Never underestimate the degree of clarity that a fresh pair of eyes can bring to a complex situation.
Late one Sunday night a few years ago, my business partner and I were discussing the Oil & Gas markets our new IT company could service.
In particular, we were discussing how to best use IT to maximize the financial value of a) the oil and gas products flowing through a refinery belonging to one of our clients, and b) the huge quantities of data used by the business.
We had many ideas about creating applications to provide a joined up view of how the exploration and manufacturing businesses interacted, but we were struggling to define an appropriate methodology that would put IT in a business context.
For days we had been trying to come up with a way of bridging the understanding gap between business and IT, but with little success.
On the table in front of us were a couple of A0 size Piping and Instrumentation Diagrams (P&IDs).
My business partner's brother, a man who freely admits he has the technical knowledge of a pebble, wandered by and asked what the diagrams showed.
We patiently explained that the P&IDs were print-outs from a computer model of a nearby petrochemical complex. The computer model held a representation of the interactions between individual assets of the plants — things like pipes, valves, pumps, meters and sensors.
We described how the computer model and P&IDs displayed and communicated how the assets were connected; how the assets interacted with business processes; and how the flows of oil and gas products through a business unit were measured and valued.
Assets that did not add value to or support a business function could be easily identified and removed or reassigned. Also, the cost to the business of failure of an asset could be evaluated and steps taken to mitigate that risk.
"One of the great things about P&IDs", I said, "is that by using them as a visualization and communication tool, the engineers and the business guys quickly see the big picture and can easily understand each other."
We paused for confirmation that the penny was beginning to drop.
After a few moments of silence, The Pebble, as we affectionately call him, frowned and asked,
"So why has this never been done for IT and business...I mean...isn't IT the flow of data between assets?"
The silence resumed. For quite a while.
The Pebble had pointed us towards the solution to defining a methodology that would put IT in a business context.
We realized that by thinking of IT as data flowing between business assets, the tried and trusted methodology used by engineers to communicate with the business could be adapted and applied to IT.
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.