Where is the Business?

In technology enabled disciplines we often like to divide an organization into two distinct parts being IT (Information Technology) and “the business”.

I am aware that we do that to emphasize that our solutions has to be business centric opposite to technology centric. We mustn’t fall into the trap of discussing technology too early and certainly not selecting certain technology brands as the first step of our solutions.

A problem however is where to find “the business” in an organization. The top management surely represents all of the business (including the IT part of the business). But in order to find the so called subject matter experts we are looking down the levels in the organization where people don’t belong to “the business” but to sales, marketing, customer service, purchase, production, human resources, finance and so on.

Some technology enabled disciplines belong to a certain department. But disciplines as (enterprise wide) data quality and master data management are supposed to support most departments. The business. So where do we find the business? And who are we by the way?

Call them?

Assuming it doesn’t matter who we are: Let’s go find “the business”. I guess it doesn’t help calling the reception and ask them to put us through to “the business”. Actually the manned reception probably doesn’t exist today. And it will be surprising to get a machine asking:

  • Do you want to speak with IT? Press 1.
  • Do you want to speak with “the business”? Press 2.

If we are in my home country Denmark we also have a linguistic issue. If I ask google to translate “the business” from English to Danish I get the word “forretningen”. If I ask google to translate “forretningen” from Danish back to English I get the word “shop”. So calling “forretningen” will probably get me to the shop floor. Not a bad place, a true gemba, but maybe not the only one.

Everyone belongs to “the business”

In data quality and master data management there is a question used all over to exemplify a common challenge within these disciplines.

The question is: What is a customer?

The challenge is that people from different departments will have different definitions. Marketing defines a customer one way, sales tend to do it a bit different, finance sees it yet in another way and production has their view point. And the stereotype IT guy defines a customer as a row in the customer table.

So now we are asking for Alexander the Great from “the business” to come cutting the Gordian Knot.

That is probably not going to happen.

More likely someone from any business unit will be able to negotiate a proper conceptual solution covering all requirements from the different business units. And from what I see around it may often be someone who’s human resource master data record is related to the IT part of the business. Or was. The main point is having a holistic view of the business where everyone belongs.    

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6 thoughts on “Where is the Business?

  1. Phil Simon 12th February 2011 / 15:12

    Good post, Henrik. I completely agree: technology in search of a problem is a recipe for disaster. I’d rather have a solid organization and good data with minimal technology than the best of breed tools with a dysfunctional company.

  2. Jim Harris 12th February 2011 / 16:58

    Great post, Henrik.

    The business folks understand the multiple meanings and daily uses of the organization’s data. The technical folks understand the hardware and software comprising the organization’s technical architecture. Both sets of folks must realize they are all “one company folk” that must collaborate in order to be successful.

    Perhaps we need a folk singer to sing us a song of collaboration?

    Or better yet, perhaps we should commission a group of celebrities, singers, and songwriters to produce and perform a song called “We are the Business” that lyrically makes the point, as you said, organizations need to have a holistic view of the business where everyone belongs to “the business.”

    Holistic Regards,


  3. Winston Chen 13th February 2011 / 04:07

    I couldn’t agree more. My blogIsn’t IT a part of the business?” makes a similar argument.
    Just like American politics can’t get over the babyboomer era arguments, our field can’t get over the IT-business division. We end up with entire worldviews built on stereotypes: the stereotypical image of a pocket protector wearing IT guy who thinks a customer is just a row of data is the basis for the IT-business separation. Just like the stereotypical liberal hippie getting high at Woodstock is the basis for the Republican and Democratic party platforms in America. These worldviews stay with us, even though the real world has already moved on.
    Jim, I think your suggestion perfectly melds these two stereotypes.

  4. Henrik Liliendahl Sørensen 13th February 2011 / 09:11

    Thanks Phil, Jim and Winston for the great comments, suggestion and link to blog post thinking the same.

  5. Charles Proctor 14th February 2011 / 13:07

    I am IT not business. However I am the only person in our Enterprise who knows the Customer across Finance, Marketing, Customer Service and Products. Though I see the customer as “rows” of data, I see them as a relationship of those rows of data. Business sees them siloed as a Marketing element, Service element, an Order fulfilled or a financial transaction completed.

    Thus the customer data quality is important to the business components, in elements not relationships. I have found this is true in a variety of businesses. The “pocket protector” types often knew more about the business and customer as a whole than anyone on the business side.

    However the business side controls the budget, so aligning IT to business is always portrayed as “Why doesn’t IT get Business”. My experience is “Why doesn’t Business get Customer relationships”.

  6. Henrik Liliendahl Sørensen 14th February 2011 / 13:30

    Thanks Charles. I recognize your description from organizations I know too not at least those being modest sized enterprises.

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