Overcoming the IT-Business divide in an era of big data, Part 2

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In the first part of this series, I described the new challenges that IT departments face today. Collectively, they make it unreasonable for IT to act as the traditional gatekeeper of enterprise information. That's not to say, though, that IT should just sit back and ignore the very data that employees use to make business decisions.

Far from it.

In this post, I'll describe how, more than ever, IT (or some equivalent entity) needs to act as a technology and data facilitator.

An example

Rather than speak generally about what IT needs to do in an era marked by big data, mobility and near-constant connectivity, allow me to provide an example.

Let's say that you run an organization that specializes in professional services. Every week, thousands of your consultants descend upon your clients' sites to help them solve thorny business problems.

You're progressive. You want to make it as easy as possible on your employees. You've looked at the existing cadre of available travel apps. In your view, even the paid ones are wanting to varying degrees. Travels apps such as Tripit, FlightAware, and their ilk don't integrate with your organization's billing, payroll and T&E systems – at least not enough to your liking. What's more, you're not comfortable with that data "living" on third-party servers somewhere beyond your control.

You decide to build a custom app that eases their administrative burden. You'd rather have them spend their time billing clients than filling out forms and waiting drinking in airports.

To do this, you task your developers as follows:

  • Make sure that the new app ties into external data sources. For instance, flight data that can be queried from one of Google's many useful application programming interfaces (APIs).
  • Scrape web data on real-time flight delays. (Yes, this is out there.)
  • Include easy sharing buttons to airlines' customer-service numbers and official Twitter accounts. (Let employees easily vent or compliment others.)

Things work fine – until they don't. After a few months, delay information isn't accurate, and employees miss flights and are none too pleased about it.

Why the malfunction?

Any number of externally driven changes could cause this app not to function properly – and the data to appear in the app incorrectly or not at all. Expecting even tech-savvy employees to "fix this" on their own isn't realistic.

This yarn illustrates one of the key roles that IT, DevOps, or trusted technology partners should play these days: to closely and proactively monitor external data sources from partners' other third parties. That is, to make changes before irate employees call your help desk. 

Simon Says: Most users aren't developers.

Both in terms of data types and terms of service, APIs are anything but static. Organizations that integrate big data with traditional data sources need to pay careful attention, and many non-technical employees wouldn't know an API from Adam.

I'm all for "empowering business users" and "getting IT out of the way," but be careful when using such hackneyed bromides. They often minimize or even ignore today's new realities. Big data integration requires a skilled facilitator, not an entirely hands-off approach to technology. In other words, "set it and forget it" at your own peril.

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In the final part of this series, I'll discuss how to quash the IT-business divide once and for all.

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About Author

Phil Simon

Author, Speaker, and Professor

Phil Simon is a keynote speaker and recognized technology expert. He is the award-winning author of eight management books, most recently Analytics: The Agile Way. He consults organizations on matters related to strategy, data, analytics, and technology. His contributions have been featured on The Harvard Business Review, CNN, Wired, The New York Times, and many other sites. In the fall of 2016, he joined the faculty at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business (Department of Information Systems).

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