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IT and Business: A Positive Relationship Equals SOA Success

by Puneet Suppal

August 11, 2009

The dynamics between the IT and business departments may spell success or failure for an SOA solution. Internal politics and cultural decay can cripple an organization. But whose job is it to make the first move? Discover how to avoid these problems.

When building a business case for service-oriented architecture (SOA) solutions for their executive teams, many organizations neglect a component integral to success: the dynamics between IT and business. The culture around this relationship has a significant bearing on the success of SOA.

Internal politics and cultural decay can conspire to cripple an organization — for example, when business sees the IT department as an inhibitor. A new generation of business users is challenging IT for inclusion in the SOA process. Organizations need to tap into this development and the trend toward a service-oriented enterprise, which must be business-driven to be successful. Given what it has to offer to support and shape a modern organization’s competitive advantage, IT can achieve new highs by partnering with business.

This is not entirely about having the right people in place, although that is important (see “Bridging the Skills Gap,” Don Hanson, SAP NetWeaver Magazine, Spring 2007). You can expect organizations to identify and fulfill the skills and management requirements that SOA demands. The key people-oriented success factor is having a creative and regenerative energy flow between IT and business. By “regenerative,” I mean the ability to construct positive, value-yielding dynamics between groups despite natural friction between them.

The Right Culture

A service-based organization is built around a commitment to SOA and a service-oriented infrastructure. Together, they lead to a true service-oriented enterprise. Fundamentally, services are an expression of the processes that organizations use to run their businesses. “Services” and “enterprise services” are meaningless terms if there are no supporting business processes behind them or if their use doesn’t enable relevant business practices. Thus, organizations ought to give business processes and their related business groups the opportunity to drive SOA-based application development. This would constitute the business of getting business processes right — perhaps the most important thing an organization can do.

Traditional IT departments do not necessarily see things that way. I sometimes see an interesting dynamic in which the traditional IT department swears that the imminent SOA revolution will be wonderful for the organization, but it cringes at the mention of involving the business. Its argument is: How can technologically inept business users be the ones who make decisions that will shape the service-oriented enterprise?

The reality is that in every organization, individuals “are becoming more sophisticated merchants/users of technology than traditional business users” (Andy Mulholland, et al., Mashup Corporations, Second Edition, Evolved Technologist Press: 2007). These individuals are becoming more self-service-oriented and are aggressively taking advantage of Web 2.0 capabilities. Taking the deployment of SOA to its logical conclusion will play to these new strengths of IT users. Most likely, this is what traditional IT departments fear; it goes directly to the issue of control and the future of the IT department.

Complementing this is the aspect of the IT department traditionally being given credit for great new applications, often custom-developed. As business processes become more self-service-oriented and the user community becomes less dependent on an actual IT department, users won’t need as much help with the more mundane and day-to-day tasks. For example, if a financial analyst could quickly manipulate analytical models using SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer and send the information to a key executive, the IT department wouldn’t have to write the report. If this becomes the way of the future, the people of the traditional IT department will increasingly have fewer opportunities to “save the day.”

IT departments sometimes view these trends with alarm and do their best to stay invested in heavily customized solutions, thus keeping the user community from blossoming into a tech-savvy lot. This resistance to relinquish control often leads to friction between IT and business, which in turn generates more resistance from IT. This cycle of resistance-friction-resistance leads to frustration that becomes debilitating for the organization. In some organizations the user group has given up on spreading its wings and has settled for what it sees as the arrogant dominance of IT. In such a charged environment, the inability to get things done can prompt highly valued individuals to leave the organization. Companies with these cultural dynamics are farthest from realizing the SOA dream.

Could Your Organization Have This Problem?

Even if you believe your organization does not suffer from this malady, periodic introspection is a good idea. A look at some common symptoms could be quite telling:

  • Do you have a number of rogue applications in your organization? In other words, do you have little — and not-so-little — applications tucked away under the desks of key business people?

  • Do you have individuals on the business side of your organization who would rather go outside the organization looking for a technology solution before they would consider talking with their IT colleagues?

  • Do the IT folks feel that people of inferior intellect are working on the business side?

  • Does IT believe that it alone is qualified to decide what best serves the needs of enabling business processes?

  • Does IT believe that ceding more control to the business in processing transactions or reporting is not going to be good for the corporation?

These signs could indicate a dysfunctional relationship between the IT and business departments. Dialogue and trust are the broad foundational pieces necessary in any solution that seeks to overcome this.

Are You Ready?

You can only answer this question when you have determined the role the IT department plays in your organization today and the role it is ready to grow into in the future. Traditional user groups must also be committed to becoming more self-service-oriented and successfully adapting to adjustments employed by the IT department.

On balance, the responsibility lies with IT to initiate changes to address its dysfunctional interaction with the business. In this process, the IT department will reinvent itself, enabling it to renew its sense of mission and its proper role.

Visionary organizations have successfully avoided the problems arising from an ineffective interaction between IT and the business. In forthcoming issues of this magazine, we’ll take a closer look at the common symptoms and underlying causes of this often dysfunctional relationship between IT and the business. We’ll also discuss how to dismantle these barriers and re-engineer your organization’s corporate DNA.

Puneet Suppal is a solution architect for Capgemini, specializing in SAP-centric solutions that enable a service-oriented view of the business. Suppal is one of Capgemini’s key evangelists, propagating solutions that recognize the impact of Web 2.0 and the use of innovative approaches to expedite the realization of SOA-based solutions. You may contact him at

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