The other evening I was doing battle with a mountain of post that would rival Everest. It wasn't physically the same size, but I felt like it would take about the same amount of time to conquer. I was just about to set up base camp in some utility bills, when my daughter called to me to tell her a bedtime story.
"Here's a quick one. An oyster went to a disco and pulled a muscle", was my reply as I got up to go and see her.
"No Dad. My English teacher says a story should have a beginning, middle and an end. That was just a beginning and an end", shouted my son from across the hallway.
That's what we were all taught in school. Everything should have a beginning, middle and an end.
Well, story time is over and I've started thinking about how everything can be described in those terms - a beginning, middle and an end. It doesn't matter if you are making a meal, driving a car or dealing with your mailbag - everything starts, goes through a process, and completes.
Those of us in the IT industry tend to think about IT systems as possessing these same qualities. We iteratively break down complex tasks into sub tasks, each of which accept input, perform computation, and returns results. So this concept is not new to us. But the tendency is to focus on the IT systems and how they work, rather than why the IT system is used. This internalised perspective, although understandable, is a huge mistake which hinders how IT is perceived by its clients - the business.
Taking a step back, IT systems are never the beginning or the end. All IT systems are only there to be middle of a bigger process, and the IT system is there solely as an enabler.
Is IT's whole reason for being to simplify or streamline a process, or enable some process to happen which would otherwise not have been able to occur? Perhaps, but it is not the IT system per se which is important here. It is the flow of data through the system which is actually used to effect a change. IT's sole reason for being is to enable that flow of data.
Let's take the case of a simple word processor, where thoughts and keystrokes can be processed and manipulated with the result being something which when read induces a change in thought or behaviour. The art of a good wordsmith is to ensure that such a result happens, and the word processor is simply a tool he or she can use to simplify the task.
Within a manufacturing environment, the Management Information Systems and Control Systems form the link in the chain to create a better product or more profit - a conduit to effect change.
If IT does not exist within a sequential process which alters an outcome, its role is meaningless. And it is the flow of data that links individual items together into this sequence.
This is why understanding how and why data flows across and through the assets of the business is critical to the alignment of IT and business. This understanding clearly highlights why IT exists and the role a system plays in the wider business context.
By looking at systems in this way IT can communicate more effectively with all parts of the business, and more informed and effective decisions can be made.
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