(note from Lisa: Laura and I have been talking about this topic lately and thought it would be fun to guest post on each other’s blogs. You can read my thoughts on the topics on Laura’s blog.)
One key challenge faced by any IT strategy team is obtaining buy-in from the business, whether in terms of funding the implementation costs or actively participating in the change. Often the real ROI of a significant technology project will only be realized once the business makes changes to leverage the new capabilities. One way to minimize the risk of delivering a new strategy that fails to achieve the intended results is to keep the business involved from the initial stages of IT strategy planning through the details of the implementation.
Obtaining buy-in and participation is often a double-edged sword. On the one hand you want the benefit of input from your business stakeholders and subject matter experts, on the other hand these individuals have other responsibilities that might take precedence. At the end of the day it’s the strategy team’s responsibility to deliver. In the crux of this balance is where business architects and business analysts can help. Lisa and I have been chatting recently about these issues.
From my point of view, business architects/analysts bridge the gap between business and IT, ensuring strategic technology plans align with business goals from a myriad of stakeholders across multiple departments and levels of the organization. Serving the role of “business proxy” on an IT strategy team, business architect/analyst can provide the full-time support required by a focused team while keeping the business informed and engaged without consuming them from their day-to-day jobs.
In the initial stages of an IT strategy, before formal approval, it is critical to understand the business drivers behind the new IT direction and what will ultimately determine its success or failure. Business architects and senior business analysts can help by interviewing key stakeholders within the business community to find answers to the following types of questions:
- What problems are we trying to solve?
- What opportunities do we have?
- What are the organization’s current capabilities? How does technology support these capabilities?
The goal is to develop a deep understanding of how the business creates value for customers, how it executes on that value, and how technology currently supports and constrains those efforts.
As the team moves from defining the problem space to crafting the solution, the BA can help ensure that the potential architectural solutions will achieve real business value and will be heavily involved in the following types of activities:
- Scoping the overall solution;
- Providing input on the high impact, quick wins to achieve an early return on investment;
- Breaking up the strategy into a set of clearly scoped initiatives;
- Assessing the business impact of the changes (positive or negative);
- Obtaining buy-in from the business on potential changes to current capabilities
- Analyzing potential software packages or software-as-a-service options against the business needs
At this stage, the task is to ensure the solution will meet the business objectives and also engage the business in understanding and informing the scope and impact of the changes.
Once the team is ready to start executing on specific initiatives, business analysts will be the bridge between the impacted business users (often called subject matter experts) and the development team implementing the new software. The BA will work with business users to understand the details of their current processes and define new processes and detailed requirements for the initiative to achieve the targeted business and technology objectives. The BA will often partner with the business through implementation, helping work through process changes and training on new tools.
Laura Brandau is passionate about helping organizations create value through their investments in information technology. She helps stakeholders conceptualize comprehensive solutions and creates alignment about project outcomes through proactive communication and analysis. Laura shares her views on the BA profession and IT leadership at large in her blog: Bridging the Gap between Business and IT.