Business doesn’t work without IT.  

And IT doesn’t deliver without business.  

There may be some professionals who disagree with these two statements. Nevertheless, properly aligning business and IT is still a challenge in many firms, large and small.  

This problem is caused by two key factors.  

Firstly, modern business often involves a high level of complexity, both from an operational point of view and from the technology support point of view. Secondly, there is often a huge disparity in the backgrounds of business and IT professionals.  

Let’s look at these two factors in more detail.  

Challenges in modern business operations

In many firms, business operations have become more complex because of a variety of reasons like the following.   

  • Products and services have become more complex and are often intertwined.  
  • Business ecosystems have grown in complexity, leading to value chains with many participants, for example.  
  • Changing markets require more agility to deal with new customer demands. And while globalization demands efficiency by mass production, mass customization requires individual settings for each customer.  

The use of technology, especially information technology, has become more complex for several reasons as well. The number of available technologies has grown steadily. In the IT field, we now have for example extended reality, generative AI, blockchain, edge computing, and a few more. Each of these technologies by themselves has become more complex as well. And to realize full solutions, several technologies need to be interconnected in secure and intricate ways too.  

Approaches from business and IT professionals

Professionals in the business domain try to cope with this growing complexity from the perspective of their background, which often includes few (and limited) engineering skills. On one hand, this often leads to high-level business plans that mention IT but have no structural relation to it.  

It may be something like “Let’s create a company-wide data lake because data is the new gold – the larger, the better”. Sounds familiar? On the other hand, this may lead to very detailed requirements and specifications for digital solutions that have far too little structure, like a compilation of shopping lists for a diverse set of business stakeholders.  

IT professionals may have similar approaches but from the perspective of their own background, their proposals often have little insight into business strategy and business models. They frequently produce visionary documents about the great potential of individual new technologies without linking these to concrete business goals and operations. Quantum computing might well be a good example of such a technology.  

At the same time, IT teams may draft very detailed technology specifications like low-level digital system architectures that are often riddled with hard-to-understand technical jargon (not to mention an abundance of unexplained tech acronyms).  

The chasm of understanding and failed attempts

As a result, there is often a good understanding of the need to align business and IT in business practice, and there are good intentions from professionals to make this alignment a successful reality.  

But as both types of professionals find themselves at opposite sides of a major gap of understanding, attempts to bridge this gap may not yield the best results. These attempts often fail because bridging the two backgrounds isn’t easy work and when parties are pushed to find common ground, they start reinforcing their sides by introducing more details from their own backgrounds to strengthen their arguments. This only widens the gap. The lines of reasoning and the arguments used become increasingly bottom-up – creating even more complexity. 

Now, this situation can be salvaged with simple tools that help reduce the complexity by framing the alignment in simple terms that help limit the number of details. These tools neither require an MBA in business innovation (such that IT professionals can understand it well) nor require a PhD in advanced computing (such that the business professionals do not get a headache).  

Examples of such tools include simple business models that link to operations, business aspect models (that include IT), business process models that capture the essence of doing business in terms of realizing value propositions by steps that may need automated support, and business functionality landscapes that can be overlayed with technology landscapes. Pictures typically work better than lists here.  

Practical applications and tools at play

The complexity of modern digital transformations can only be overcome using simple models that create true understanding as a starting point. 

In my experience at Eviden, we have used a wide variety of such proven tools for our clients. One such example is our patented approach for designing digital support for smart manufacturing: the Method for Manufacturing Execution Systems (M4MES). This approach includes a library with proven use cases that can guide customers on how they can address their specific situation. We have applied this in the automotive industry, among others.  

We have deployed our Cloverleaf model for many customers to discuss the various aspects of conducting business process redesign projects. This also helps create the basis for a separation of concerns – an approach we’ve applied in the financial services industry, among others. Recently, we have created an extended version of the Cloverleaf model —the Eviden Circle of Customer Excellence (ECCE) model. This integrates our learnings from various domains we have worked in to drive the best benefits for our customers in each of these sectors.  

The complexity of modern digital transformations can only be overcome using simple models that create true understanding as a starting point.

The role of the architect  

Using these tools isn’t always straightforward. However, it requires the right level of abstraction, a proper scoping of what is being modeled, a comprehensive understanding of what not to model, and a steady focus on the purpose of the model under construction.  

This is where the architect comes into play.  

Not a business architect, not a technology architect, but an architect that understands both sides of the game. And if you don’t have one of those, you need open-minded architects from each side to form a team that is committed to explore the middle.  

The primary purpose of the work of this architect (or team of architects) is not to create detailed solution specifications, but to create models that represent a common understanding. These models will form the basis for the creation of such specifications, not unlike the real world, where an architect creates a blueprint as a means of communication between stakeholders in a construction project, leaving the development of the full technical specs of a building to the technical designers.  

A top-down thinking approach right from the beginning is key, as the start of any solution is in the major structures, not in the tiny details.  

In this case, less is more if done in the right way, with the right tools, and last but certainly not least, with the right people.  

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