So I went to this Qld Government ICT Conference on Monday (Hi to those people I met there). It was basically a conference for QLD-based small-medium enterprises to provide information and guidance for implementing ICT.
There were a number of speakers, a lot of case-studies (some were very impressive), and a bit of good old networking between sessions.
The one main thing that I got from it was a reassurance that the company that I work for is going in the right direction. We've implemented a lot of IT, and it's been done from the start which means it's aligned with the business process. We're in the middle of migrating to a new version of our software, and it's all going very well.
The other thing the conference highlighted for me was the need for businesses to have an intermediary between the people who dictate how the business runs, and whoever provides the ICT solutions. Without somebody who understands both sides (business and ICT), there's bound to be miscommunications. Representatives from the company ask for a solution and either can't adequately describe what they need, or can't do so in a way that gives the ICT provider complete knowledge of everything that's needed.
Those in the IT industry will be familiar with the problems that occur when "the user doesn't know what they want". It's a commonly held belief that those who request software can't completely describe everything they want it to do. To an extent, that's true, but is it really the fault of the client? Conversely, the representatives of the company requesting software often come away from the experience thinking, "why can't they just get it right?". Again, often they'll be right to think that - IT people often make mistakes, and often misinterpret what's been asked of them. Is that the fault of the IT guy though?
The problem (at least in my opinion) is that the business people asking for an ICT solution and the techie people providing it speak different languages. ICT people need everything defined; every base covered, while the business person often doesn't know to provide requirements for every eventuality. The business rep can think that they've explained everything adequately, but they may have missed something important to the ICT guy simply because they didn't know it was important. I'm not blaming either party here, but it does highlight the need for another party, a translator if you will, almost to mediate proceedings.
An analogy I used at the conference was me ordering a submarine. I can order one and give the specifications that I think are important; it should hold 10 people, not leak underwater, have enough oxygen to last a week underwater, etc. If that's all I provide, then I might be surprised when there's no windows out the side. My thought is, "well that's pretty bloody obvious isn't it?", while the submarine company might think, "well you didn't ask for that so we didn't provide it". Now I know the analogy doesn't work completely, so don't comment on this post giving me reasons why a submarine is not like an ICT system. The analogy should be good enough to understand what I mean.
My opinion is that a third party, like a business ICT consultant, should be able to come in and ask the right questions of the business to understand exactly what they want. They'll know exactly what requirements and specifications need to be provided to the ICT supplier because they understand that side of the relationship as well. Referring to the analogy, they'll either know whether I want windows because they know my purpose, or they'll know to ask me. In addition, they'll know that detail needs to be specified to the submarine manufacturer. Provided the consultant is competent, there shoudl be no more miscommunications.
Disagree? Agree? Let me know.