In the evolution to fact-based decision making, enterprises logically assume the Information Technology function will serve a fundamental role. Unfortunately, many IT departments are not ready for this responsibility.
Historically, the large transactional systems IT was charged with building gave rise to a specific type of organization and culture. Requirements were generally well understood since they were developed over long periods through much trial and error. Once requirements were set, a massive (and slow) development and testing efforts were undertaken. The physical results were a huge number of tables manipulated by millions of lines of code.
Large transactional systems are seldom “home grown” any more. Instead they are purchased and configured to fit the company’s needs. Nevertheless, the existing IT culture adapted to this change without much difficulty. The structure and function of the purchased software was essentially the same as legacy systems.
The terrain started to change in the 1970’s when transactional systems users started to seek data to provide answers to important business questions. Frustrated that IT could not provide needed reporting quickly and easily, business units began their own internal efforts to acquire and analyze information.
IT departments responded to this phenomenon in a variety of ways. Heavy handed efforts to ban “do-it-yourself” analytics typically caused morale problems. On the other end of the spectrum, well-meaning IT departments provided limited ad hoc query capabilities against some transactional data. While the effort was appreciated, the results often did not meet expectations.
The next step in the evolution was the rise of data warehousing and business intelligence. These were large-scale projects brimming with promise of meet ever expanding decision support demands. The initiatives too frequently were failures in part due to the lack of change in the IT culture.
What is needed from IT is not the abolition of the entire culture. Rather, a new shoot needs to be grafted onto the IT tree. Maintaining transactional systems will continue to be an IT priority. However, a parallel priority will be to build an organization of analytics oriented practitioners who are closely tuned into decision support needs and provided with the means to meet those needs.
The skills and orientation of these specialists are geared toward insightful interpretation of business information needs and quickly providing the right resources. They are comfortable with ambiguity but are able to effectively strip out unnecessary elements to hone information requests to the essentials. They are also used to working within fast-cycling iterative processes knowing that quickly moving through the cycles will result in delivering significant business value in a timely manner.