Beware the Line-of-Business Bust

Dell Software’s John Whittaker identifies the primary factors likely to cause the impending line of business bust, examines the immediate impact it will have on both line of business and IT, and outlines steps that both parties can take to develop a collaborative working relationship.

It’s been well documented that functional business areas are bypassing IT and directly investing in self-service Business Intelligence and analytics tools. This so-called “shadow IT” movement is largely driven by the perception that IT is a bottleneck and that today’s technologies are simple enough for line-of-business users to operate on their own. Many vendors have hopped on board the shadow IT train, perpetuating and capitalizing on the movement by selling self-service solutions built on the notion that lines of business can accomplish their BI and analytics objectives without the aid of IT.

This current state of discordance between IT and the business is not a unique phenomenon. In fact, there’s been a continuous waxing and waning between centralization and decentralization in the IT world for a long time. It’s gone back and forth between IT having tight control and governance over resources, and then having resources and control rest largely with line-of-business. The last time this happened at a large scale was during the era, when there was a massive build-up and push from line-of-business to deliver on the promise of eCommerce. There was all this hype, all this talk, and it drummed up a huge fervor to drive spend toward eCommerce, with eCommerce departments and silos exploding in the organization, often independent of IT. Today, we’re having a similar experience on a broader scale around the emerging “Big Data” analytics trend, as we see big data and the desire for analytics driving spend and the creation of big data silos within line-of-business.

So, where might we expect this to lead? When the hype died down at the end of the 1990s, we were left with a massive hangover in which innovation was pushed back aside in favor of governance, cost control, and security. All that previous eCommerce spend didn’t align with good corporate governance practice, so, for the next 10 years, IT really took back the reigns, focusing on a more constraints-based approach. Line-of-business stayed in this hangover phase until the next major hype cycle began, and that’s what’s happening now with big data ─ the cycle is starting to repeat.

Line-of-business is terrific at spotting a need for innovation, but it’s not very good at doing three critical things: managing an application in a stable and affordable manner, keeping it secure and properly governed, and building that system to scale. Eventually, those are walls that line-of-business hits. Whenever you get to a point in a given hype cycle where line-of-business has unfettered control, you have an inevitable failure in your future, and you’re destined to end up with problems that usually are all related to those issues of management, security and scalability.

That’s where we’re headed with the big data movement right now. The back end of this cycle is likely to cause some very serious problems, leaving organizations with a number of challenges, including the need to reconcile all that was purchased and implemented with what the business really needed, as well as finding ways to ─ in the long term ─ implement security and governance, keep systems running, and scale those systems. All of this is going to default to IT. It is, after all, core to IT’s capabilities and mission.

The challenge, however, is that the needs of line-of-business ─ to collect and analyze data to drive innovation and informed decision-making – are absolutely real, and critical to an organization’s ultimate success. We’re entering an innovation cycle that is very important ─ with big data and data analytics ─ and we should be pushing for close collaboration. Just as line-of-business can’t ignore the inevitable challenges they’re bound to run into when they try to implement systems on their own, neither can IT ignore line-of-business needs. So, we’ve reached a point where we need to break the cycle of extremes and make collaboration the standard practice, where IT and line-of-business work together to put solutions in place in which both groups can have their needs met.

I’m not talking about ruling by consensus, but there needs to be instituted methods and processes whereby organizations start to normalize the new innovations and solutions over time, and deploy good data governance and security practices in a way that is scalable, achievable and in line with needs of the organization. This can only occur when there is reasonable collaboration. For IT, the days when all the focus was on cost control and constraints have shifted. Today, we need a much more innovative and creative approach than we’ve ever had before. Having every group doing their own thing is inefficient and wasteful: we need to see IT give line-of-business the ability to innovate and move quickly, and IT specialists should manage the hand-off so that the system is secure, and there is a sustainable, stable environment that delivers.

So what needs to take place to make this level of collaboration happen? Here are four key steps:

  1. Senior executives need to get aligned on what the organization is trying to achieve; they need to articulate a common vision ─ within a realistic timeframe ─ that accounts for the shared interests of both IT and line-of-business, and make it clear that they expect collaboration.
  2. IT needs to get its house in order. This means many things, but, primarily, it means overcoming the crisis of confidence line-of-business has developed in IT by coming to the table with a plan that doesn’t compromise the innovation line-of-business needs. IT no longer can just say “no.” That perpetuates the cycle by driving more shadow IT, and only creates more work for IT down the road, when the inevitable problems start.  
  3. Clear the air and put an executable plan in place. Tensions between IT and line-of-business have reached the point where they can’t be ignored. Put the key stakeholders together in a room, air out any difficulties, and move forward with a clean slate. Build a plan that meets the needs of both groups, and begin to execute on it.
  4. Seek solutions that emphasize collaboration between IT and line-of-business. Beware of vendors that encourage groups to go rogue and operate in silos. Back up your commitment to collaboration with tools that empower it.

Ultimately, all businesses want the same thing ─ to find sustainable competitive advantages, control spending, and reduce the risk to the business. The most effective and efficient path to achieving all three is through IT/LOB collaboration.


John Whittaker is the senior director of product marketing for Dell Software’s information management solutions.