Techno-Babble and the Peach Basket

Enterprise application software is built to enable business. Instead, it’s empowering IT departments.

“Technology is a word that describes something that doesn’t work yet.”    — Douglas Adams

Here are two of the questions most frequently asked by business leaders over the past twenty-five years: Why are so few firms getting full benefit from their enterprise applications software investments? And why do so many enterprise applications projects go awry?

Here’s the answer: Because clients, consultants, and enterprise application vendors erroneously believe that the subject at hand is information technology rather than business enablement. In other words, they think the subject is them, not you.

Let’s take the example of a recent TV ad in the US. A Young Techie is leading a group of potential clients through a hangar-like office area with workstations, screens and charts.

Client 1: This place is cool

Young Techie: … As a software factory should be. Enabling continuous delivery, frictionless security, Agile across your company from mobile to mainframe.

Client 2: I have no idea what you just said.

Young Techie: (brandishing a smart phone) If you’re going to compete on this, you’re going to need (gesturing to the ‘software factory’) all this.

In a related commercial the same Young Techie answers the question “What is this place?” with: A software factory. A hub of digital transformation. This is what you build to compete; where insight drives experience; where automation delivers better apps, faster. Where ‘agile’ isn’t just a buzzword, it’s a way of life; [where security is] strong, yet frictionless, all working together at scale. It’s about moving to new from old.

Glad we cleared that up.

A Software-centric Agenda

Businesses are asking what they can do. Enterprise applications vendors and their associated consultants are answering how. By consequence, most activities relative to enterprise applications implementation and deployment are incorrectly focused. The result is a proliferation of techno-babble that businesspeople don’t understand, and which puts businesses at the mercy of the IT people that should be serving them.

These mistakes continue to be made:

– Clients give their IT departments unwarranted leverage when selecting applications software.

– After buying the software, clients usually turn over implementation leadership duties to IT staff to the detriment (and often anger) of business leaders.

-The enterprise applications vendors (SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, Infor, Sage, et al) continue to brand themselves as technology firms rather than as business solutions firms.

Client IT staff and enterprise applications vendors are tenacious in maintaining a software-centric culture and agenda. This is matched by businesses slouching their way forward, confused by business-irrelevant jargon, disappointed that their needs are not being sincerely addressed, and unable to get the full benefit of their enterprise application software investments.

The Peach Basket

Dr. James Naismith is credited with inventing basketball in 1891. His initial hoops were peach baskets nailed ten feet high in a gymnasium. The game was invented for college students but its popularity spread quickly between 1891 and 1906 across the US and Canada.

Unfortunately, Dr. Naismith missed one very crucial step in the development of the sport. The peach baskets were closed at the bottom, which resulted in someone having to climb up on a ladder to get the ball after a basket was made and throw it back into play. In each case, the game was delayed and ‘the process’ interrupted. Stunningly, fully fifteen years passed before it finally occurred to someone to cut out the bottom of the peach basket so that the ball could fall through, thus no longer holding up the game.

The business-IT disconnect is as fundamental as that peach basket. It leads to the profusion of language and concepts that are utterly foreign to businesspeople and makes them dependent upon information technologists to interpret their needs. Business people are constantly told that it is incumbent upon them to absorb new technologies rather than simply exploit them.

With such communication disconnects, we have learned that if everything is left up to technologists nothing will operate but everything will work. The fact is, enterprise applications are no more about IT than books are about ink and paper. The client is the true subject.