conference a number of weeks ago, the audience was asked how many of you see yourself as technology people—about half raised their hands. And then the audience was asked how many see yourselves more as business people—and about half raised their hands. And of course, there were a handful of people that raised their hands as being “other.”
Then the dialogue with the audience of architects proceeded to regardless of whether you consider yourselves more business-oriented or more technology-oriented, either way, enterprise architects must get the vision from the business people in the organization, so the architects can then help the business people to develop the architecture. It was clear that many people felt that we had to wait for the business to know that their vision was and what they wanted, before we could help them fulfill their requirements. Well, this is not how I see it.
From my experience, many business (and technology) people do not have a “definitive vision” or know concretely what they want, especially when it comes to how technology can shape the business. Yes, of course, they do know they have certain gaps or that they want to improve things. But no, they don’t always know or can envision what the answer looks like. They just know that things either aren’t working “right” or competitor so and so is rolling out something new or upgrading system ABC or “there has just got to be a better way" to something.
If we plan to wait for the business to give us a definitive “this is what I want,” I think in many cases, we’ll be waiting a very long time.
The role of the CIO, CTO, as well as enterprise architects and other IT leaders is to work with the business people, to collaboratively figure out what’s wrong, what can be improved, and then provide solutions on how to get there.
Vision is not a business only matter—it is a broad leadership and planning function. IT leaders should not absolve themselves of visioning, strategy, and planning and rely only on the business for this. To the contrary, IT leaders must be an integral part of forging the business vision and must come up with an enabling “technology vision” for the organization. These days, business is more and more reliant on technology for its success, and a business vision without thought and input from the technology perspective would be superficial at best and dead of center at worst.
Moreover, visioning is not an art or a science, but it is both and not everyone is good at it. That is why open communication and collaboration is critical for developing and shaping the vision for where the organization must go.
Early on in my career, in working with my business counterparts, I asked “What are you looking to do and how can I help you?” And my business partner responded, opening my eyes, and said, “You tell me—what do you think we need to do. You lead us and we will follow.”
Wow! That was powerful.
“You tell me.”
“What do you think we need to do.”
“You lead us and we will follow.”
The lesson is simple. We should not and cannot wait for the business. We, together with our operational counterparts, are “the business”. Technology is not some utility anymore, but rather it is one of the major underpinnings of our information society; it is the driving force behind our innovation, the core of our competitive advantage, and our future.