The Business-IT Fallacy

It is a psychological block that keeps an artificial divide alive that never really existed in the first place.

And the block is kept in place by exactly those people that *think* they grok information technology. Myself included I fear.

It is such a nice, alluring thing, technology. Like religion in the old days it has this promise of change for the better, of a solution to so many if not all of our problems. It will save us loads of time, it will provide us with innumerable friends, it is the path to world peace.

The problem, of course, it that *they* do no grok it (isn’t it revealing that this word, grok, is from a science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein where it is introduced by someone from Mars?). They being, of course, the business.

This attitude is very interesting, psychology-wise. In the first place there is this belief in solutions. Which basically boils down to a believe in the problem.

Believing in a problem, making it so prominent and important, is not much different from investing in it, from depending on it. Your own identity, your own existence, is tied to the existence of the problem.

There is this psychological law that states that “what you fight against, you make stronger”. This law condenses the insight that often, if not always, you build up a dependency on the problem, on the enemy. You have, in fact, a vested interest in the enemy being there, and being strong, and unconsciously you help in making that true. It takes a truly brave effort to accept this insight, to “let go” of the enemy.

The business is the enemy. Not only do they not understand technology and the brave new world it brings along: they do not even understand business. We, the technologists, understand business better than they do. We have all these tools to model the business, we have invested years in understanding the business and removing vagueness and ambiguousness from it because we thought we needed that to build our technological solutions,that we came to believe we have a much more robust understanding of the business than “they” have.

How often have I not heard this said by the IT people! (you have too, don’t you deny it!)

Fact is, in a way this is true. Business doesn’t understand business. But believe me: IT understands it even less! Business is an inherently complex system, inter-tied with other systems. To make an epistemological model of, let alone a deterministic model of it which is required by most IT systems I know, is impossible. It even defies the purpose, because what is the result? (if it were successful which thank God it never is…): a deterministic business.

Well I can tell you: a deterministic business is a business already dead. The life is out of it. The life that is intertwined with its inherent complexity, its being a living, moving, willful and chaotic beast, is killed by the machine.

What IT needs to understand that it is not a thing in itself. I encountered three things which triggered me into writing this blog.

The first was an article by a good friend of mine, Daan Kalmeijer, who recently wrote a column (in Dutch) in a Dutch IT magazine (Automatisering Gids, sorry, no link to his column available) about this idea that our models should be “technology-agnostic”. This is in fact a strategy I have strongly advocated for years (called Business Centric Architecture by me — the link is to a series of Dutch articles by me on the subject — no English translation yet I fear, but many other articles on this site breathe the same philosophy). I won’t go into that aspect of his column, although I am aching to do so, but just want to mention that his gut feeling about the dissipation of technology throughout society, and thus, business, is heads-on.

The second was a challenging presentation by another friend, Eric Lopes Cardozo on the ASAS 2013 conference in his keynote speech, which was called “There is no IT, there is only business”. Need I say more. I will ask him whether a link to his presentation will be placed online. (addendum: Eric has made his article available here: There is no Architecture, Only Business)

The third was a discussion at the GIA (a Dutch professional group for Information Architects) meeting yesterday evening with the subject “Enterprise Architecture methods: an overview. During the discussion familiar recurring concerns were voiced: “what is architecture actually?”, “what can we do to be taken more seriously by “the business”, inevitably leading to an existential crisis among the participants. It struck me how recurring this pattern is on all meetings of architects (be it enterprise, solution, IT) that I have been to. Hmm, maybe I am a factor in that statistic? 🙂

We should, and can, stop re-enforcing the divide, which only exists in our minds. Technology is part of the Zeitgeist. I am certainly not saying it is irrelevant. But there is no divide, there is no impedance mismatch or incompatibility. There is only change. And change, dear readers, is a frightening thing. Especially for technologists…


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